Jeff Bell Presents Mental Health Awareness Talk

April 03, 2008

jeffbell“One cruel irony of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is you watch your self do crazy things, but are incapable of stopping yourself,” Jeff Bell said about his experience living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at the Mental Health Awareness Talk Wednesday, April 21 in the Hoover-Price Campus Center. 

Bell explained OCD is a psychiatric anxiety disorder characterized by a person’s obsessive and intrusive thoughts and related compulsions, such as “tasks or rituals” which attempt to neutralize the obsession. Bell said OCD is a biological disorder and has to do with a type of abnormality in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is thought to have a role in regulating anxiety.

When discussing his struggles with OCD, Bell described himself as a “washer” and a “checker.” He said he would constantly wash his hands because if he did not, he could unknowingly be giving someone the Ebola virus, for example. He also said he would have to stop and pick up rocks and twigs on the sidewalk for fear that if he did not, someone may trip over them and it would be his fault.

Bell also described how when driving, if he hit a pothole, and knew he hit a pothole, he would have to go back and check to be sure it was just a pothole he hit and not a person. After he would loop around to check and drive off, he would have to go back to be sure that if he had hit a person they did not fall into the pothole. He would then go back, park his car and check beside the pothole for a person.

Just when he thought he could drive on, he would realize he did not check the bushes nearby for a person’s body, so he would then have to go back and check again. Bell said incidences like this were daily occurrences.

Even though he knew he did not hit anyone, he said could not keep himself from checking.  

“Logic does not play a role in most anxiety disorders,” Bell said. “I had to keep doing my crazy little checking drills because it helped get rid of uncertainty.”

Bell said at the core of anxiety disorders is struggling with “what if” thoughts and the possibility of unknowingly harming someone.

In his late twenties, he said his world was spiraling out of control. After visiting with numerous psychiatrics who had not diagnosed him properly, he finally had a breakthrough when found a book called, “The Boy Who Kept Washing.” Bell realized he was not the only one struggling with this bizarre behavior and that there was a name for what he had which is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or “the doubting disease.”

Bell also discovered from reading the book there was a cure and a treatment process for those with OCD. One of the treatments is called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) which is where the person faces his or her greatest fear. For Bell, this meant driving over potholes and not going back to check to see if he really just hit a pothole.

Although ERP helped Bell, he said he created his own method of curtailing his OCD which he calls finding a “greater good motivator.” He said if he could come up with a better reason not to give in to his compulsion, he could often resist his OCD tendencies.

“If I stay in the bathroom washing my hands, I may be missing the greater good, which could be helping someone else with OCD.” Bell said. “I realized I had a choice, and that was the absolute turnaround in my life.”

Although Bell still struggles with OCD, he has found a healthy way to live his life and has accepted having this mental illness.

“The goal is not to get rid of OCD,” Bell said, “but to learn to live with it.”

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