Surviving OCD in an Asian society
by Neo Ming Yi
Talhah Daud is 44 this year, a two-time divorcee who has suffered from severe OCD for most of his life. Talhah blogs in Malay at husnuzzonloa.blogspot.com, which he dedicates to helping people understand and overcome OCD through a combination of the Law of Attraction (LOA) and religious understanding. Unlike Rachael, Andrew, or Ooi, Talhar has been clinically diagnosed as OCD, but perhaps it was the severity of his condition that led him to seek medical help.
The average person in Talhah’s age group may have worked in three to five different companies. Talhah has worked at 31 of them. “I had a problem with punctuality,” Talhah shares in a phone interview with The Heat. “In the mornings, I would be stuck in the bathroom for two, three hours because I was an obsessive washer. During the drive to work, being stuck in traffic added to my anxiety. By the time I arrived at work, my perfectionism would kick in, so I’d rather take emergency leave than admit I was late.”
As a child, Talhah had also been afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome but he says he could hide his symptoms when in public. In private, however, his vocal and physical ticks would come to life.
“My vocal ticks, or cakap bukan-bukan (spouting nonsense) were triggered by the things my heart seemed to be saying,” Talhar explains. “For example, because I’m a Muslim, I should only believe in the existence of one God, but Tourette’s would cause you to think and say things that are contrary to your religious and moral beliefs, so I would be haunted by the thought that there are two or three Gods, even though that’s not right in my religion.”
Talhah grew up with a policeman for a father, and lived in a strict household. He attributes the disciplining to his being a perfectionist, which possibly aggravated his OCD. Talhah describes his OCD as the “geometry” and “washing” type. His symptoms started at a young age, when he would arrange his books by size and height, and felt aggrieved whenever he had to leave home because he wouldn’t be able to stop obsessing about the fact that his brother had messed up the order, and at the same time couldn’t express his frustration out of fear of his father.
Talhah’s OCD came full-swing when he was 21 or 22, which Yap says is the common age for people with OCD to start developing severe symptoms. “For normal people, it’s great to be able to iron clothes in the straightest line possible, make their beds military-style, and arrange things in a neat and orderly fashion,” Talhah says. “But normal people don’t freak out when something goes slightly out of place. OCD people will overreact. They’re aware they’re overreacting, but just can’t help it.”
The year 1993 was a very different time in terms of knowledge. A teenage boy today may quickly Google his symptoms and learn about the conditions of having OCD, but back then, Talhah had nowhere to go to gain a better understanding of his weird inclinations. He lived with great mental and emotional grief for a year before seeing a psychiatrist and being diagnosed with OCD.
Talhah was put on medication. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. His OCD worsened and his family just saw him as “something wrong”. He says that being Malay, they resorted to consulting all kinds of wise men, from ustaz (religious teachers) to bomohs (witch doctors). Desperate, Talhah checked himself into the psychiatric ward of Hospital Kuala Lumpur, a move he regrets.
“It was a nightmare. They threw us together, just campur (mixed up) everyone no matter our condition. That’s dangerous. I was mingling with people with schizophrenia, gila (crazy) people, until it made me feel like I was gila too. But people with OCD are not gila. We’re not sick. We’re disturbed,” he stresses. Talhar left the ward after a week. And yet, he couldn’t go home to his parents, who he says could not accept his condition.
“Our (Malaysian) people had no interest in understanding mental health, they just attributed it to black magic, and thought I kena sampuk (got jinxed).”
Talhah tried to pull himself together. He was determined to carry on. After a few sessions, Talhah, feeling better about himself, met someone and got married.
“The thing about OCD is that you can get better if the people around you are supportive of you,” Talhah says. Unfortunately, he did not get the support he’d anticipated from marriage. His first wife knew of his condition, but thought it was merely a small issue.
As a Muslim man, Talhah is required to cleanse himself, or mandi wajib (compulsory bathing) after having sexual relations with his wife.
“I would be taking the shower over and over again, unable to leave the bathroom for hours,” Talhah recalls. “I was tired, and so angry at myself. I couldn’t understand how other men could be intimate with their wives and simply need a 15-minute shower, but my showers would take at least two hours.”
During prayers at the mosque, Talhah's obsessive washing would haunt him as well. While other men performed their wudhu, or cleansing, without much fuss, Talhah would be terrified about not being clean enough to pray, and keep splashing water on himself until his clothes were soaked, much to the bewilderment of his brethren.
After his second marriage failed in 2008, Talhah hit rock bottom. He had suicidal thoughts. He had tried everything… or so it seemed.
Talhah was first introduced to the Law of Attraction (LOA) through a friend. He started reading up about it on the Internet, and eventually gave it a try. In eight months of committed practice of LOA, Talhah says he is “about 90% cured”, elaborating that in the OCD world, being cured simply means being better. In 2009, he started blogging, and last year, in 2013, he decided to hold therapy sessions for people suffering from OCD.
Talhah had been corresponding via email with OCD-ians (his term) who sought him out for advice, and got the idea of doing face-to-face sessions after presenting a Powerpoint show to an engineer who had repeatedly said the emails were hard to comprehend.
Today, Talhah is invited to give talks on using LOA to deal with OCD, and even made an appearance on long-running TV show, Nona TV3. He’s helped about 50 OCD-ians, and welcomes both Muslims and non-Muslims to his therapy sessions. As for the price, Talhar says it’s up to his clients. “I suffered from OCD for many years, so I know what it’s like. Now that I’m better, I want to help as many people as I can to understand their condition better, and resolve it earlier.”
Can people who suffer from OCD eventually wake up free from obsessions and compulsions? “I don’t deny that individuals can get cured, but the faulty assumption is to define being cured as eliminating all OC tendencies. Obsessiveness and compulsiveness can be a predisposition,” says Yap. He elaborates that one can manage one’s OCD while pursuing one’s dreams and lead satisfying, fulfilling lives. “OCD is an obstacle,” he stresses, “but you can, will, and are able to manage it. That’s the goal.” Incidentally, Yap himself suffered from OCD, but he’s been surviving and thriving, with a bright future ahead of him.
This article was first published in the Aug 2, 2014 issue of The Heat