By Erin Crowell
Kevin Putman is walking to work when he steps over a stone, no larger than
a golf ball. Briefly, he considers picking it up and tossing it into the
grass so no one trips over it. He decides to keep walking.
Moments later, he hears a scream and looks back to see a woman tumble
backwards, her groceries flying through the air and connecting with a
passing car. Blinded, the driver careens out of control and hits a
telephone pole, sending a shower of sparks onto the roof of a nearby
elementary school; igniting the old, delicate shingles where, shortly
after, children are running outside for their lives.
All because of a stone that Kevin Putman didnt move.
This story never happened; but in the mind of Putman, it very well could.
Putman had been diagnosed with catastrophic anxiety, a style of thinking
that amplifies worry. Its a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
that makes the sufferer believe one problem can lead to a cataclysmic
chain of events. Moreover, Putman suffered over responsibility,
believing the fate of everyone and everything around him is in his hands.
People with OCD suffer from unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they
cant seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them
to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to
try and ease their anxiety, states the Anxiety Disorders Association of
The International OCD Foundation reports about one in every 100 adultsor
roughly 2-to-3 million in the United Statescurrently have OCD. There are
also at least one in 200 kids and teenagers who have OCD.
Last year, Putmana Petoskey residentadmitted himself to the Houston OCD
Program in Texas, where he successfully completed two months of therapy.
On Saturday, April 16, he will celebrate his treatment by hosting the Ping
Pong 4 OCD Tournament at Camp Daggett.
A WORK IN PROCESS
I dont want to make it sound like Im cured or healed, Putman says,
its like alcoholism. It waxes and wanes, but it will always be there.
The event also serves as a way to reach out to others in the community who
suffer from OCD, with the goal to create a support group, something Putman
says he couldnt find before undergoing his own treatment.
I couldnt find the connections I needed in Northern Michigan, he adds
emphasizing support and education are part of the healing process.
Putman first acknowledged his OCD during a college psychology 101 class.
The topic was anxiety disorders.
Just another chapter in the text book, recalls Putman; but the symptoms
the professor was listing on the board that day struck a chord with Putman
as he fervently wrote down the similarities.
It was like someone was punching me in the stomach, he notes of the
everyday habits that seemed automatic and engrained.
I would constantly check things like door locks, lights and ovens. It got
to the point where I would be late for work or drive miles across town to
make sure my oven was turned off.
Putman says his wife also noticed his behaviors and encouraged him to seek
treatment when things became worse. He says his OCD became particular bad
while working at an alternative school.
Leaving work was a big deal. I was the last to leave the building so I
had to make sure all the lights were off, doors were locked, voicemail
messages were checked by the time I had finished, I had to make sure
everything was taken care of again. It would sometimes take me one or two
hours before I actually left. I even checked to make sure the kitchen oven
Fear is the component for OCD and its what drives other anxiety disorders
such as panic attacks.
It literally feels like youre having a stroke, says Erika, a
25-year-old Northwestern Michigan College student, about her panic
I first started having them when I was about 20; and I still have general
anxiety, but I can manage it with lifestyle and diet changes, she adds,
pointing to her avoidance of stressful situations and people, along with
alcohol and caffeine.
While avoidance may work for some, the severity of anxiety disorders can
be so debilitating that certain medications and therapies, and even a
combination of the two, are the most effective way of handling such
The first approach to such healing is recognizing anxiety disorderssuch
as OCDis a disease of the brain, not a character flaw, explains Ursula
Johnson, a licensed master social worker and therapist at Northern Lakes
Community Mental Health of Northern Michigan.
Cognitive therapy shifts from the first step of saying Its not me, its
the disease that wants me to keep checking and counting, to reattribution
and refocusing behavior so that you no longer value the behavior, she
The therapy used most often, Johnson says, is Exposure and Response
Prevention (ERP) where the patient faces his or her OCD head-on. The idea
behind this therapy is to interfere with the ritual.
