Friday, June 12, 2009


After I watched Intervention on Monday, I watched the following show, Obsessed, a new docuseries from the creators of Intervention. From the website:

A&E's true-life docuseries Obsessed examines the lives of everyday people imprisoned by unmanageable, repetitive behaviors and sometimes debilitating fear. Whether it is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Hoarding or a variety of phobias, the unscripted series gives viewers a chance to see first-hand how an obsession can radically affect a person's life. By using cognitive behavioral therapy, each subject is taught how to understand the thought process which contributes to his or her symptoms and is coached on how to change these thought patterns, manage their anxiety and avoid the resulting debilitating compulsions. The show explores the stories of sufferers as well as the adverse effects their disorders have on their friends and family.

I normally don't quote as much as I did there, but I thought this show really captured all these elements so nicely, at least in this episode I watched. I'll try to give a brief synopsis of the two characters. (Brevity is not my forte)

Case 1:
Nidia is in her late 20s, has been married for eight years, and suffers from OCD, manifesting in the form of excessive hand washing and showering due to fears of germs, "cleanliness," and fecal matter. She rarely goes out of her house, avoids foods with fiber, like vegetables, and has daily rituals. The most pronounced and dangerous are her shower rituals which take anywhere from 1-3 hours, always after a bowel movement. She has literally scraped the insides of he
rself through use of instruments in order to feel "clean" enough. On several occasions, she has had to go to the ER due to severe blood loss.

Case 2: Rick is in his late 40s, is married, has one daughter, is working on a novel, and in general very "mathematical" and obsessed with numbers. He has several compulsions, like spinning in only one direction, adding up numbers on a license plate, however, his excessive exercise has hindered him the most. Rick's exercise habits started as a way to become healthier. He felt the more he did, meaning multiple times a day, the healthier he would become. Because his root fear was in aging and death, he felt like if he could control X and Y, he would obtain the outcome of Z that he wanted. Along with the exercise, he takes 40+ pills/supplements a day in the name of "health." He has not missed a workout since 1997.

Both of these individuals sought treatment, realizing how much they and their loved ones were suffering. With
Nidia, her marriage was at a "rocky" point due to her OCD. Although her husband loved her and tried to be supportive, he felt frustrated in not being able to help her. Nidia's OCD was affecting the life both of them had envisioned and wanted together.

With Rick, he was missing out on spending time with his family and not being as productive as he wanted with his writing.

The treatment for both of them was
exposure therapy, a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with the purpose of reducing anxiety by exposing the individuals to their specific fears gradually. Although exposure therapy has been successful, especially for those suffering from OCD, it is not for everyone either.

Nidia and Rick received 12 weeks of exposure therapy. The hope was for them to not only face their fears, but also to "sit" with their feelings, gradually reducing the anxiety. Though both had difficulties, Nidia had more success with hers. She learned to overcome her fear of germs through picnic and nature outings.She learned to lessen her shower rituals and feel okay about not being "clean" enough. In the end, her marriage stayed intact, and she was no longer imprisoned by her OCD.

For Rick, he was successful in eliminating his spinning and reducing the number of times he exercised to a point. He and his therapist disagreed on the criteria of "excessive," but Rick truly felt like he had accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time. He found he had more time to spend with his family, however, his wife still felt like he had somewhat of a problem.

Personally, I found myself relating to
both of these individuals. With Nidia, the thought she deserved to be in pain was heartbreaking to hear, yet so familiar. With Rick, his ambivalence of wanting to reduce his exercise but not give it up completely was familiar as well. Something else he said was that feared dealing with his issues, because he was afraid of finding out who he was. That deeply struck a chord with me.

Besides these relatable factors, what I liked most about this episode was how it showed the crippling effects of living with OCD and obsessive thoughts. I think people tend to forget it isn't just about performing a compulsive behavior repetitively, but rather that there is far more to it--that these individuals are severely suffering.. I'm sure a lot of us can certainly empathize or sympathize, but I'm not sure how much of the general audience can. This reminds me a lot of the people who tell victims of eating disorders to "Just eat," "just stop purging," "just don't exercise," etc. Unfortunately, if we could completely, and our brains worked with wondrous off/on switches, well, we'd all be cured then!

Any thoughts on this show? Do you think there is still misinformation out there on illnesses like
OCD or other anxiety disorders?


Cammy said...

The thing I like the most about 'Obsessed' is that it shows the therapy process. In 'Intervention', the focus is on the disordered/addicted behaviors, then they are packed off to treatment and we see them two or three months later, shiny and good as new (for a while at least). In Obsessed, though, the focus is on the therapy. We see the exposures, the struggles, the process of overcoming mind-barriers, something I always wished we got to see in the other series.

Kim said...

I'm going to have to put this show in my DVR. I've always been interested in OCD as I think many of my struggles with anorexia are very similar. When I have "exposure" therapy (ie trying a new food), I see myself succeed and positive momentum starts. I have a lot of rituals still ingrained and fears about what would happen if I broke them. I really feel for people who struggle with OCD. In general, I think there is misinformation out there. Nobody realizes the internal struggle; they just see odd behaviors.

Gaining Back My Life said...

I watched the 1st episode & couldn't handle it anymore - way too stressful!

Tiptoe said...

Cammy, good point. I should have emphasized this more in the post. Many people fear the therapy process, so more representations of it are a good thing. I'm wondering if there will ever be a show using DBT. I think that could be highly beneficial for a lot of people.

Kim,exposing yourself to a fear can definitely bring about a positive momentum. I hope you continue to break through those rituals and fears. Sometimes, we have to allow ourselves to get to that point to ever see what is on the other side.

GBML, I'm sure for a lot of people, this show could be difficult. You always have to do what is the best for you.