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24 Jan

Negating the Fear Factor: The Trauma of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with specific reference to North 24 Kaatham- Sabitha Joseph

Negating the Fear Factor: The Trauma of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with specific reference to North 24 Kaatham

Sabitha Joseph

(Assistant Professor, Department of English, The Cochin College, Kochi)

Just imagine… One fine morning you wake up and you are sipping your bed coffee. Suddenly a horrifying thought flashes in your mind that your dear one is going to meet with a serious accident and is going to face a terrible death. You see recurring visuals which get replayed over and over again. You get an intense feeling of anxiety and depression. Is this just a thought or a message from the supernatural or a sixth sense? Your brain tells you to respond, react, protect or do something.

A normal person without OCD may also get such thoughts but they can dismiss it as they feel it to be unimportant. Whereas if you have OCD, the warning system in your brain does not work properly and you feel you are in danger even when you are not. On one hand, you recognize that your fear doesn’t seem reasonable, doesn’t make sense; yet it feels very intense, real and true. The anxiety and nervousness produced by these obsessive thoughts lead to an urgent need to perform some compulsive rituals and routines. The ritual may temporarily alleviate anxiety but the person must perform the ritual again when the obsessive thought returns. People with OCD may be aware that the obsessions and compulsions are unrealistic but they cannot stop it.

            Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a torturing disorder that prevails in certain children, youngsters, adults and in families affecting the cultural and behavioural patterns of people. The history of OCD can be traced to the beginning of humanity. It is a disabling illness that traps people in endless cycles of recurrent thoughts, fears and behaviours. OCD, now categorised as an anxiety disorder had once been regarded as the workings of the supernatural powers or by the influence of evil spirits. In ancient times, mental and emotional disorders were attributed to magic and religion as scientific reasoning and psychiatry was in the developing stage. Ancient and middle ages bear testimony to the fact that OCD had a close connection with magic and religion. People are always afraid of the unknown, pain, death and loss and to compensate these weird thoughts, humans believe in the others and in hope. Hence the human brain is compelled to devise escape mechanisms to overcome situations which are likely to evoke fear, disgust and hatred. Otherwise there will be a loss of balance which is termed emotional disorder or mental illness which in modern society is caused by bio psychosocial factors. Whereas in primitive societies, it was taken as the consequence of a supernatural act. Therefore in ancient times the path to follow was to conjure spirits to ease fears and to restore health.

            Religion is about beliefs, faith and about the supernatural. People brought up in a religious environment is bombarded with intrusive thoughts and worries about the supernatural. Therefore there is a link between what you have learned in early days about religion and your current predicament. All rationality and reason disappear when uncanny coincidences happen which the human mind seems to use as proof that supernatural exists. So such coincidences and attaching great importance to such thoughts becomes a cause of worry. When it comes to religion, reasoning cannot provide an explanation, only faith does. In patients who have OCD with an obsessional content of religious belief, faith is an important characteristic. Religion develops OCD patterns in patients. These patterns are expressed by ritualistic behaviour, religious belief or practice. In OCD, these compulsions include ceremony performance, avoidance behaviours, superstitious beliefs and obsessional religious content.

             Magic and religious ceremonies decrease the anxiety and fear elicited by supernatural phenomenon. A ritual or ceremony is an act that pays great attention to form and detail and is performed to emphasize hygiene rule, prevent catastrophe or worship a God. When religion is blend with OCD, the situation is worsened. In theology, compulsion and temptation are two different concepts. In compulsion, there is no moral issue whereas there is the issue of morality in temptation. But for a religious patient, compulsion and temptation are equal which brings serious guilt and sinful feelings every time a patient engages in sinful obsessionality. Superstitious belief is another aspect related to magic and religion. It is a fixed, unreasonable belief based on ignorance. A superstitious person performs brief rituals to prevent harm from occurring. A religious person with OCD may get thoughts or repetitive images which he himself feel is something that shouldn’t be thought about; something that is against God and religious beliefs, but he can’t prevent such repetitive thoughts. Such obsessive thoughts lead to excessive fear and anxiety to which the person responds through extreme prayers, rituals, offerings etc. The thoughts of blasphemy are more traumatic as the person considers such thoughts as sins which affect life after death and similar religious beliefs, his future well-being, health and his dear ones. “Obsession encourages attention to turn inward and drains focus from relationships with others” (Adam 13).

