Unwillingly obsessed

Published: July 24, 2012
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After fully examining the floor to his satisfaction, he looks for creases on his bed sheet. He is obsessed with cleanliness.

Amir* is an A’ Level student. Today is the 24th of the month and also his birthday. He has turned 18 today but does not remember the last time he was happy and not aggravated by someone or something.

It’s not his fault that he is black and blue but people do not recognise this. He is active and healthy around people but also absent at the same time – internally absent. He refers to his ‘problem’ as the ‘black dog’.

His family is getting ready to celebrate his birthday, but Amir has confined himself to his room. He is checking the floor, looking for any specks of dirt he might have missed. He is obsessed with cleanliness. After fully examining the floor to his satisfaction, he looks for creases on his bed sheet. He wants his bed sheet to be free of any folds or creases; he will not be able to sleep on it if it bears the slightest crease. Even worse, if he finds one, he will have to repeat the task all over again.

After completing all these unnecessary tasks, he goes to the bathroom sink to wash his hands thoroughly – as many times as it takes to be content. This time it was six. His mother knocks at his door and tells him to come out. He eventually emerges and his mother asks:

What took you so long?

He answers,

You know, I was doing some routine chores because I want everything to be perfect.

Disgruntled, his mother replies,

Oh, I know what was making you so late. Cut the comedy and get into the car.

Isolated and shunned again.

Emotionally disconnected, Amir feels like even those closest to him – those who are his own – fail to see his torment. He is forced to fight his own battle within himself all alone.

His ‘black dog’ is faithful to him but in a way he despises. He is always around him, overpowering him at most times, but now Amir has to control it.

He fails again.

Before getting into the car, he checks his door lock several times rotating it clockwise and anticlockwise. It takes about ten minutes until he is fully satisfied.

This time, Amir celebrates his birthday with an unusual sense of joy. He tells everyone that he is happy, much to their surprise. When he is asked the specific reason for this sudden jubilation, he replies,

Well, I am 18 now and 18 is an even number. Also, my roll number for my upcoming medical entrance test is 46 which is also an even number and so is the date of my birthday.

His little brother speaks in a low voice,

Oh, dumbski!]

Isolated and shunned yet again.

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What exactly is wrong with Amir you might ask? What is a ‘black dog’?

A lot of you may already deem Amir to be neurotic or even a cuckoo. But you are wrong; he is neither.

He is one of the most courageous people known; he battles day in and day out with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Other people who have suffered from this disorder include Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, David Beckham, Jessica Alba and business magnate, Donald Trump.

OCD can be a very disturbing and dangerous mental illness. A person suffering from it is controlled by the disease and in Amir’s case, that ‘black dog’ controls his whole life.

This disorder leads one to have repetitive or intrusive thoughts, impulses, or images that cause marked anxiety or distress. Compulsions are characterised as ritualistic behaviour or acts that the person feels driven to perform that are aimed to reduce distress.

In the case of Amir, the marked symptoms of this condition include compulsive hand washing and an obsession with cleanliness, even numbers, checking door knobs, locks and cupboards.

Many people make the victims of such mental disorders the butt of their jokes. Few seem to understand that in most cases this can result in the aggravating feeling of isolation and self-loathing.

There is very little awareness about disorders like OCD, dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome and autism in Pakistan. There is even an unfortunate sense of hesitance to spread awareness or learn more about these disorders. They are rarely spoken about or discussed openly unless in jest. There have been instances where, due to lack of awareness, the indication to these disorders go completely unnoticed and parents fail to provide their child with the right kind of support.

Diagnosing the illness as early as possible – be it OCD or any other mental disorder – is extremely important for the sake of the sufferer. Through adequate awareness, this can be done. The next most important step would be to seek help on a professional platform from specialists who can guide people towards the needs of people who have disorders .

For these people, being part of a rehab centre or support group will give him/her a sense of belonging and a realisation that there are others like them. This will ensure that those like Amir do not have to fight the battle alone; a battle that they may not be able to win on their own.

*Names have been changed to protect identities  

Usman.Amjad

Dr Usman Amjad

A medical doctor who is interested in behavioral neuroscience and studying mental disorders.

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