Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Treating OCD

Last week Oriana introduced you to the signs and symptoms of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Today I'd like to introduce you to a form of therapy that professionals have found to be very successful in treating the disorder. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. When used to treat OCD it has two elements:

1) Exposure and response prevention
2) Cognitive therapy

So, what does that mean? Well, let's start with exposure and response prevention. As we learned last week, people with OCD have obsessive fears. These fears lead them to engage in compulsive rituals to try to control the fears. In exposure and response prevention, people are repeatedly exposed to the source of their obsession, then asked to refrain from the ritual they would usually engage in to stem their anxiety. An example would be someone who fears germs and compulsively washes their hands. They might be asked to touch a door knob, and then not wash up.

By repeating this exercise and slowly increasing the exposure, people learn that they do not actually need the ritual to control anxiety--they learn that they can have control over their obsessions and compulsions. Research has shown that exposure and response prevention actually "rewires" the brain, permanently reducing the occurrence of OCD symptoms, in some cases even eliminating compulsions completely.

What about cognitive therapy? Cognitive therapy addresses the "catastrophic thoughts and exaggerated sense of responsibility" (source: helpguide) often felt by someone with OCD, and aims to teach people healthy and effective ways to respond to obsessive thoughts, without using compulsive behavior.

Other types of treatments (like medication,family therapy, and group therapy) can also be used to help treat OCD. Last week Oriana mentioned that people in Chicago who want to learn more or seek help for OCD can use the extensive resources at OCD Chicago. Here are some more helpful links and resources to get people on the road to recovery.
  • OCD Guides: These downloadable PDF guides offer help and advice for adults, teens, college students, and parents of children with OCD.
  • Choosing a therapist A guide to help people choose the best therapist for them, including a list of questions to ask when looking for a therapist
  • Advice for family membersThe Center for Addiction and Mental Health created this helpful introduction to OCD, particularly useful for friends and family of someone with OCD.
  • International OCD Foundation For people outside of Chicago, the OCDF is an excellent source of information, advice, and resources for people with OCD.
  • Additional treatment info and Links: This article from helpguide has more information on treatment of OCD, and an extensive links section too.
OCD does not have to rule a person's life, there is help out there. If you or someone you love needs is living with OCD, remember that you can get treatment, and you can get better.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Oriana Interviews Jessica!

Our communications director Oriana Fowler recently interviewed our outreach director Jessica Mondres (pictured below), with the goal of letting you get to know Jessica better.

Oriana: Hi Jessica, How are you?

Jessica: I’m really good.

O: Great! So, I want to start by asking how did you first get involved in theatre?

J: You know I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in theatre. I think my earliest memory of performance was when I was five and my parents signed me up for this little acting class at the Kennedy Center, cause I grew up outside of DC. I just always loved theatre and performance, so I’ve always been a part of it, ever since I can remember.

O: And what brought you to Erasing the Distance?

J: Well my boyfriend Chris was an ensemble member in The People I Know, our signature show, and I started going out with him and people from the organization socially, and I got to know Brighid O”Shaughnessy, our Executive Artistic Director, through that setting. So when she started hiring people for the staff, she asked if I would be interested in submitting my resume and interviewing--I was very interested--and sooo here I am.

O: Why do you think Erasing the Distance works?

J: That’s a great question I’m really glad you asked. Mental Illness is something that I actually have, ah, personal experience with both in myself and in some people I’m pretty close to. And the one thing that I have found is just the most detrimental is silence, feeling like you can’t talk about it, but it can be a really intimidating subject to just start a conversation about. So seeing a play that’s engaging and realistic is a really non-threatening way to get people thinking, and then get people talking about it. Because it creates…
it creates a space for the conversation and it tells people it’s ok to talk about it. I just think that that’s key.

O: Is there a particular moment or experience with Erasing the Distance that stands out to you that you want to share?

J: Yes, actually at one of our most recent performances, at Whitney Young High School. I was sitting in the audience so that I could observe how the kids were receiving the show. It really struck me that even the kids who maybe we don’t think we’re reaching—because they don’t speak up in the dialogue or they’re kind of talking—I was actually sitting next to those kids, so I was able to witness that they
were talking, but they were talking about the performance!