            “Obsessive doubts are extremely torturous and stubbornly refuse to quit. The result is often a stream of non-stop compulsive questioning, checking and looking for reassurance about whether the thought is or isn’t true” ( Penzel 2). People lose their patience with the sufferer when they get tiresome of answering the same questions for a number of times.

            Another feature that brings in a similarity between OCD and religion is that persons possessed by evil spirits demonstrate behaviours similar to symptoms seen in OCD, characterised by repetitive yelling, trembling, cursing, involuntary movements etc. Psychologists like Charcot, Richer and Tourette tried to explain how these thoughts were illness symptoms rather than manifestations of devil. They made important contribution to studying demonic possession’s psychiatric aspect. “Psychiatry is defined as the science and art of studying both the mind and the body in human bio psychosocial milieu” ( Yaryura –Tobias and Neziroglu 3).

OCD can be divided into different types based on the nature of the symptoms:     

  • Contamination obsessions with washing or cleaning compulsions: Persons affected by this symptom will usually focus on feelings of discomfort associated with contamination and wash or clean excessively to reduce these feelings of distress.
  • Harm obsessions with checking compulsions: A person experiencing this subtype will often have intense thoughts related to possible harm to yourself or others and use checking rituals to relieve your distress.
  • Obsessions without visible compulsions or so-called “pure obsessions”: This symptom subtype often relates to unwanted obsessions surrounding sexual, religious or aggressive themes.

  • Symmetry obsessions with ordering, arranging and counting compulsions: When experiencing this subtype one will feel a strong need to arrange and rearrange objects until they are just right.
  • Hoarding: Hoarding involves the collection of items that are judged to be of limited value by others such as old magazines, clothes, receipts, junk mail, notes or containers. Often your living space becomes so consumed with clutter that it becomes impossible to live in. Hoarding is often accompanied by obsessional fears of losing items or possessions which may be needed one day and excessive emotional attachment to objects. People affected by the hoarding symptom subtype will tend to experience higher anxiety and depression than people with other subtypes and are often unable to maintain steady employment. Importantly, compulsive hoarding occur independent of OCD.

Although the experience of a particular symptom types appears to be relatively stable over time, it is possible to experience a change in the nature and focus of your symptoms over time. In addition, although the majority of your symptoms might be consistent with a particular symptom subtype, it is possible to experience symptoms of other types at the same time.

The movie North 24 Kaatham presents this serious concern in a noteworthy manner. It is a good attempt which focuses on the serious disorder of the central character, Harikrishnan, a software professional. He suffers from OCD and the movie depicts his fear of contamination and his repetitive rituals and his urge for order and perfection. His rituals start right from the moment he wakes up. He follows a certain pattern in every walk of his life which if interrupted by someone, gets totally out of control. It disturbs him substantially which builds up his anxiety and results in frustration. Every morning he wakes up and moves out of the bed to a particular side. He has one pair of slippers which he wears at first and another when he goes to the washroom. He is very particular about the way he arranges his bed spread without a single wrinkle and follows a set pattern in the way he brushes, uses mouthwash and mouth freshener. He is very particular in doing it in the exact order from which he never deviates. It is followed by excessive and prolonged sanitizing of his wash basin and the toilet seat. He never refrains from repeating the ritualistic exercises and making weird sounds while exercising which annoys his family members. He brings his own plate for breakfast and wants everything to be in order. This pattern is followed even in the number or quantity of food items he eats. He never allows anyone to enter his room or clean it because of his excessive fear of contamination, disruption of his order and systems.

