Our Strange Thoughts

Posted on: 24 February 2015
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Over 380 people filled the Little Titchfield Street lecture theatre on Thursday 12 February for the final Plug In Your Brain talk of 2015 – ‘Our Strange Thoughts’. All the excitement and commotion was for Journalist David Adam, here to discuss (among other things) OCD, blood and HIV.

© Viktor Csigas

© Viktor Csigas


What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes the sufferer to experience unwanted and obsessional thoughts. These thoughts are then followed by compulsions or sudden urges. A classic example of OCD is people who have an obsessive fear of getting infected from the bacteria they come into contact with on a daily basis from touching handles and using public transport. This then causes the individual to act in certain ways to prevent any chance of this happening, for example, constant washing and cleaning of the hands, time consuming hand washing rituals, wearing gloves to prevent skin coming into contact with any surfaces and not touching anyone else such as a high five or handshake. OCD affects as many twelve out of every one thousand and furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked OCD in the top ten of the most disabling illnesses of any kind, and this is because of the large negative impact it has on the sufferers and how it can completely turn their lives upside down.

In David Adam’s book ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Stop’, he talks about his history of OCD and his lifelong personal battle with it. He tells readers how OCD can be managed and even overcome in some cases, all without coming across as a self-help book, but rather as a narrator sharing his personal story with the intention of helping other OCD sufferers. David’s OCD is based on the extreme fear of catching HIV and being infected. He has suffered from this since 1981 when he was aged 19. His OCD stems from watching a television advert back in 1981 which told viewers all about the risks of HIV, the course of the infection and the future of HIV.

During the Plug In Your Brain talk (‘Our Strange Thoughts’) Psychology Reader Dr Viren Swami kept things flowing by asking David a series of interesting questions that really got him talking and allowed the audience to gain an insight into his life as someone who suffers from OCD. David informed the audience that whatever he would be doing, he would always be thinking about HIV and the possibilities of him catching it. David then goes on to talk about treatments for OCD and how it all started off back in the middle ages when OCD was seen purely as demonic possession and therefore, treatments were either exorcism or burning the sufferers alive in hope of driving out the evil demons and spirits. However, it is safe to say that treatments have changed quite drastically since then and now one of the most popular and effective treatments of OCD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT includes exposing the individual to his/her obsession in order to reduce the anxiety and compulsion with every exposure.

During the talk, David told audience members that after the birth of his baby daughter, his OCD increased and this time he had obtained a new fear – fear of passing on HIV to his daughter. David was then told by his psychiatrist during his CBT session to do one particular rather weird thing – whenever he found himself bleeding, to smear his blood on his baby daughter! His psychiatrist believed that this was one technique that would remove his fear of passing on HIV to his daughter. David still suffers from OCD but he states that he now lives resisting acting upon his fear of HIV and that he learnt to control it because regardless of everything he knows that it is an irrational fear.

The insightful and interesting event was then wrapped up after a buzzing Q&A session between David and the audience, in which people asked about many different things regarding OCD. We also heard experiences and stories of audience members who also suffer from OCD themselves.

By Ferial Yahi, final year student, BSc Honours Cognitive Neuroscience.

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