conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Living with OCD


July 2014

Who hasnít circled back around the block to check that the door was locked or that the curling iron was turned off?

But checking and rechecking a dozen times? A hundred times? Thatís the stuff of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a behavioral health problem that severely affects peopleís relationships and work lives.

Some people are overly afraid of dirt, germs and contamination ó thatís the obsession. If they have to borrow someoneís pen or use a public restroom, they might go home and wash their hands over and over until they bleed ó thatís the compulsion.

Stacie Young, 36, is among the 40 percent of people with OCD whose anxiety centers on issues of cleanliness. Her symptoms began when she was about 9 years old and became more noticeable around the age of 15.

"In high school, I remember not being able to get out of the shower at times because I felt like I could not get the soap off me, and yet at the same time I felt like I was still contaminated," she recalls.

Young, who lives in North Carolina, has been unable to work since 2010, when her work environment became too anxiety-producing. Her job involved working in different cubicles; every day for seven years there, she would spend as much as an hour disinfecting her workspace each time she moved to a new spot.

She holds a peer support license and would like to help others who have OCD.

An estimated one in 40 adults has OCD, oftentimes starting at about age 20 when college, work or family responsibilities create more stress.

People with OCD donít want to think all the time about their obsessions, but they cannot let go of their thoughts. Itís like that old line "Donít think about elephants" run amok.

"They think too much about their thinking, and put too much importance on every thought that crosses their mind," says Brad Riemann, director of the OCD Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc.

Young received treatment last year at Rogers after a difficult, 10-year journey to get there.


At age 25, Young began taking antidepressants for her OCD and searching for a residential program that was covered by her insurance plan.

However, when she arrived at Rogers from Ohio, where she lived at the time, she knew within an hour that she was not ready to enter treatment. The next time she tried to get started at Rogers, she lasted about 24 hours. A third time, she was at Rogers for a week. Eventually, she was able to handle three weeks at another facility and learned some coping skills.

Finally, she returned to Rogers for three weeks in March 2013 and another 6-Ĺweeks starting that June. She continues to work with a therapist in North Carolina.

Youngís experience illustrates the seriousness of OCD. Some people have obsessive thoughts centered on the fear of harm or danger, sin or religious guilt, or the need for symmetry and perfection. Or, people can become hoarders if they fear the loss of something of value. "There is absolutely nothing about OCD that is funny," says Riemann. "People with OCD say, ĎHelp me stop.í"


What Causes OCD?

"Thereís no question itís a brain disorder. Most experts believe thereís some kind of neuro-biological problem at its root," says Riemann. "Obsessions are part of the human condition. We all have those. But why somebody gets so many and it creates interference (in daily life), thatís the million-dollar question."

Rogers provides a full continuum of outpatient and inpatient services, including a 28-bed residential program at a new facility in the village of Summit. Its child and adolescent residential programs are the only ones of their type in the United States. Yes, kids can have OCD, too ó an estimated one in 200 children are afflicted.

OCD treatments are designed to help people bring their symptoms under control. Generally speaking, the word "cure" isnít used in regard to mental health issues.

In communities that lack behavioral health care, OCD patients usually are prescribed antidepressants by their primary physician and enjoy partial relief from their symptoms.

A more successful approach begins with exposure and ritual prevention therapy, Riemann says, before adding medications.

In ERP, patients use a 0-to-7 scale to rate their anxiety in very specific situations. For instance, touching a doorknob in the therapistís office likely would rank as less stressful than touching one in a high-traffic building like Miller Park. Exercises are developed to reduce the patientís fears.

"The idea is for people to do the 3s over and over and over again, successfully, and those 3s become zeros," explains Riemann. "Everything kind of shifts down the list. Itís challenging the manageable stuff along the way."

Since leaving Rogers, Young says her OCD "has become more manageable, but it is not gone." Every day, she has to use the strategies she learned in ERP and other therapy to maintain her recovery.

On a typical day, 80 to 90 people on Rogersí campus are receiving care for OCD. Thatís about twice the number of any other center in the world. Rogers plans to open 10 regional treatment centers nationwide during the next five years, starting in Tampa, Fla. (Overall, Rogers treats 10,000 patients a year with a variety of behavioral health issues.)

"Weíve got to do something about getting treatment to people across the country," says Riemann. "Not everyone can come to Oconomowoc."


This story ran in the July 2014 issue of: