What OCD inflicted people really need

Rimli Bhattacharya

I had heard the phrase “Stress, anxiety and depression are caused when we are living to please others” but this was not true in Kashish’s case. Kashish never wanted to appease people. She wanted to work and live life on her own terms.

When I had first seen her I was enthralled by her beauty. She was wearing a pale blue kurta and her glowing highlighted curls made me envious. We met at the cafeteria at Churchgate station when I noticed the first thing she did was to push the door of the café with her thumb, index and middle fingers instead of her palm.

We settled with our cups of tea and Kashish handed me her resume. She had just moved from Jabalpur and was searching for a place to stay in Mumbai. I had placed an advertisement asking for paying guests and Kashish had contacted me. We must have sat for an hour and I could sense her queasiness all throughout the meeting though I could not figure out the reason. When we rose to leave it was me who opened the door. And Kashish followed me.

It was only after Kashish came to stay with me as a paying guest that I realized she suffered from anxiety. I would try my best to calm her down. I would observe the daily ritual of washing her blue kurta. Though she had nothing against tea, she preferred to have coffee with me. She believed having coffee with me to be a positive omen though she invariably had an overwhelming sense of guilt for making me miss my tea. Kashish should have approached a doctor long back but she didn’t feel comfortable speaking about her mental illness openly. And of me she thought that I would brand her ‘mad’ let alone take her to a psychiatrist.

Kashish left my place immediately after my wedding. And then as fate would have it, post my marriage and given to the mental tortures by my psychogenic husband I too began developing symptoms displayed by Kashish.

He would abuse me for silly reasons including my cooking. He would find faults with each of the dresses that I wore. I constantly tried to appease him and failed miserably. Stress and tension overpowered me and then came a time when I too developed the ritual of constantly checking the green vegetables in my fridge. I would take them out and would lay them on the kitchen floor for drying under the fan. Some outlandish act without any logic. And also out of my wardrobe full of clothes I would only wear just two of my dresses – a maroon salwar kurta and an orange gown. I felt my husband would stop torturing me if I wore only them. Unfortunately, that was not true as he still would find faults with each act of mine. It was to be inferred that I was stuck in a bad marriage.

Gradually anxiety and fear engulfed me and there came a time when I had to phone my parents to come down from Kolkata and save me from his clutches as I had suffered a major nervous breakdown.

While I never heard what had later happened to Kashish, my father could perceive that my situation called for an immediate intervention of a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Like other mental illnesses, OCD is also an anxiety disorder during which the person has persistent, undesirable thought patterns, ideas or emotion (obsessions) which compel them to do a task repeatedly.

These recurrent behaviors or compulsions markedly interfere with a person’s day to day activities and societal interactions.  It’s an anxiety-related disorder and here the brain suffers from chemical imbalances.

As an OCD survivor myself and also a witness to Kashish’s failing mental health, it taught me that there was a lot which we could do for a patient suffering from OCD apart from just extending emotional support and lending them a patient hearing.

Actions to take on behalf of an OCD patient

Consult a psychiatrist and start treatment immediately

As I had mentioned, the brain undergoes certain chemical imbalances when a person gets afflicted with OCD. Therefore, the right medicines are needed to compensate those deficiencies in the brain. It is advised to take immediate help of professionals before it can create any further damage. I not only took help of a psychiatrist but also consulted counselors and psychotherapists and it worked for me.

Prolonged OCD left without treatment reduces the chances of recovery. And at that stage even administering optimum medication refuses to tone down the symptoms. So do not wait. Consult a practitioner the moment you figure out those obsessive thoughts and compulsive patterns in you.

Don’t try to ‘STOP’ repetitive behavior

Yes, it sounds weird but it is the only way out till the person comes out from the jolt of OCD. The more you ask to stop the worse it gets. The person is already fighting an uphill battle with these obsessions and compulsions and asking him/her to stop only aggravates the situation. Don’t get me wrong please as I am not advocating in encouraging these repetitive rituals and thought process but try and understand the person is sick and needs help. The only thing which works during these times are the psychotropic drugs though they fail to provide immediate repose. That reminds me of Kashish’s cleaning and washing and the day we were forced to leave the house so that she got some mental relief. 

I also recollect the days when my husband would throw his volley of abuses instead of helping me deal with my illness. My symptoms would aggravate and I would be left with a suicidal feeling out of the hopelessness.

Later after my treatment had started, not for once did my psychiatrist ask me to control my repetitions and on the contrary she administered the psychotropic drugs and said that I would recover. Slowly I came out of my obsessive and compulsive patterns and my life returned to normalcy again.

Do not lose patience and jump to conclusion that the person is deliberately committing such recurrent behaviors

It is a herculean task for the person suffering from OCD to curb those obsessions and the conduct associated with it. S/he must be genuinely trying and this behavior of yours may, in fact, fill the person with a sense of guilt. It is tough (even I faced so as did Kashish) but just know that the patient is trying his/her level best to come out of this overwhelming behavior.

Generate a diversion

It is necessary to create deflections. Going on vacations work wonders. Explore new places. Prior to my marriage both Kashish and I had been to high places, Garudmachi where she almost forgot her rituals of washing and cleaning. We participated in rappelling, rock climbing, bonfire and camping. I had witnessed that the patient not only gets a healthy and invigorating sleep but it also helps in curbing the symptoms to a certain extent. Those days Kashish even drank tea with me.

I recollect my suffering from the same indisposition, and my parents, upon suggestion of the psychiatrist, had brought me back to Kolkata.

But as I mentioned it is mandatory that you take your medicines regularly. Kashish’s symptoms resumed within few days of our return as she was without any treatment. And I who was under medications returned to Mumbai from Kolkata after a month completely cured of the rituals of checking the fridge, drying vegetable and of wearing only two sets of dresses.

Get the patient occupied with meaningful tasks

Ensure the patient stays occupied with something which they love doing. Taking up a job, developing a hobby, starting a small entrepreneurship play pivotal roles in curing the person.

I resumed work in the same office which my husband had earlier forced me to resign. This is what helped me develop an indomitable urge to get cured and then nothing would stop me. I refused to remain under his bondage and my feeling of guilt due to those repressive and repetitive actions started fading. Over a period of time I was completely out of my obsessions, but yes, the medicines were on.

Shove away the trigger items

While it is not rational thinking to keep the patient surrounded with trigger objects and tasks it also cannot be contradicted that this depends a lot on the kind of object, its utility and gravity. Such like situations call for discussions and one can decide a workable plan to do the best for the patient by parking those trigger objects off the bay. A tricky phase indeed!

Unlike physical indispositions, OCD and other mental ailments are not something which are always clearly discernible. It takes time to realize that one is mentally ill though apparently s/he might appear normal. The recovery is slow and painful. As the saying goes, sometimes we need no words and no advice but just a hug to make us feel better.

Compassion and cooperation is all that we can extend to a patient till s/he recovers. Do not stress out on things which you cannot control and change. Ask for help, get yourself cured.  Get rid of your mental illness. Be a survivor. I have been one.

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