I remember vividly as a young child being so scared of my bedroom and of nighttime that I conjured up a way to calm myself. I checked every nook and cranny in my room. Then I rechecked them. I looked under my bedÖbehind my mirror..in the closet and ALWAYS in the same pattern. If I deviated, I had to start over. Then Iíd sneak down the basement stairs that were next to my room to make sure that the evil iron was unplugged. I had to check that several times too. Up the stairs and back down, just to be absolutely certain that it didnít somehow magically get plugged in while I wasnít watching or maybe I wasnít seeing it properly.
This checking ritual was a nightly occurrence for some time and somehow calmed my nerves and made me feel in control--like I was preventing bad things from happening by doing them. Inevitably, it led to similar behaviors outside my nighttime routine. Even as a child I realized that this was not really normal behavior but I couldnít stop it.
The day I learned that what I suffer from was fairly common and actually had a name was probably a turning point in my life. I was sitting in a doctorís office waiting for one of my children to be seen when I caught sight of a brochure emblazoned with: "Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder." I had never heard of it, but the name was certainly intriguing so I took the pamphlet with me. Later, at home, I literally had tears running down my face as I read it because I suddenly realized that what I had suffered with for so many years was a bona fide disorder and that lots of people have it.
My OCD is the hardest thing in my life to talk about. I sometimes off-handedly joke about it and play it off as something insignificant that causes amusing habits when, in reality, it is not at all amusing and is very significant to me. Iím not sure I am capable of opening and closing a drawer or a cabinet just once.
My symptoms get worse when Iím under stress or nervous about something. When my two children were young, I was in OCD high gear. I thought the very health and welfare of my children depended on how many times I turned the light switch on and off. It made no sense and yet in my mind it did.
You donít hear that much from the medical community about OCD and not much on the pop culture front either. There have been a couple of characters in movies and television that suffer from it. For one, there was Monk, the brilliant TV detective, and his hard-to-believe behaviors that became almost a parody. Thereís the character played by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good as it Gets who is a social pariah as a result of his OCD. Steve Martin wrote a wonderful book about a guy with extreme OCD. The Pleasure of My Company is a warm and empathetic story about a person with a disorder that seems too bizarre to be real.
Research shows that one in 100 people suffer from OCD in some form. Some have it as a child, others develop it as young adults. There are varying degrees of severity. For some, it is so severe they canít lead a normal life and may not even leave their home. For others, it is more of a mild annoyance. Researchers donít have all the answers yet but what they do know for sure is that there is a problem in the way the brain works that causes it.
Personally, I have never let my OCD stop me from doing anything in my life. No disorder was going to keep me from living my life to the fullest.
I have been a well-known on-air broadcast professional for 30 years, have traveled the world and have owned several successful businesses. I have an incredible marriage and two great (normal) sons who are aware that their mom sometimes does some pretty weird things.
There is no need for the estimated 3.3 million people with OCD to suffer because there are medication and therapy treatments now to help deal with it, although there is no cure. You could go your whole life not knowing that what you have is a common disorder and that there is treatment. So, if you feel the need to turn the faucet off and on a certain number of times (my number is four) or you canít bear to step on a crack in the sidewalk, know that you are not alone and that you can overcome it.
Ann Craig-Cinnamon has been featured in a documentary shown on PBS called "Naptown Rock Radio Wars." She is author of a memoir entitled, Walking Naked in Tehran