There are many different shades of OCD. Being a neat freak is only one variety of OCD. OCD is a continuum that stretches between the extremes of spotlessness to hoarding so severe there is no space to walk. Then there are other types of OCD, such as getting distressing, intrusive thoughts to drive off the road or to hurt someone. Some people keep checking that they’ve turned the stove off or they’ve locked the door. And I met one person today who must line up her M&Ms according to colour in the order that those coloured electrical wires are plugged into the fuse box. She also told me she has to count how many of each type of chocolate there are in the Cadbury Favourites box. She must then eat the ones that are more abundant first to level the numbers.
There were little signs of my own OCD as far back as childhood. Every time I passed Forty Winks I had to wink forty times or else something bad would happen, I thought. Then in the supermarket there were coloured squares on the floor and I would jump on these as though they were rocks in a river. It was a bit like avoiding standing on the cracks in the pavement. I took swimming lessons and one day we were assigned the lane with the big water filter up the end. I held up the whole lesson as I would not get in. I thought the water filter would suck me in, even when our teacher swam down and touched it in front of me to prove it was harmless. When eating cake I always left the crust, and for as long as I’ve known I’ve always left a little bit of juice in the bottom of the glass (at least I know which glass is mine!). I always thought these were just harmless quirks of mine. But as I got older, my obsessive, anxious tendencies started to turn more malignant. When writing in my journal, one of the letters wasn’t perfect so I ripped the whole page out and started again. I couldn’t make any decisions when shopping, spending an hour trying clothes on over and over in the change room while I was hungry, exhausted, embarrassed and out of it. I agonise over these things forever when, in the end, it’s something silly that really shouldn’t matter. Janet Singer has written a great article on OCD and decision making. He writes that “While these daily choices can be distressing for anyone, they can be especially difficult for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Since doubt is the cornerstone of OCD, sufferers often have the need to know, for certain, that all these decisions they are making are the right ones.”
In high school my study was the outlet for my obsessiveness. I studied at recess and lunchtime, on excursions, on the bus home from school, and the minute I got home. I continued to push on with my study even when my family moved house. At one point I was studying in a motel room while our new house was being renovated. At another point I squeezed a desk into our tiny laundry, the quietest room of the house, and that is where I studied. All I ever did was study, and I’m surprised I did so well as, deep down, I was very unhappy and isolated. Eventually I stopped studying, but my OCD needed a new outlet. I suspect this is the point when I started compulsively shopping. Over many years I have accumulated so many clothes I can barely shut my drawers, even when I have two sets of drawers and a big wardrobe. I often lose things in the mess which I get incredibly upset about. I will not stop searching for it until I find it, even if it will make me late for something I need to attend. I was also diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with clean, healthy eating which ironically becomes unhealthy. Some people restrict their diet so much they barely eat anything and suffer similar issues as a person with anorexia. Right now I am red as a tomato as I didn’t bring sunscreen to a picnic today and would not use someone else’s as I was afraid of the chemicals in it.
Most recently I had a lot of issues deciding on a necklace to buy. I often write hysterical emails to my psychologist and I want to share this one to give you a taste of just how awful OCD and its co-morbidities can be:
“Oh my fucking lord, I am having a meltdown trying to decide between three almost identical necklaces. Why do there have to be so many damn options???? It’s so overwhelming! I asked my friend to help me and he said I’m the only person he knows who would have a meltdown over choosing a necklace. I’m still in a knot about it. When my mum came with me to see the psychiatrist she told him a strange memory she had of me when I was younger. We spent an hour in a shop trying to decide what coloured socks to get. Even on the way home I was still not at peace about it. I told her I think I made the wrong choice maybe we should go back and change it. But after all my years of therapy and medications I’m still the same. It’s excruciating. Why isn’t there anything they can give me???? It’s torture. I hate this. I can’t make even the smallest of decisions, I live in a constant state of dread and anxiety and no motivation. I met with my new NDIS worker and she kept wanting to know what I want to do, what I like etc. How can I tell her I don’t get excited about anything! That there’s nothing I want to do! That I have no dreams! All I care about are pathetic, trivial things like the colour of my socks! This is such a fucking miserable existence! HELP ME OUT OF THIS”
I had to take a bunch of sleeping pills and some valium to sleep last night.
One of my new year’s resolutions is to stop spending so much and to clean up my room. I can’t have a clear head with all this clutter around me. I want to create space, symbolically, for new and better things to come. This year I hope to find some things that give me joy and a sense of lasting fulfilment so I don’t need to be filling myself up with more and more possessions. I don’t know if my obsessive streak will ever go away for good. It’s deep in my genetics, but I hope it will become more manageable. OCD is a horrific condition and I hope this post will give people a glimpse into what life with OCD can be like.
December 30, 2021 at 6:06 pm
I’ve had similar issues. Not nearly to the extent that you have but it’s been there. If I concentrate hard I can mitigate it. Thinking about why I do small and rather pointless things has something to do with fear obviously. You mentioned that fear motivates your own issues with this. It’s normal to be indifferent to doing things you want to do when you feel like you have a metaphorical gun at your head.
I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I tend to take it with a grain of salt but as a rough description I think it works. You can blame autism or BPD or something else but it’s helpful to remember that regular people react in extreme ways when their needs aren’t being met.
Level one on his hierarchy of needs are physical needs like air and food. Safety needs are next level. Love and acceptance level needs are the third and the forth level are self esteem/accomplishment needs.
If you feel that your safety is at risk, (you think you’re going to get killed or something similar), you can’t even conceive of what you “want” to do. It’s normal. Did anyone ever ask you to envision what would happen if you didn’t chose the right necklace or socks?
I know that my own ocd was linked to the violence I experienced. I genuinely thought that if I wasn’t hypervigilant then I’d be beaten or killed. When I was a kid that was a genuine danger. Now that I’m an adult that isn’t the case anymore but my brain hasn’t quite caught up.
So it might be worth it to ask what is the primary fear motivating your OCD? You might not have an answer now but it might still be worth it to ask yourself the question.
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