“Hi James, how’s things going?”

“It’s Nicola, it’s her orbito cortex, it’s interacting with her cingulate gyrus again to signal that she needs me to do the dirty chores. I’ve told her time and again that if these brain parts are as faulty as she says they are then she needs to correct them by doing the chores herself. I don’t know why she can’t, I mean, it’s not that hard surely.”

“Well what with the additional interactional signal involving the amgydala it’s not surprising James. You know as well as I do that it’s this part of the brain that will be making her feel she has to avoid doing the chores. Her anxiety will go through the roof as you know already, and she can’t help that… it’s the fight or flight response every time for Nicola… and my hubby.”

“Tell me about it Joyce, I’m sick and tired of it. She asks me to do the chores just so she can prevent herself from getting contaminated; and that if I don’t wash my hands the way she likes me to wash them, then the kids could get seriously ill. I just don’t know why it doesn’t register with her that the kids will be fine and it’s normal to empty a trash can and not give your kids a disease whether you wash your hands or not.”

“Wow! Sounds like OCD has really gotten to you both. It’s not what she “likes” though James, deep down, she’ll be feeling really guilty, and it doesn’t register that easy about your kids getting ill, not when the thalamus loops the same information to and from the cerebral cortex. So you know, she can’t help it James, it’s how the disorder works in the brain.”

“Hmm, well I wished the thalamus would take a running jump because heck it’s certainly a mental relay station in Nicola’s head, sending and bringing back information about the same old thing over and over again… (Sigh) …But I still don’t see how it can’t all just stop, especially given that the cerebral cortex is meant to be seen as the “higher mental processes”.

“Intelligence and reasoning doesn’t come into it James, not with OCD; sadly, OCD clouds all logic with emotions.”

“Yeah, well don’t start telling me about the neo-srtiatum. You’ve told me before about how your partner’s thinking gets stuck on harm and how the information involved in thinking, automatic filtering and movement is faulty.”

“Yep, like a gear stick stuck in first and delaying traffic.”

“That’s right, but how on earth does this happen, can’t they just tell themselves, hey time to filter out.”

“Yeah, but can you imagine what it’s like for your brain parts to get stuck and you can’t think of anything else but one thought and you can’t move to another behaviour because you’re mentally paralysed. It’s tough for my hubby when he gets so darned terrified when he’s chopping veg up – he knows he won’t hurt me with the knife, but he can’t be sure because the thoughts just do not filter out like they do with non-OCD people like us. I’d hate to think my brain parts had locked together and had me stuck on everything needing to be sanitized; or being frightened to death about things that are not rational and won’t happen.”

“It’s not just the washing things down Joyce, it’s like Nicola tells me to wash my hands every time too, and that makes me feel that I’ve acquired second-hand OCD. Obviously I don’t feel the same way as she does, but I suppose it gives me a taste of what it must be like to be driven by an internal slave driver, or else. I’m just angry with OCD right now.”

“At least you know it’s something Nicola can’t help, and that you’re angry with OCD, not her. And so you could try to change things for the better without making her feel guilty for having a brain disorder. It’s a bit like someone having Parkinson’s disease, I tell my hubby that these people can’t help their symptoms, and if they have partners who get mad with them and tell them it’s all in their heads, it’d be a case of ‘hang on, you don’t have this disease so how do you know?'”

“I get what you’re saying Joyce, and I’m sure he appreciates that. I do try to understand, and I do know Nicola doesn’t mean to go into such an anxiety state, she wouldn’t be taking medication otherwise… emotionally it’s hard for her because at the time everything’s kicking off, she really believes all the family will be contaminated. Now I’ve calmed down a bit I feel pretty bad about getting annoyed with her.”

“Yeah, she needs you on her side James, but I’m sure she’ll try to see it from your perspective too. It’s hard for you both, and so maybe get together and see a therapist who can talk to you both about how to manage the problems. This is what I’ve done, and the way it’s all explained makes it much better to manage. It’s how I’ve learned about how OCD works in the brain, and how those brain parts involved can actually revert back to normal with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure response prevention (ERP).  The reverting back to normal is known as remission, not a cure. People return to normal functioning, but like cancer, it can return but not always.  It’s kind of empowering to learn these things because you then have a better understanding of what you’re dealing with; and a blueprint for preventing relapse is discussed too, just like advice and check-ups for preventing cancer returning.”

“I guess you’re right with everything you just said, I was just really overwhelmed earlier. I’m a bit calmer now. I really do need to take your advice Joyce and separate OCD from Nicola, and us both for all our sakes; I mean the kids are nearly school age and they start picking up on things before too long don’t they.”

“True James, and it’s great you’re aware of this really, because a united front against this illness can be so effective. A therapist can help you learn how to better respond to Nicola’s pleas for doing the chores and washing your hands too, and all the other stuff, I know it’s not that straightforward, but it would be a start if you made the decision to go ahead and find a CBT therapist to help you figure things out.”

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