Harikrishnan’s colleagues find it hard to cope with him due to his emotional outbursts and affected mannerisms. He is never sociable with them and scolds them for silly issues like sitting on his chair. He has his own particular time to reach the office and makes it a point to climb the stairs and never uses elevators. He does not touch the handles of doors and taps with bare hands, and waits for someone to open the door if he gets stuck up inside. He avoids situations and circumstances which bring about changes to his repetitive rituals and order. The symptoms portrayed in the movie seem very accurate for someone with OCD. The main way to treat the disorder is through intense exposure to the obsessions without letting the person perform the compulsions associated with the obsessions.

The movie is about how the main character transforms from an arrogant, insensitive person to a more caring individual who has come out of his OCD. He gets trapped in a helpless situation on a day of Hartal where he is forced to join two strangers on their journey. For him, the journey he undertakes becomes a learning experience and he understands and overcomes various trying situations in life. He goes through hard times and extreme situations which he never expected to be in. As he goes through it, he forcefully overcomes his phobias, obsessions and compulsions. He begins to love the girl who accompanies him throughout the entire journey. He realises the value of bonding and importance of relationships in life. Ultimately he comes out of his greatest drawback in life when he finds his true love. He changes his attitude towards life, enjoys each moment, eats from an ordinary shop, walks barefoot and socialises with his colleagues. Hari emerges as a normal person as he tells his doctor that he has lost something. He has been healed of his OCD and starts his life anew as a normal person with a changed outlook to life.

The disorder and the symptoms shown in the movie can encourage people to make some positive changes in their lives and to take care of their mental health more than before. This is a very relevant issue which has not been much explored in literature and in media especially within the context of Indian cinema. There is not much awareness of the disorder and the pertaining issues which prove detrimental to the wellbeing of the people affected. The enormity of the situation acts a killer for the person who experiences it as it takes around twenty years to realize that the problems associated with a person are due to this.

OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder after the big three- depression, substance abuse and anxiety. OCD is twice as common as autism and schizophrenia. The World Health Organization has ranked OCD as the tenth most disabling medical condition. Its impact on quality of life has been judged more severe than diabetes. But people with OCD typically wait a decade or more before they seek help.( Adam 9)

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder is accepted as an illness with biological roots, it can't be diagnosed using a blood sample, X-ray or other medical test. A psychiatrist or psychologist will usually make a diagnosis of OCD using their medical judgement and experience. In general, most OCD types respond to some combination of cognitive-behaviour therapy, exposure and response prevention and medication. “The benefits of medication tend not to last once people stop taking it. The gains made in cognitive behavior therapy usually last long past treatment stops, as it teaches skills that last a life time” (Purdon and Clark 7).

This paper brings out an awareness on the little recognized issue of the trauma of OCD in people and the representation of this disorder in the movie as seen through the hero of North 24 Kaatham. By creating awareness among people, they can understand a person with OCD through his symptoms and can be lead him to proper treatment. It can also make others aware of the seriousness of this disorder instead of making the patients laughing stocks.

Works Cited

Adam, David. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: The Truth about OCD. London: Macmillan, 2014.Print.

North 24 Kaatham. Dir. Anil Radhakrishnan Menon. Perf. Fahadh Fazil,Nedumudi Venu and Swathi Reddy. E 4 Entertainment, 2013.DVD.

Penzel, Fred. Obsessive Compulsive Disorders:A Complete Guide to Getting Well. New York: OUP, 2000.Print.

Purdon, Christine, and David A. Clark. Overcoming Compulsive Disorder:How to Gain Control of Your OCD. Oakland: New Harbinger, 2005. Print.

Yaryura-Tobias, Jose A., and Fugen A. Neziroglu. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Spectrum: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis and Treatment. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1997. Print.

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