My son Dan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder was at its very worst around January-March of 2008. After floundering and fighting our way through a maze of disorienting treatments and programs for OCD, we finally found the right help for Dan in the form of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
Exactly one year later we were almost, though not quite, back to square one. At that time, I sat in the psychiatrist’s office with Dan as the doctor talked about OCD often going in cycles. I was terrified. Was Dan slipping back to not being able to eat again? Was all his hard work doing ERP for nothing?
As it turns out, we discovered that most of Dan’s problems at this point were related to the various medications he was taking. He was wrongly medicated and he was over-medicated. So while I don’t believe that’s what was going on with Dan at the time, the idea of OCD being cyclical stayed in my mind. It made sense to me — as much as anything to do with OCD ever makes sense. After all, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. If depression can be seasonal, why can’t OCD and other brain disorders be seasonal as well?
I’ve read many first-person blogs about OCD over the years, and a good number of these bloggers attest to their OCD flaring up at certain times of the year, typically the colder, winter months. So when I came across this recent article, Woman’s Rare Case of ‘Seasonal OCD’ Cured, my first thought, before even reading the article, was “What’s so rare about that?”
It’s a short article if you want to take a look at it. Basically the woman, who seemed to suffer from OCD every October to May, was successfully treated with a combination of fluoxetine, what sounds like ERP therapy, and bright light exposure for two hours a day. According to the article, she still takes fluoxetine (which originally did not help much when used alone) and her OCD did not reappear the following October. I’m wondering if ERP therapy alone would have helped her? Or if the light therapy actually played a part in her recovery? Or if she still really needs the fluoxetine?
As is often the case with obsessive-compulsive disorder, we are left with more questions than answers. Why would OCD be worse in the winter? Is it because more people get sick in the winter and this fact might be a trigger for those with OCD? Is it because we produce less serotonin during the darker, colder months? Is it possibly related to PANDAS, which is believed to be caused by streptococcal infections, which are also more prevalent in the winter?
While answers to these questions might lead to a better understanding of OCD, the good news is obsessive-compulsive disorder can still be treated—even without the answers to all our questions. So whether you have seasonal OCD, or it’s with you year-round, you can work on getting your life back by embracing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy as soon as possible.
Young man in shadow photo available from Shutterstock