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Beating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Beating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Commentary

Beating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Beating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Thirteen-year-old Daniel suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In this commentary, he describes his experiences with OCD and how he overcame the affliction.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Approximately 2 percent of the US population suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The neurobiological disorder is known as OCD for short. One in 100 of those are children. Thirteen-year-old Daniel(ph)--and we're using only his first name to protect his privacy--has OCD. Growing up with him has meant learning how to manage his compulsions. Like many with the disorder, Daniel's compulsive behavior started out as location specific. He never acted out of the ordinary at home, only at school.

(Soundbite of clicking)

DANIEL (OCD Sufferer): No, no. Wait, wait. That is on in the middle...

(Soundbite of clicking)

DANIEL: ...like this.

(Soundbite of clicking)

DANIEL: Oh, the middle one got stuck again.

(Soundbite of clicking)

DANIEL: One day when I was in third grade, my teacher asked me to turn off the lights. There was a triple light switch, and I had this irresistible urge to make all three toggles click on or off at exactly the same moment.

(Soundbite of clicking)

DANIEL: I didn't get it right the first time, so I turned them all on and tried again. Still, it wasn't right. I kept trying. I turned them on and off and on and off, thereby creating a strobe light show. My teacher didn't approve of this at all. She said, `Don't play with the lights please.' The other kids all said, `Hey, stop it.' It was hard to explain to anyone why I did it because I didn't understand it myself. All I knew was I had these urges.

Things had to be even. If I touched something with my right hand, I had to touch it with my left hand, too. This often presented a problem because if my hand accidently brushed against one of my classmates, I'd have to touch them with my other hand. And then they would avoid me because they didn't understand why I was trying to touch them. It looked pretty odd.

(Soundbite of saxophone)

DANIEL: Keyboards and musical instruments were difficult to use because I had to make everything perfectly symmetrical. When I tried to play the saxophone, I had the urge to even up the fingering. No matter what the sheet music said, whatever one of my hands did, the other hand had to do the exact same thing. This sounded like a cacophony.

(Soundbite of saxophone)

DANIEL: When I wrote, sometimes the letters looked uneven, and consequently I wanted to retrace them until they looked even enough. When I typed, I needed to even up the keystrokes. If I pressed J with my right index finger, I had to press F next with my left index finger. I couldn't type a word.

But the worst compulsion of all was backwards talking, gniklat sdrawkcab. When I said something, I would have the compulsion to repeat it backwards in my head to even it up, word by word, like a palindrome, as if the whole phrase were spelled backwards: sdrawkcab delleps erew esarhp elohw eht fi sa. Not only did I have to say my own sentences backwards, I had to repeat backwards whatever somebody else said to me, too. This made telling jokes impossible. It completely ruined my comic timing. Knock, knock. Kconk, kconk.

Unidentified Man: Who's there?

DANIEL: Ereht s'ohw. Lettuce. Ecuttel.

Unidentified Man: Lettuce who?

DANIEL: Ohw ecuttel. Lettuce in. Ni Ecuttel.

Unidentified Man: OK.

DANIEL: Dang it.

It was supposed to go like this: Knock, knock.

Unidentified Man: Who's there?

DANIEL: Lettuce.

Unidentified Man: Lettuce who?

DANIEL: Lettuce in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANIEL: Interacting with other people became a huge mess. I would lose track of what people were talking about because I was concentrating so hard on trying to convert everything that was said, so I didn't talk to people much.

(Soundbite of saxophone)

DANIEL: I only did these things at school, never at home, so nobody knew what was going on until our family took a trip to Canada. My mom and I were walking through a park, and my left leg accidently touched my mom's leg. To even it up, I stuck out my right leg. `You almost tripped me,' my mom said. I told her, `I touched you with my left leg, so I had to touch you with my right leg to make it even.' This was the first time my mom had ever seen me even things up.

My mom did some research and discovered that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. She started looking for a therapist who could give me help. I started meeting with my therapist twice a week. She taught me the motto: Do it wrong. When I had an OCD urge, I needed to respond in the wrong way, not the way I wanted to, and the urge would eventually go away.

Gniklat sdrawkcab.

Like, when I had the urge to repeat a phrase backwards in my head, I should silently repeat it forward over and over until the urge passed.

Backwards talking, backwards talking, backwards talking.

At first, doing my therapy was so hard. Time seemed to slow down. I would tense up, and my breathing would become shallow. Sometimes I would break out in a sweat. But with practice it became easier, and the urge would go away faster.

(Soundbite of saxophone)

DANIEL: Now when I tell jokes, my timing is right. When I play music, I can play a song all the way through without compulsing. I've learned to type fast on the computer. I've typed up a seven-page story. It's a myth about a wolf who was born different than the other young wolves, but it turns out he has some special powers.

It's not like it's all that simple. OCD is never defeated. It's like a whack-a-mole game; it pops up in one place and then comes out another, but you learn how to bop it on the head. I still get urges to do things like retrace letters, but triple light switches are never a problem anymore. I can turn them off any which way.

(Soundbite of clicking)

NORRIS: Daniel's story was produced by Amy Dorn and Hillary Frank as part of Chicago Public Radio's series Chicago Matters: Our Next Generation.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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