29 July 2013

Cause and effect

Scientists still don't fully understand what causes OCD, but it's thought to be the result of a combination of factors. These include genetics, psychology, life experiences and even possibly a chemical imbalance in the brain. The combination varies from person to person.

The degree of influence of each of these elements also differs: genetics might be the main factor for one person, while life experiences might be key for another. 

Image courtesy of: artur84/

The situation is further complicated by the fact that there are many different forms of OCD, including - amongst others - contamination fears, checking and intrusive thoughts, as well as my own perfectionism and obsession with order and symmetry. The cause of one type might be quite different from the cause of another, and can even be different in people with the same main form of the condition.

In short, there is no 'one size fits all' answer as to cause and it can be hard to identify even at an individual level. 

With me, there certainly seems to be a genetic predisposition on both sides of my family.

My dad has commented several times on how much he relates to the experiences I describe on my blog and provided examples of his own, similar behaviours. We also share an anxious temperament, which can make someone more prone to develop the condition. 

On my mum's side, her mother was extremely houseproud. Perhaps not unusual for her generation, but my parents have speculated recently that she might, in fact, have had OCD. 

There is certainly evidence of something rather obsessive in her behaviour. Prior to my birth, my mum conducted a spring-clean of our house, so as not to have to worry about cleaning during her first weeks with a new baby. When her mother came to visit, to meet me, she commented that the house was spotless - apart from a soapy residue behind the bathroom basin taps. Most people wouldn't even comment on the cleanliness of someone's else's home, let alone point out something as trivial as soap marks. And such a concern, on the day you meet your first grandchild, seems wildly misplaced.

Image courtesy of: Victor Habbick/
It may be that other family members only have - or had - some obsessive habits, rather than the full-blown condition, but in his last email to me, my dad was quite clear: 'We know where your OCD comes from.'

Someone with a genetic predisposition towards the condition still may not develop it, though, without the trigger of a life event. After all, my sister has shown no inclination towards even related habits, let alone the condition itself - though she has admitted to a recent spate of picture-straightening in public places.

In my case, marital difficulties and the horrible year that followed were undoubtedly the aggravating factors in developing my latent obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Treatment of OCD doesn't dwell on its cause, but, as a sufferer, it's interesting to explore. If nothing else, knowing what might have caused your condition inclines you to be just that little bit kinder to yourself.


Liz Goes said...

My perfectionist says she feels under pressure to be perfect in the eyes of others and I tell her happiness is being able to see past the inevitable imperfections. I hope she finds that comforting. x

Helen Barbour said...

You sound like a wonderfully supportive mum, Liz.