Genetics are funny. Probably so, because it wasn’t my strongest topic in Biology. I remember trying to predict genetic traits using a square chart diagram, called a Punnett square. It felt like rocket-science, but without the cool rockets. Turns out, I am a terrible psychic when it comes to genetics; however, I do find genetics absolutely fascinating; especially when it comes to mental health.
Is OCD genetic?
What wonderful ancestor do I have to thank for passing down this unpleasant mental health disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? I’d like to go back in time and give them a lovely piece of my OCD mind!
Unfortunately, geneticists can’t answer that question, at least, not yet. It appears they’ve only just begun to explore the surface of genetics affecting mental health. OCD does have a genetic component as they have supposedly discovered a couple of genes causing OCD mayhem. However, the inheritance pattern of OCD is unknown, as OCD genes, like many other kinds of genes, seem to be largely influenced by environmental factors too.
Basically, not everyone carrying OCD genes will experience OCD. There is a chance those genes will be activated at birth with symptoms gradually appearing throughout childhood into early adolescence. Or, some OCD genes may lay dormant until triggered by some sort of trauma or some other environmental factor. It is really difficult to say, who will get OCD and when it may occur in ones life.
Dormant Genes Waiting It’s Turn To Express Their Wrath
Genes are fascinating, because not all the genes in our DNA master code book (genetic genome) are entirely expressed (activated/turned on/ used) all at once. Obviously, we do have a lot of genes activated at birth, like those for basic human anatomy and physiology, touched with traits that make us unique and give us some resemblance of our parents.
But we also have genes that remain dormant. For the body to function properly, our cells have the incredible ability to turn certain types of genes on and off, and they do so on a regular basis. We don’t notice when new genes kick on and off, because they are primarily genes that are important to the body’s function to maintain homeostasis (balance). So, no, your cells aren’t going to switch your eye color on ya; although, that would be kind of cool!
We also have some genes that will never be activated at all, because we are just “carriers.” Basically, we carry the gene to the next generation (our kids). Depending on who we “mate” with and other biological factors; if the right conditions to activate a specific gene are met, then the gene will be expressed in one of our kids. It’s complicated probability process can make it difficult to predict whether your kids will get certain genetic traits, diseases, and disorders.
But wait, there is more, we also have some genes that just lay dormant, patiently waiting for their chance to express their wrath, in which are generally activated by trauma. Any kind of trauma (emotional or physical) has the potential to trigger gene activation.
My OCD was triggered by trauma, I am sure of it!
I am not a geneticist or a psychologist, nor any kind of expert for that matter; I am just a geeky science nerd pondering the inner-workings of my OCD brain…
Looking back, I am not aware of having any childhood OCD tendencies. If I did, they weren’t worth remembering. I do know for sure that I was in my mid-twenties, when I first began to experience true horrific OCD episodes with severe emotional suffering. It felt as if my OCD was turned on like a light-switch. I just woke up one day with an entirely different brain, with negative thinking patterns, bombarded with irrational and intrusive thoughts, and an overwhelming sense of self-doubt. I thought I was going insane!
Of course, my therapist tried to pick my brain apart to figure out how my OCD suddenly came about, but we couldn’t figure it out. I think my therapist was fascinated by the sudden onset of my OCD, especially, since I had been OCD-free my entire life, or at least I was pretty confident that I’d been living an OCD-free life. According to my therapist, back then, it was unusual; not unheard of, but unusual to experience a sudden onset of OCD. Today, it doesn’t seem so unusual.
My personal theory on what may have triggered my OCD…
Today, I am convinced a very traumatic, intensely stressful, scary moment on the free-way woke up my slumbering OCD genes. I was driving home on the free-way one day after work, when I had to slow down to stop for a tiny fender-bender in my lane (far left lane). Usually, no big deal, because you just turn on your blinker and impatiently wait for a break in traffic in the next lane to move around the accident. Unfortunately, that day, my blinker was not working!
I was unable to signal to the other drivers in the next lane that I wanted to get around the accident. Because I was stopped so close behind the fender-bender, without my blinker, one could easily think I was part of the fender-bender and had no intentions of moving around it. It was rush hour and traffic in all the lanes were busily moving fast. I had but one choice, or at least what my brain calculated to be the best choice, to cut in front of traffic!
I waited for a good size break in traffic, but let’s face it, when you are sweating bullets on the verge of a major panic attack, your judgement starts to become a bit cloudy. I can still vividly remember the sound of a loud angry car horn as I quickly and recklessly cut in front of moving traffic in the next lane to get around the tiny fender-bender. Fortunately, I didn’t cause a wreck, but I was shaken up like one of James Bond’s classic martini’s.
I am almost certain that was the moment that triggered my OCD, because my first noticeable episodes of my OCD were irrational fears about driving.
Future of Mental Health and Genetics
Anyways, that is just a personal theory of mine. Who knows how or why I got OCD, just lucky I guess (total sarcasm). Anyways, genetics in mental health is exciting. Not just for OCD, but for other mental health disorders too. I am curious to see what genetics will do for mental health.