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Jerry Davich: OCD affects more of us than we think

Heather Chik | Phoprovided

Heather Chik | Photo provided

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Updated: November 19, 2013 6:09AM



The 27-year-old Highland woman has harbored irrational fears, feelings and obsessions since she was a teenager.

She worried about germs and contamination. She struggled with mental obsessions of harming someone else. She double-checked the stove to make sure it was turned off. And then triple-checked it before leaving the house.

This went on for years before intensifying with the stress of beginning graduate school and also the early years of her job as a speech-language pathologist. Her anxiety boiled over into her thoughts, her work, her life.

Finally, in 2012, she was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is a disorder of the brain and a person’s behavior, causing severe anxiety, obsessions and compulsions that get in the way of other daily activities.

For example, if someone is obsessed with germs or dirt, they may develop a compulsion to wash their hands again and again. Or if they develop an obsession with possible intruders, they lock and relock their doors many times before going to bed.

Other common situations include being so afraid of social embarrassment that people with OCD compulsively comb their hair in front of a mirror. Or, worse yet, they are transfixed with the mirror and not able to look away from it.

Performing such rituals can often produce temporary relief from the anxiety behind obsessive thoughts. But it can make life hell trying to do so every hour of every day.

“I remember former co-workers making fun of the obsessions and compulsions that a fellow co-worker had,” explained the Highland woman, whose name I’m not revealing to protect her privacy.

“When I told them I also had the diagnosis they would say, ‘You’d better take care of that before you have kids.’ As if mental illness is akin to a cold.”

“People can easily comprehend a physical ailment because it is common and, therefore, normal,” she said. “A mental illness is not as obvious or common. It makes people uncomfortable or fearful because they do not understand it. Their defense is to label it as abnormal.”

Yet OCD is a prevalent mental condition, affecting one in 100 adults and one in 200 children to some degree, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The Highland woman knew she had a serious problem so she went online to seek help. She discovered the Anxiety and OCD Behavioral Health Center in Munster and has been a client there for nine months. She’s been receiving “exposure therapy,” involving gentle exposure to her fears to help overcome her anxieties.

“I’ve had my doubts about progress and wanted to quit when I deemed an exposure too difficult to complete,” she said. “But the unceasing support of my boyfriend has given me the courage to continue. Life is much easier now with an OCD battle plan in place.”

Typically, it takes several years for people to find the proper treatment from the time OCD first begins to invade their life.

“Unfortunately, despite having well-researched and highly effective psychological treatments out there, it can take up to 15 years from the first onset of symptoms for people to get help because of obstacles such as stigma, a lack of awareness about mental health, and what is appropriate treatment for OCD,” said Heather Chik, a clinical psychologist at the Munster center.

This week is International OCD Awareness Week and Chik’s center is one of many facilities in this region offering free psychological screenings for OCD. If you’ve been struggling with OCD and considering seeking help, now is the time to act on it.

“I know it can be time-consuming, expensive, embarrassing or perhaps even scary to go to therapy, but I’m so fortunate to have found the courage to get help,” the Highland woman told me. “There are professionals who understand OCD and who can help you break out of your own prison. I don’t want to remember the confinement OCD brought pretherapy.”

I think we’ve all experienced touches of OCD-like behavior — I sometimes triple-check my home’s door locks — but if it has taken over your daily life, treatment is needed. And today is the day to check (and double-check) for local resources in your community.

Taking the first step

Several readers have asked how they can begin training for a marathon, half-marathon or 5K race after reading about my experience in the Chicago Marathon. It’s very simple — take the first step.

It doesn’t matter if that step is from walking, jogging or running. Just take that first step. I’m 51 with no history of any serious running, in addition to having problematic feet. A couple years ago, I started doing 5K runs with my girlfriend for some fun, a little exercise and to help a variety of great causes.

You can do the same thing starting this Saturday with the “Pumpkin Panik 5K Run/Walk” in Portage, which I will attend. The event begins at 9 a.m. with check-in at 8 a.m. on Willowcreek Road at the Prairie-Duneland bike trail, which houses the 3.1-mile route.

The family-friendly event is a fundraiser to help cover funeral expenses for Allen Barrett, a young man who was a valued member of 4:12 Youth Ministries at Crossroads Family Church, which is hosting the event. Hope to see you there.

For more info, visit www.cfcportage.com or call Carla Berry at 741-8056.

Sweetest Day gift ideas

On today’s Casual Fridays radio show, from noon to 1 p.m., I will offer listeners several unique Sweetest Day gift ideas to woo or impress their sweetheart on Saturday.

We’ll also chat on-air with a Ball State history professor and an expert in Celtic folklore about remnant druid rituals now commonplace during the Halloween season, from bobbing for apples to donning disguises.

Why do we still perform these ancient rituals? Tune in to find out, at 89.1-FM or streaming online at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org. Call in at 769-9577.

Listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show each Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.



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