Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spreading the Word: OCD on the Air


I'm an avid listener of NPR and always enjoy their various shows and podcasts, and I was recently delighted when I stumbled upon not one, but two, radio segments dedicated to OCD - both what it is and how it is treated.  I have heard so many stories like my own, but I am still drawn to new accounts of others who have suffered.  Likewise, I appreciate it when professional reporters and story-tellers so aptly paint the picture of what it's like to experience OCD for the general public.  Because, while I live in a world where others know what OCD is, where others believe that most thoughts are just thoughts and have no hidden meaning about who or what we are, so many out there, including some therapists, still respond to OCD-type thoughts as meaningful in their own right and as potentially dangerous or harmful.  That mindset can be so heart-breakingly bewildering and detrimental to someone suffering from OCD.  I know it was for me.  The more awareness can be raised by stories like those I'll mention below, the better.  When we have treatments (like CBT, exposure and response prevention, and mindfulness) that can be immensely helpful to so many with this disorder, it seems such a shame that many don't get treatment sooner or don't find effective treatment until many months or years after their suffering begins.

That said, here are two podcasts that I thoroughly enjoyed:


I was already really looking forward to NPR's new show Invisibila and was immediately won over when Part 1 of the very first episode was dedicated to exploring the range of weird and secret thoughts people have and how those thoughts affect people with OCD.  Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller, co-hosts of this new radio endeavor, do a lovely job leading into the story of one man who suffered from obsessional thoughts of harming others (aka "Harm OCD").  Not only do they capture his struggle and recovery in a very identifiable way, they also provide a great summary of some of the most common treatment modalities used by therapists today (as well as how some might work better than others in treating OCD).  I don't want to give too much away, but I, like the man described, initially found a therapist that too readily bought into the content of my thoughts, which only made my OCD worse.  This is one of the reasons I think it's so important to raise awareness about what OCD is and what treatments are considered most effective (again, CBT with exposure and response prevention and mindfulness). 


This second segment I actually just happened upon while listening to the radio one evening after work.  I tuned in mid-story, right as they were talking about having "weird" thoughts like the urge to throw oneself off the platform just as a speeding train approaches.  Intrigued, I went online to listen to the whole thing, and again I found myself excited to hear a compelling radio portrayal of what it's like to have OCD, this time as part of an episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

While this episode does not go too thoroughly into the treatment side of things, I think it does a wonderful job demonstrating how "normal" people with OCD can be, all while struggling with a serious disorder.  In particular, I love the way it captures the paradox of being an very intelligent, rational individual while also grappling with, and often buying into, truly irrational thoughts.  As the man in this story describes, people with OCD can often recognize that their thoughts make no sense, and yet they still feel compelled to defend themselves against such obsessions by carrying out what are often equally irrational compulsions.  When I was at my worst and was truly suffering, part of me could recognize that my obsessions and (especially) my compulsions bordered on the absurd, and yet it was so difficult to resist them.  I think it just goes to show how strange our minds really are, as well as how important it is not to overlook the suffering of seeming "normal" individuals just because they do seem so, well, normal.  They, too, can suffer silently from serious psychological disorders.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of the above segments and hope to hear more like these in the future.  There are so many myths and misunderstood conceptions of what OCD is, and shows like this help capture the experience of OCD in an accessible way while also spreading the word about how it is treated.

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