O: Oh wow.

J: Yeah. They were really affected by what they saw. A girl to my left shared with me that she had "friends who self injure.” She was too shy to ask questions so she asked me to ask the questions for her. A girl to my right then turned to me and asked me questions about the Jaron piece, which deals with substance abuse, and um…and they just had really great questions. So it just struck me that even the kids who are quiet during the dialogue, even the kids who seem like, you know, it seems like from the stage “Oh well they’re talking or it doesn’t seem like they’re paying attention.”
They actually are and we’re reaching them. We’re reaching all of these kids. That had a big impact on me.

O: Awesome! So on a closing note, I’d love to hear about what's next for ETD.

J: Well…One project that we are about to start working on that I am really excited about is ah—we’re going to be working with DePaul University to help them create a piece based on stories from their chronic illness community to be performed at their symposium on chronic illness and the arts. We’re going to be one of their featured presenters. We are going to use some stories of mental illness, and then stories from the people in their community who have other chronic illnesses.
It’s exciting because it's reaching a whole new community, a community that sometimes is actually more reticent to talk about mental illness then the general population. That's why I think it’s great that they'll be seeing our work.

O: That’s so cool, and it seems like it’s really neat to be involved more deeply with DePaul’s campus.

J: Yeah, it is!

O: Awesome. Well, I look forward to seeing you around ETD’s blog and performances, and until next time.

J: Ok, thanks!

-come back next week to read Jessica's interview of Oriana!

Introducing the authors Part 1

Oriana and I recently realized--over here in ETD blog land--that we have not officially introduced you-the reader-to us, the ladies who write this blog. So we decided it was high time to say hello, and tell you a little about ourselves. But how to do it?

Well we got inspired by our own organizational process. After all, we reasoned, isn't it the authentic voice each character brings to our plays that make them so successful? And don't we accomplish that by letting people tell their own story in their own way? Yes! To all of the above. So why not use interview, our own stories in our own voices, to introduce ourselves to you.

A few days ago I sat down with Oriana and she asked me about how I came to be a part of ETD, and what I think about our work. Later today we will publish that interview. Next week, we will publish my interview of her. And then we'll all know each other better.

-Jessica Mondres, Outreach Director.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

If you were to take a guess as to how many adults in the United States suffer from OCD, what would it be?

According to The National Institute of Mental Health and other sources, that number is 2.2 million people. In addition, about 1 in 100 children have OCD, bringing the total people in the U.S. afflicted to 3.3 million. It's much more common than many realize.

In our show Facing the Rain, we tell Keith's story of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Keith shares ways he uses humor to cope with his symptoms.
I'd like to share an intro to OCD and its common symptoms. Next week we'll discuss one of the best kinds of treatment for OCD. Thanks for reading!
~ Oriana at Erasing the Distance

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


OCD is a neurobiological disorder. Research shows that the disorder may involve communication errors that take place between the front part of the brain and the deeper parts of the brain.

Many with OCD have co-existing disorders – 66% have Major Depression and 26% have panic attacks.


Obsessions – constant, intrusive, unwanted thoughts that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety and disgust. People experiencing obsessions recognize that these persistent images are a product of their own mind and that they are excessive and unreasonable. Yet, these thoughts cannot be settled by logic or reasoning.

Some examples:

Fear of contamination, excessive concern about objects having to be perfect or in a certain order, thinking you have injured someone or might cause harm to yourself or someone you care about, fear of having left the lights, oven, or other things on or unlocked, gross sexual imagery, inability to throw things away, horrible impulses to hurt a loved one.

Often, people with OCD find that repeated behaviors or rituals decrease their concern and so they feel compelled to repeat them in order to reduce their discomfort. These behaviors typically consume at least one hour of every day.

Compulsions – behaviors that relieve the unbearable anxiety related to the obsession. In the most severe cases, a constant repetition of rituals may fill the day, making a normal routine impossible. Compounding the anguish these rituals cause is the knowledge that the compulsions are irrational.

Some examples: Obsessive Cleaning/Washing, Repeating of names, phrases, or behaviors (tapping, etc…), Completing of a Particular Task/Routine in an exact order, Checking, Being meticulous, Avoiding, and Hoarding.

OCD in children: You may not be aware of the full extent of a child’s symptoms because many of them occur in the mind and others are easily hidden or disguised. A child with OCD may avoid certain things, seems distracted, inattentive or irritable, repeatedly seek reassurance or confess minor transgressions, or cannot tolerate uncertainty. A cognitive behavior therapist can help determine whether these behaviors are attributed to OCD.

OCD symptoms can wax and wane over time, and sometimes change.

For readers in Chicago, the organization OCDChicago can be a terrific resource. http://www.ocdchicago.org/

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bipolar Disorder part 2

Recently we wrote a post about Bipolar Disorder. An introduction to the illness, what it looks like, and what you can do to help or get help if it is impacting your life or the life of someone you love. We left you with one key piece of advice that is pertinent to any diagnosis you might be dealing with. Get educated about the illness so you can separate the illness from the person.

As in any other area of life, when it comes to mental illness, knowledge is power. Arming yourself with knowledge of your illness is a wonderful way to feel empowered, to become your own advocate, and to let go of any personal bias or stigma that might be standing between you and recovery. Shame, fear, misunderstanding, these things often cause people to wait years after first onset to get the help and treatment that can dramatically improve their quality of life. Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way we know to break through these barriers.

With this in mind, I would like to leave you with some excellent online resources about Bipolar Disorder. These sites and organizations have in-depth, up to date information about Bipolar Disorder written with the patient in mind. They are a great first step to arming yourself with the facts.

(Actress Amanda Eaton portrays Rose, a young woman struggling to deal with Bipolar Disorder and self injury, in our college show Facing the Rain)

  • Just Diagnosed? The Depression Bipolar Support Alliance(DBSA) walks newly diagnosed patients through the basics of mood disorders.
  • For their great primer on Bipolar Disorder, go here.
  • DBSA is an excellent resource for patients, offering peer counseling and support groups, a user friendly and interactive website, and tons of helpful links and advice on navigating mood disorders like Depression and Bipolar Disorder.
  • For three decades, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has established itself as the most formidable grassroots mental health advocacy organization in the country. They have state organizations in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and DC. Go here to find your local NAMI office.
  • In Chicago NAMI-GC offers a wonderful, and free, 12 week program to help educate family and friends about mental illness. The course is offered in both English and Spanish.
  • The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. The site has detailed and up-to-date information about most major mental illnesses.
  • NIMH also offers a series of publications about each disorder free to the public. This page lists their publications about Bipolar Disorder, including a useful booklet for parents with children or teens who have been diagnosed.
All of the sites linked to also have very helpful and extensive links sections for further research and guidance. Everything you need to empower yourself with knowledge of (and by extension power over) Bipolar Disorder is merely a click away.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today is National Depression Screening Day. This link can help you find a screening location near you.  Mental health is an important part of a body's well-being. We wish you a happy and healthy National Depression Screening Day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A call to action

Dear Readers,

Now is a great time to recognize the importance of mental health in our communities.

• This week (Oct 5-11) is National Mental Illness Awareness Week
• Oct 8 is National Depression Screening Day
• Oct 10 is World Mental Health Day

Join the dialogue and make mental health a priority in your community.
How? Bring Erasing the Distance to YOU - to your school, workplace, community center, club, place of worship, or to your child's school.
Call us at 773-944-5062.
We want to talk to YOU about bringing one of our productions to you and the people you know.
• Facing the Rain - featuring the stories of college students
• What's Behind Our Eyes - featuring true stories of teenagers' experiences with mental illness
• The People I Know - Erasing the Distance's signature show seen by over 5,000 people so far

Together we can make a positive difference.
Participate in National Mental Health Awareness Week and call us today at 773-944-5062 to take the first step to "erase the distance" in your community!
We look forward to continuing the conversation,

Oriana Fowler
Communications Director
Jessica Mondres
Outreach Director
Brighid O'Shaughnessy
Executive Artistic Director
~The staff at Erasing the Distance

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Here are a few links on the world wide web that we've been reading:
From the New York Times/Associated Press:
From the National Institute of Mental Health:
Have a healthy weekend!