Pedralta World Fusion®

Belly Dance & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I came across this moving account of a young woman with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, on an Internet forum for dancers. The dancer describes how dance is both a challenge and a therapy for her and how she uses dance to challenge false beliefs. She has, very kindly, agreed to let me use it. I am very interested in the positive effects dance has not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. I would love to bring belly dance into a therapeutic health setting. The following piece is written in her own words.

I′m not sure how much I can say it helped me with this, but it was sort of a milestone to start dancing again. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it's something I will always have. It has to do with the way one's brain is wired, and is set off by anxiety.

Basically, 2 parts of my brain that aren't supposed to be so firmly connected are. (I can't remember the names of them, but one is in the thalamus, one is towards the back of the brain, and one starts with a p.) The OCD basically makes you afraid that doing one thing will make something completely and totally unrelated happen. For most people with OCD you know that it is not possible and that if you want to do what ever it is nothing bad will happen.

But then there is the anxiety.

It can be anywhere from feeling a little uneasy about something, to paralysing fear, depending on how severe the OCD is. In addition to coming up with those ridiculous connections, your brain usually also says that performing some sort of ritual (saying something special, washing your hands, checking behind you, tapping repeatedly - it can be anything depending on what form of OCD one has, and there are several categories) will avert the danger.

Every time you give in and perform the ritual and/or forgo doing what you think will cause some sort of catastrophe the connections in your brain that shouldn't be there get stronger. Every time you push through and do what you want anyway and/or stop yourself from performing the ritual, the connections get weaker.

This is A LOT harder than it sounds - remember the paralysing fear? For me, I′ve had it all my life, but the symptoms weren't noticeable and didn't start interfering with my life until college.

One of the first things that really screwed up something I wanted to do was that the OCD said if I danced then my mom would get AIDS. All sorts of other things started popping up, and by my 1st senior year I didn't go out (not even for Halloween! I′m a costume junkie! That isn't right!) I felt that sitting in certain places, eating the things I liked, and doing things not in the right order would cause me to loose my soul.

By the end of the first semester I was down to eating less than a bagel a day, because I was too afraid to eat anything. I almost didn't make it to my last final because the anxiety surrounding it made me think I would lose my soul if I went into the building, and I wasn't able to stop twitching my foot with my bag on it for the entire test, because of fear of what would happen if I did.

Over Christmas break I was finally diagnosed. My friend, who has generalised anxiety disorder recognized some of my symptoms (OCD is part of the larger category of anxiety disorders) and got me to go to counselling - which I also thought would make me lose my soul.

The lady at my school diagnosed me with "obsessive behaviour" saying it was not full-blown OCD. That was because I didn′t tell her everything. We only had one session before finals and going home, and she was just graduating and didn't have much experience (but mostly the first two). I got diagnosed properly in my hometown, and for the next semester had a lot of therapy, and gradually started breaking the compulsions.

By the end of the year, I brought up dancing, and finally started it again. Now, it sometimes still triggers my OCD - since I weaned off the medication a lot of things do again but like everything else, now I know that it's OCD, and what I need to do so it doesn't take hold again.

Usually starting the dancing isn't a trigger, but doing a certain move, or turning a certain way, or stepping with one foot or the other will make me afraid for my soul, but I know I need to just do it anyway, and nothing will happen.

Belly dancing is like constant exposure and response prevention therapy, and will probably let me have much fewer - if any - relapses. OCD therapy is the only known treatment for a psychological disorder that actually changes the brain itself.

It′s kinda cool!