Joseph Alterman, a student at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, published a guest editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. I thought it was very informative, but I really hate that AJC makes you register to view archives — and by the time you, whoever you are, happen upon this article, it might be in the archive. So to that end, if you click on the link below, you can read the entire text of the article.
Behavior disorder ‘routine’ extreme
By JOSEPH ALTERMAN
Published on: 02/08/05
I am 16 years old and have severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. For the past year and a half, I have been tortured.
OCD is debilitating and it takes the fun out of everything.
From November 2003 to December 2004, OCD completely took over my life. From the beginning, it took me four hours to get in bed most nights. I would get in bed only after four hours of fixing, touching, balancing, rearranging, hoarding things next to my bed, hiding all of my scissors, perfectly placing my cellphone into the charger many times, turning the lights on and off many times, looking at the picture of my grandparents many times, looking at the same picture many more times while blinking, touching all of the corners that I could find, combing my hair excessive times, washing my hands, looking behind every piece of furniture, behind every corner in every room many times, smiling into the mirror many times, opening and closing doors, fixing “wrong” steps, entering and exiting rooms a certain amount of times.
Then I would hear my dog come into the other room. I would get out of bed and pet my dog. It would take four more hours to get in bed.
At school, I would read, reread and reread and reread paragraphs and pages, repeat and repeat and repeat words, erase and erase and erase sentences. I would stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up. I would constantly be getting up to go to the pencil sharpener. I never ever needed to sharpen the pencil.
By January, the worst of all the compulsions had set in: counting. I would count everything. I would get stuck on a certain number and count to that number over and over and over again. While I was stuck on that specific number, every other number would be “evil,” except for certain multiples of that number.
Everything became very hard and complex. I would run across campus fixating on how I had consumed water from a certain water fountain. I would run past certain teachers’ rooms many times so that “one day I will not turn out like them.” Every time I would see an unattractive woman, I would have to find a very pretty one fast, or else “I would marry someone like that unattractive lady.” At least that’s what the thoughts in my head told me.
Every single second of my day was OCD, but I still did not know what OCD was or if I had it. I was terribly tortured, and I thought that maybe everyone did this. After watching nearly everyone in all of my classes for many days, I realized that this was not so.
I remembered hearing something about OCD. I researched it, and after a very scary night of discovery, admittance and realization, I went and told my parents.
They took me to a psychiatrist. I was put on Zoloft, Fluvox, Effexor, Prozac, Klonopin and many more drugs. None of them worked.
The school was eventually notified, and just in time; I could no longer write in school. Every letter I wrote would have to be erased and re-erased many times. All of my tests were given to me verbally.
Around May, I started getting terrible panic attacks. Sometimes they would last up to three hours.
I still hadn’t told any of my friends; I didn’t want them feeling sorry for me, and I wasn’t ready to tell them. I was ashamed.
The summer came and it was worse than the school year. I was sent home from camp after I was found walking alone, dehydrated and counting in the woods one day. I had to leave my summer vacation in Toronto early because of all my counting and fixing my steps. I counted every step that I took last summer.
I then began behavior therapy, and it was a step forward. I tried not doing what OCD told me to do, and I worked toward a response with the least possible amount of anxiety involved.
Basically, you have to mess up your whole OCD routine and expose yourself to extreme anxiety in order for it to work. It’s a lot like being afraid of heights. The first time you go to the top of that building, it’s going to be scary. But after doing it a few or even many times, it’s not so bad.
My first session of behavior therapy went like this. I was awakened at 9:15 one morning and told not to start my morning routine. My behavioral therapist arrived at my house at 9:30. We went through my whole morning routine and messed up all of my OCD patterns.
I was given assignments for the next week. I could only put shampoo in my hair once. Some days I couldn’t shower, and some days I couldn’t brush my teeth. I could no longer wash my body in symmetric patterns, and I couldn’t put on my deodorant many, many times. I could no longer do everything first on the left side and then on the right. I could no longer brush my teeth over and over and over again. I was told to keep it up every day.
To emphasize how much hard work it took, I tried my hardest all of the time, but it didn’t even start to work until October. It took almost four months to work. It was that hard. And there were no breaks. I would never have gotten better if there were breaks. I had to use it, or at least try to use it, all of the time.
I also began telling my friends what was happening. They were amazing. They helped me through my miserable compulsions (not by helping me do it, but rather by covering it up to the other people around who didn’t know) and my panic attacks.
After school started back in the fall, it was terribly hard. I couldn’t sit through my classes or do my work. Just as the doctors were contemplating whether I should be hospitalized, the school had a meeting with my parents and me. They were sympathetic, and for my sake they told me I had two weeks to improve things or else I would have to go to a new school.
I worked so hard those two weeks, and I managed to stay at school. I wasn’t admitted to a hospital, either. I wouldn’t let that happen to me.
I continued to use my behavior therapy techniques, and by December I had managed to control my OCD.
It was a long, hard fight, but I won. Even though I am going through a setback now, I know the disorder has not returned for good. It is important to let everyone with OCD know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is a way to get there.
Joseph Alterman attends Woodward Academy.