Prisoners of Their Own Behavior People Suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Are Often Trapped by Routines of Debilitating Ritual

By Patton, Charlie | The Florida Times Union, February 10, 1998 | Go to article overview

Prisoners of Their Own Behavior People Suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Are Often Trapped by Routines of Debilitating Ritual


Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union


Janis McClure has two great goals in life: "I want to get my

Ph.D. and I want to get my nails done."

What gives that statement special poignance is that, in a way,

getting a doctorate is less of a challenge.

McClure, 34, has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a psychological

affliction that produces irrational anxiety about harmless

events.

At its worst, medical experts say, the disorder can imprison

its victim in a debilitating routine of repetitive rituals

designed to relieve those anxieties.

Before she finally found someone who knew how to treat the

disorder effectively, McClure found herself barely able to

function, spending hours at the office while accomplishing

almost nothing.

She went on disability leave from her job as an accountant for

University Medical Center after she had to be physically removed

from the sink at her work. She was unable to stop herself from

repetitively washing her hands.

That fear of contamination also made all physical contact with

others unbearable, which complicated relations with her husband

and her daughter, who is now 7, and made the idea of getting her

nails done unthinkable.

The disorder is getting attention lately because of the movie

As Good As It Gets in which Jack Nicholson plays a writer whose

seemingly eccentric behavior results from obsessive-compulsive

disorder.

McClure said she is delighted that the movie is creating new

awareness of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She said she spent

years trying to get her condition diagnosed and, once she

finally realized what was causing her problem, another decade

trying to find someone who would treat it effectively.

She devotes her energy to trying to educate others. She is

president of the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation of

Jacksonville, and the doctorate she wants to earn will prepare

her for a career as a psychotherapist specializing in behavioral

therapy for the disorder.

McClure diagnosed her condition in 1987, when she saw Wayne

Goodman, a psychiatrist who was then on the faculty of Yale

University, talking about obsessive-compulsive disorder on a

segment of the ABC news magazine 20/20.

Listening to Goodman, she said, she finally understood the

strange obsessions and compulsions that had ruled her life since

she was a 5-year-old constantly praying for rain so she wouldn't

have to deal with the unbearable anxiety she felt about going

out on the school playground.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until two years ago that she found a

therapist who was able to prescribe the right combination of

drug and behavior therapy enabling her to begin overcoming her

anxieties and breaking out of her routine of debilitating

rituals. That therapist was Goodman, who had relocated to North

Florida, where he is interim chairman of the Department of

Psychiatry at the University of Florida's College of Medicine

and associate chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at

University Medical Center of Jacksonville.

Like McClure, Janis Aderhold spent years knowing there was

something wrong with her. Aderhold, 39, who is vice president of

the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation of Jacksonville, remembers

that by the time she was 11 years old, she felt "constant

anxiety for no reason."

Particularly disturbing was an irrational fear of death that

began when her great-grandfather died. After her favorite

musician, Gram Parsons, died of a drug overdose in 1973, the

teenager became so obsessed with ideas of death that she ended

up throwing away not only all of Parsons' records but every

record she owned. …

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