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
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
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
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. …