How to Change Your Brain By Accepting that it Can’t be Changed
It’s not easy for me to confess just how often I cried in the fall of 2009. I wish I didn’t care, but I’m still a slave to some old notions. All of which is to say that I cried quite a lot, and I’m ashamed to admit it.
If you found yourself in midtown Manhattan that autumn, around noon, you may have witnessed a 26-year-old man with his hands jammed in his pockets, marching across the city. He’d usually head south to the Village, but sometimes he’d go west to Hell’s Kitchen or east to the river. He’d be wearing an outfit that just barely met the standards of “business casual”—ink-stained khakis a size too big, untucked polo, brown sneakers doing a poor imitation of dress shoes. And if you committed the ultimate New York faux pas and actually looked him in the eyes, you’d see the tears.
The forgettable 26-year-old was me, and I was crying for joy—for the beauty of the world. Who knows what inspired these tears, exactly? Maybe I had watched an old woman teach a young blind girl how to use her cane to detect a sidewalk curb, and maybe I thought, this is someone with real problems, and look at her courage. Or maybe I had phoned my mother in a panic, and she had restored my self-belief with a convincing pep talk. In any case, the bracing truth reached me: “Yes, of course! Life is wonderful, and you never want to leave! You idiot!” So the tears flowed—tears of relief and salvation. more
Our thoughts and fears, movements and sensations all arise from the electrical blips of billions of neurons in our brain. Streams of electricity flow through neural circuits to govern these actions of the brain and body, and some scientists think that many neurological and psychiatric disorders may result from dysfunctional circuits.
As this understanding has grown, some scientists have asked whether we could locate these faulty circuits, reach deep into the brain and nudge the flow to a more functional state, treating the underlying neurobiological cause of ailments like tremors or depression. more
The current, criteria-based approach towards diagnosing psychiatric disorders evolved from research in the 1960s and early 1970s by faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. Those investigators analyzed data from clinical observations, longitudinal follow-up of patients, and family history information to define diagnostic criteria for a group of psychiatric illnesses that they believed were well validated based on several defined metrics.
Although this approach was not based on disease mechanisms, it did allow for reliable categorization of disorders—reliable meaning that different clinicians would likely agree on the same diagnosis for a given patient. Some of the illnesses included in the original 1972 publication from the Washington University group were schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, certain anxiety disorders, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol and drug dependence.
Catherine Benfield wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until she was was 31, after she had her first child, though it would appear she’s had it all her life. She recovered with the help of therapy – and by creating a character who personifies her obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
“She’s got the big ears, because she’s like a startled hare, she’s listening out.
“She’s bedraggled, because she’s been through a lot and she’s normally having some kind of panic.
The big eyes are about making sure she’s keeping an eye out for danger.
“The big legs – for running,” like a frightened hare, says Catherine Benfield.
You have now met Olivia.
She is a visualisation – a character created by Catherine to personify the condition she has lived with since she was a child.
The O in Olivia stands for OCD, an abbreviation for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People are often mistaken about OCD, Catherine says. So many people think it’s about being very fastidious and organising your pens very precisely on your desk but it’s actually a serious anxiety-related mental health condition, involving intrusive obsessive thoughts, images and fears.
In an effort to prevent one of her fears coming true, Catherine would feel compelled to carry out a repetitive physical or mental act – in technical terms the fear is the “obsession” and the repetitive act is the “compulsion”. This would provide temporary relief from the anxiety, but then it might return, compelling her to repeat the behaviour again and again.
As a teenager she was terrified to be the last one to leave the house, because of the fear that it would burn down once she had gone – she would compulsively check the cooker was switched off and switches unplugged. And to ensure everyone was safe she would compulsively lock all doors and windows, and remove all trip hazards. These routines could take hours to perform, and if one thing disturbed the process she would start all over again. MORE
Every time I hear someone say they are “so OCD” because they frantically cleaned their kitchen that morning, I feel a surge of disappointment in my stomach.
Over the years, we have become conditioned to believe that obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is nothing more than liking your shoes lined up, having to count to a certain number or organising your cupboards with labels.
Not only has this become a misconception due to people using the condition as a description for their personality quirks, but even TV shows have added to the stigma – such as Channel 4’sObsessive Compulsive Cleaners, which added to the belief that having OCD is all about getting down on your hands and knees to scrub a toilet over and over again.
While people often use the term lightheartedly, they don’t realise the damage they’re doing. But this isn’t exactly their fault. It’s a frequent misunderstanding. It’s a misunderstanding that has gone on for too long, and is demoralising to those seriously suffering with the disorder. more
While I think we’ve come a long way in terms of the stigma attached to brain disorders, we still have so far to go. Case in point: How many of us would actually admit to hearing voices? My guess is not too many. What would others think?
The truth, however, is that it is not uncommon for people to have this experience at one time or another. Heard someone call your name, but nobody is around? Maybe you’ve heard the voice of a loved one who has died? There have certainly been a few times in my life where I’ve heard voices that aren’t there and have attributed it to my mind “playing tricks on me” (whatever that actually means). more
Are alcoholism and OCD related? It’s a common question, and the short answer is yes, in many ways not just alcoholism but addiction in general has been shown to have some relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. We’ll talk about what OCD is, and some of the ways there are relationships between this mental disorder and addiction, including alcoholism.
You’ve probably heard people joke around and say they’re OCD when it comes to everything from avoiding germs to keeping their house a certain way, but OCD is actually a diagnosable mental health disorder that goes beyond liking things clean or orderly. With alcoholism, there are often underlying co-occurring mental health disorders a person suffers from, and OCD and alcoholism are just one example of this. more
The first time Faith-Ann Bishop cut herself, she was in eighth grade. It was 2 in the morning, and as her parents slept, she sat on the edge of the tub at her home outside Bangor, Maine, with a metal clip from a pen in her hand. Then she sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood–and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” says Faith-Ann. “For a while I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”
The pain of the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, about her future, about relationships, about everything. Many days she felt ill before school. Sometimes she’d throw up, other times she’d stay home. “It was like asking me to climb Mount Everest in high heels,” she says. more
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affects millions of people from all walks of life. According to the NIMH, OCD affected 1.2% of adults in the U.S. in the past year. It currently affects approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the U.S. People with OCD experiences obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urge that cause distress or anxiety. Compulsions are behaviors that the person feels compelled to perform in order to ease their distress or anxiety or suppress the thoughts. Some of these behaviors are visible actions while others are mental behaviors. Common obsessions include concerns about contamination, cleanliness, aggressive impulses, or the need for symmetry. Common compulsions include checking, washing/cleaning, and arranging. There isn’t always a logical connection between obsessions and compulsions. Often people with OCD experiences a variety of obsessions and compulsions. more
Having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) isn’t easy. The condition, marked by uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors, strikes about 2% of the general population—a figure that in the U.S. alone means nearly 6.5 million people. If you’ve made it past young adulthood without developing any symptoms, you’re likely in the clear.
You wouldn’t know that to hear people talk, however. In recent years, OCD has become the psychological equivalent of hypoglycemia or gluten sensitivity: a condition untold numbers of people casually—almost flippantly—claim they’ve got, but in most cases don’t. Folks who hate a messy desk but could live with one for a day do not necessarily have OCD. Nor do those who wash their hands before eating but would still have lunch if there was no soap and water nearby. Yet the almost sing-songy declaration “I’m so OCD!” seems to be everywhere. more