6 April 2015

For better, not worse

Over the years, I've come across a number of debates as to whether OCD can be cured or not, and the effect that the answer might have on sufferers. Whether sufferer or expert, opinions differ. To a certain extent, perhaps your viewpoint depends on how you define the word 'cure'. 

I've always thought of a cure as pretty final, meaning that a patient no longer suffers from a particular condition. After all, if you had cancer, you wouldn't describe yourself as cured, if any of the disease remained in your body. Collins English Dictionary seems to support that view with one of its definitions of 'to cure': to get rid of (an ailment, fault, or problem)

It's now generally agreed, however, that OCD is a chronic condition - ie persisting for a long time or constantly recurring - that has to be managed in the same way as chronic physical problems such as back pain, eczema or asthma. It's important to know what the triggers are, to be aware of the first signs of a flare-up, and to have the tools ready to deal with any recurrence. Not something, then, that you can completely get rid of.

I've never applied myself with sufficient vigour or consistency to stop all of my obsessive-compulsive behaviours, which now tend mostly towards the mild end of the spectrum. If I were ever to overcome these entirely, though, I would still be aware that in the right - or, rather, wrong - circumstances, they might creep back into my life. 

In fact, genetic predisposition can play a part in developing the condition, and I believe that this is a contributory factor in my case, so I could never be completely free of this risk without being genetically re-engineered! 

Which brings me back to the cancer analogy. If you had a genetic predisposition towards a particular form, and the first occurrence of it was successfully treated, you wouldn't say that you still had cancer, would you? So maybe the absence, albeit possibly temporary, of obsessions and compulsions would, in fact, constitute a cure? The position is far from clear cut.

Image courtesy of adamr/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Some claim that without the promise of a cure, OCD sufferers might give up hope and be deterred from seeking help. The drive to 'do things right' and a difficulty in accepting uncertainty are both common to the disorder and can make it hard to settle for anything less than a perfect outcome.

Curable or not, significant improvement is possible for anyone, though, no matter how severely the condition affects them. Perhaps the second Collins' definition of 'to cure' is, therefore, closer to the mark: to restore to health or good condition

With appropriate treatment, any OCD sufferer can reach a point of good condition, where the disorder no longer dominates their life. That, at least, is not a matter of debate.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen! I think a "cure" for OCD isn't as important as being able to live a happy and fulfilling life, even with mild OCD. Still, there are those who, after treatment, show no signs of OCD on the YBOCS scale. I think the bottom line is that those with OCD can improve enough to have good lives, cure or not.

Helen Barbour said...

Hi ocdtalk, I agree. Quality of life is the key element for me, too.

Abigail said...

I like the term "in remission." A cure would be nice, but I've read too much, not to mention my tendency toward a little pessimism regarding my mental illness. But in remission seems like a pretty accurate statement, as it indicates some amount of success in treatment while not guarenteeing no reoccurance.

Helen Barbour said...

Abigail, thanks for sharing your thoughts. 'In remission' is a great description for what I think is the reality of the condition.