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Wrestling the OCD demons


04 November 2010

The time is 8.30pm. Watching TV at home, you see on the coffee table a scribbled reminder of your first counselling session tomorrow. You can't go through with it. You have to cancel. You dial the number written down and for five whole minutes, stare at the 'call' button, debating whether to press it.

At least in absence of that magical button there are real treatments available. The most talked-about, probably because it's almost certainly the most effective, is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT is structured self-help built around exposure therapy. In its simplest form, this involves exposing someone with OCD to whatever causes them anxiety, helping them to tolerate it without the need to quell this discomfort with a compulsion. So it might see me plunge my hands into some dirt – I feel quite ill thinking about it, actually – and avoiding washing my hands. It sounds simple, but if well implemented, it can work.

Counselling and more straightforward therapy can also help people with OCD, as can HRT: that's Habit Reversal Training, and not what’s helping your mum’s hormone levels. It involves becoming aware of a compulsion, and developing a response to oppose it.

But for some, medication to battle obsessions is the best way forward, not least because CBT sadly has a very long waiting list. But from my experience, it's definitely the best course of action – after speaking to a doctor, of course.

Through treatment, it is possible to live a normal life with OCD. I'm managing it, if you can call me normal. And the fact that John is neither in a hospital or dead, as were once his only two options, shows that however severe their condition, anyone can come back from the brink.

And since you ask: no, I wouldn't press the magic button. It's almost certainly dirty.

'''The time is 11pm and it's time to go to bed. You turn off the light. And you turn it back on again. Off. On. Off. On. You wonder how long this will go on for tonight. But you do have the first of those counselling sessions tomorrow. Off. On. So although this OCD isn't going to go away overnight – damn it – at least you have a chance now of managing it better. Off. On. So go to sleep, then start tomorrow afresh.