One common obsession is cleanliness, which results in compulsive hand
washing, Johnson points out. I once worked with a 10-year-old boy who
was constantly washing his hands at school; and as anyone knows,
10-year-old boys arent typically known for washing their hands. I met the
boy and his mother and teacher at the schoolwhere the compulsion was
taking placeand went through all the ritual steps.
He said he would feel the need to stand up from his desk, but not know
why; then he would walk over to the bathroom and, still at that point, not
know he was going to wash his hands; but, would then roll up his sleeves
and decide to wash.
To break the ritual, I had him draw a big stop sign and tape it to his
desk. Every time he would stand up, he stopped and thought about why he
was standing; and if he didnt have an answer, he would have to sit back
down. It worked in less than two weeks.
Tackling the issue head-on in small steps allows positive reinforcement,
an empowering concept for patients.
For people with agoraphobiawho find it difficult to leave their homeI
may ask them on the first day to simply open their front door. On the
second day, put one foot out. The third, you double the steps; and
continue with this pattern. The patient thinks, well, since I could step
outside yesterday, today I can reach the curb, then the corner, then the
gas station a block away and so on.
Conquering OCD is also about recognizing the brain as a muscle, Johnson says.
The brain isnt static. It can change and be worked just like any other
muscle in the body.
Johnson clarifies there is a difference between dealing with worry and it
being an obsession.
If it helps, while sitting in the dentist chair to count the tiles, go
for it. On the other hand, if you feel the need to drive down the
expressway and count every bird overheadwhich has happenedthen that is
an issue that could cause a problem.
For Putman, the difference between worry and obsession was getting his
I feel like the treatment center saved my life, he says. If I was a
computer, its like someone pushed the reset button and I got a fresh
He no longer checks in on his two daughters every hour of every night to
make sure theyre still breathing. When he locks the door, he doesnt need
to check it twice. When he reads a book, each sentence is read only once;
and when he crosses a stone in his path, Putman lets it lie.
He just keeps walking.
Putman takes OCD seriously, but he is also a firm believer in fun as a
cure. Thats why hes hosting the Ping Pong 4 OCD Tournament on Saturday,
April 16. Its happening at Camp Daggett, located at 3001 Church Rd. in
Petoskey, at 2 p.m.; and includes food, prizes, free t-shirts, silent
auction and live musicalong with an OCD information table. Cost is $20
and benefits OCD awareness. For more information on the tournament, visit
pingpong4ocd.com. There, you will find a song written by Putman and
performed by his band, Boyne River Remedy, called Breakin the Symmetry,
an ode to his treatment at the Houston Treatment Center.
The International OCD Foundation notes several common obsessions (unwanted
and intrusive thoughts) and their compulsions (ritualistic behaviors):
Contamination body fluids, germs, Environment and dirt
Losing control fear of acting on impulse, fear of yelling insults or
Perfectionism concern of exactness, fear of losing things, indecision
on throwing away things
Harm fear of being responsible for something terrible happening, fear
of harming others
Unwanted sexual thoughts obsessions of homosexuality, impulses, incest
or aggressiveness toward others
Religious obsessions concern with offending God or blasphemy,
excessive concern with morality
Other Obsessions concern of getting sick or superstition about certain
objects, colors, numbers, etc.
Washing and Cleaning excessive bathing, cleaning and doing things to
prevent or remove contact with contaminants
Checking checking on not making a mistake, physical parts of the body;
making sure nothing bad happens
Repeating rereading or rewriting, repeating routine (example: getting
up or down from chairs), repeating body movements (example: tapping,
touching) Activities in multiples (example: doing a task three times
because its a safe number)
Mental compulsions review of events, praying to prevent harm, counting
while performing a task, cancelling or undoing (example: replacing a bad
word with a good word)
Other compulsions Collecting items (also called hoarding), putting
things in order, telling or asking to get reassurance and avoiding
situations that might trigger obsessions
If you or someone you know suffers from OCD, visit ocfoundation.com or go
to anxieties.com, which is a free self-help service offered through the
University of North Carolina.