OCD walk aims to fight prevalence, seriousness of disease

Editor's note: Names of OCD sufferers are excluded to protect patient confidentiality.

Daily Herald report

Suppose you were walking around with a disorder - undiagnosed - for 17 years.

Or that one of its symptoms involves a fear of harming children or loved ones.

Most people have a basic understanding of OCD - Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - but many do not know its depth or prevalence.

It's estimated that more than 2 percent of the population has some form of OCD, which also can impact teens and those as young as 5 or 6.

Diagnosis is often delayed, an average 17 years, in part because the disorder has so many unique forms that are less known.

While most people are familiar with common forms depicted in the media, such as contamination fears and compulsive checking, there are lesser-known forms, including violent or sexual obsessions, religious obsessions and obsessive perfectionism.

"'Harming OCD' is strikingly common," says Marilee Feldman, owner of Life Counseling Institute in Willowbrook, which specializes in treating OCD. "It involves someone becoming obsessed - and horrified - by the idea that they may carelessly or impulsively harm someone. An example would be a mom who is worried she will harm the baby, which is known as postpartum OCD."

People with harming obsessions never act on them, Feldman says, and in fact have a strong moral compass that causes them to become overly vigilant about behavior they would never engage in, because they care so much.

What's probably well-known, though, is how much the behavior can take over a person's life.

"It feels all-consuming," says a Downers Grove woman who underwent therapy for OCD. "Logically, I know that when I'm doing rituals, like checking a door is locked seven times, it doesn't make sense, but it feels like I have to, anyway."

Another OCD sufferer, a man from Downers Grove, said, "I would constantly ruminate about either hurting myself or someone I love. I would spend time wondering why I was having intrusive thoughts, what did the thoughts mean about me, and wondering if I would actually follow through with my fears."

Experts in the OCD field say early diagnosis and treatment can help enormously. "Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) are some of the most effective forms of therapy for any disorder in the field of mental health," Feldman said.

"My ability to cope with uncertainty has drastically increased since I began treatment," the Downers Grove man said. "I've been able to get myself 'unstuck' from the 'sticky' thoughts much easier."

Treatment also leads people with OCD to learn that they are far from alone in battling the disease.

"During treatment I gained awareness of what OCD is, why I have it, and learned that I'm not alone in my struggles, which was so important," the Downers Grove woman said.

To that end, the second annual Chicago OCD Walk aims to attract participants from Chicago and the suburbs on Sunday, June 9, at Centennial Park at Northwestern University, 1811 Sheridan Road in Evanston. Registration begins at 10 a.m., opening remarks are at 11 a.m., and the three-mile walk begins at 11:15 a.m.

The event includes raffles and "exposure tables" at which participants can try out ERP therapy.

The walk will benefit two nonprofit organizations, OCD Midwest and the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. Donations will help with public awareness about OCD, provide scholarships for people with OCD to attend the annual conference and provide specialized training for professionals to treat the disorder.

Sign up to walk or donate at:

If you go

What: Second annual Chicago OCD Walk

When: Registration begins at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 9; opening remarks are at 11 a.m.; and the three-mile walk begins at 11:15 a.m.

Where: Centennial Park at Northwestern University, 1811 Sheridan Road in Evanston

Info: <a href=""></a>.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.