Artwork by Regina Walker
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again and feel outside of the person’s control. Individuals with OCD do not want to have these thoughts and find them disturbing. In most cases, people with OCD realize that these thoughts don’t make any sense. Obsessions are typically accompanied by intense and uncomfortable feelings such as fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things have to be done in a way that is “just right.” In the context of OCD, obsessions are time consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values. This last part is extremely important to keep in mind as it, in part, determines whether someone has OCD — a psychological disorder — rather than an obsessive personality trait.
Compulsions are the second part of obsessive compulsive disorder. These are repetitive behaviors or thoughts that a person uses with the intention of neutralizing, counteracting, or making their obsessions go away. People with OCD realize this is only a temporary solution but without a better way to cope they rely on the compulsion as a temporary escape. Compulsions can also include avoiding situations that trigger obsessions. Compulsions are time consuming and get in the way of important activities the person values.
~ Regina Walker, LCSW-R, BCD, CASAC
Below is the first-hand account of an individual coping with OCD.
Four Not So Hilarious Things About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
What do you think of when you think of OCD? If you watch TV (and reasonably assume that TV never lies) you probably think of notable but harmless quirks of personality, like alphabetizing books, or sorting clothes categorically, or closing the toilet seat every time you leave the bathroom (seriously what is so hard to understand about this?!) Anyway, the point is that all these things, while somewhat odd, still probably seem almost benign, and even funny. If that’s all that OCD is why worry about it? It’s practically designed with comedy in mind. Might as well call it Comic Relief Syndrome. Well, if you read the title of this article you know that’s not where I’m going with this. OCD can and does result in behaviors and thoughts that, while not as debilitating as, say, Alzheimer’s, still merit more in the way of sympathy than they do laugh tracks.
1: Random Things Become Annoying
When you have OCD, you think about things more than would otherwise be called for.
You think about them, and you can’t stop thinking about them – “them” in this case referring to things so commonplace as to be invisible to the average person, to the point where they don’t even notice them. It could be someone’s behavior, and in this case the offending person will probably act utterly confused when you try to talk to them about it. Inevitably this leads to annoyance, as you keep getting exposed to these things you can’t stop thinking about. So few people pay attention to them that it can feel like you’re the only person in the world who can perceive them.
Eventually the mere act of seeing or hearing the offending behavior makes you unreasonably angry. You might lash out at whoever’s doing it, angrily demand that they stop, accuse them of doing it on purpose. Suddenly some normally completely inoffensive noise or action is like nails on a chalkboard, and you can no more stop being annoyed by it than you can scratch an itch in your brain.
And the absolute worst part? This thing that annoys you can be anything. A hand gesture, a verbal tic, a consonant, anything. As long as you’ve given it enough thought, deliberate or no, to be frustrated by it’s prevalence, it can easily become the worst thing in the world to you, and no one can really help you with it because they don’t understand at all why it annoys you, and you might not either. Which leads, inevitably, to . . .
2. Self-Analysis Is A Nightmare
You’re not comfortably blind to your own quirks like so many others when you have OCD. Those unbearable behaviors you see in others? You’re just as likely to be beating yourself up over the things you do, and for much the same reason. You might recognize that some of the things you do are a problem. You might want to stop doing them. You might resent yourself for doing and feeling them in the first place. Now, the average amateur psychologist (who I know is the most common citizen of the Internet if forums and comment sections are any indication) might call this a good thing.
After all, the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Surely once you’ve identified something about yourself that you want to change the only way to go is up?
Yeah, not exactly. Aside from the self-loathing that accompanies any negative image of yourself, OCD or not, part of thinking about these things too much is doubting your own ability to offer an objective analysis. You start to question every single conclusion you’ve drawn about yourself, to the point where the only thing you can definitively state is that you’re a mammal. This doesn’t just apply to criticism either. Every declaration of your own awesomeness is followed up with an accusation of an inflated ego, regardless of how minor the compliment is. Every congratulation is tempered –if not outright negated – by a look at how irrelevant your achievement is in the grand scheme of things. It can seem like nothing you do matters, and the person least qualified to judge whether it does is you.
3 Everything Must Be Perfect
This is the one most people are familiar with, the one that immediately springs to mind when you think “OCD”. You see flaws in everything – and I mean everything. People, furniture, movie plots, spacetime. Every little thing you see, to a greater or lesser extent, is a mess. There’s always a way something can be made to be “right”. This of course means that the default state of being seems to be “wrongness”, a state that you and only you can rectify, seeing as no one else seems to get why it’s wrong, or worse, simply doesn’t care. Who cares if the magazine isn’t lying parallel to the rest of the table? I do. Who cares if the bed isn’t made? I do! Who cares if the jacket is hung on the chair instead of the closet where it should be, god dammit? I DO!
This doesn’t just apply to people either. One of the worst things you can do to a young person with OCD in particular is tell them about proton decay – yes, it’s true, many physicists believe that over a long enough period of time, one of the fundamental building blocks of matter spontaneously breaks down. I name no names, but I was introduced to the idea of the universe being on the slow road to a slow death a bit too early, and the concept has become a defining aspect of my personality. I now have mathematical evidence that the entire universe is imperfect. The massive physical system that everything in sight is part of is flawed, including myself.
Especially myself, in fact. I personally am going to die because the entire freaking universe is broken, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. It’s the ultimate invalidation. No matter how much I try to make things “right”, “wrongness” won long ago. Imperfection is the rule of the cosmos. And this leads into the final, and perhaps most debilitating part…
4.You Feel Alone
A recurring theme of the facets of OCD listed above is that no one else seems to think the same way you do. Things that are so fundamentally a part of your personality that you can’t imagine yourself acting any other way can seem utterly nonsensical to other people, to the point where some of them can’t think of anything else to do but laugh. Your efforts to make yourself feel better can seem futile in the face of opposition from seemingly every direction. Your attempts to explain yourself can feel like talking to a wall. Even if you’re surrounded by loved ones offering their support, their assurances can feel as though they’re coming from such a fundamentally different mindset to yours, that they might as well not be saying anything at all.
It can become actively stressful to even hear them say that they love you, to the point where your first reaction is to recoil. This of course serves only to either make them even more worried about you, or to drive them away. They either relentlessly pursue a topic that stresses you out, or give you up as a lost cause. Meanwhile you can know or guess exactly what they’re feeling and beat yourself up further over it, because you just can’t stop thinking.
OCD is far more than an amusing insistence that all your i’s be dotted and all your t’s be crossed. OCD is wondering whether those i’s and t’s should be there at all. It’s speculating on the benefits of an entirely new alphabet, and later resenting yourself for wasting so much time on that when you’ve only got seventy or eighty years to live. It’s thinking about life to the point where you forget to live.
By Zachary Forster
Zachary Forster is a 19 year old writer living in NYC.