I’m SOOOO OCD…!

 by Patch Harris

Ah, mental health… The phrase is so wide ranging. Everybody has their own experience with it, either they have it, think they have it, want it avoid it, hide it… There’s a lot going on. It’s my personal opinion that most people have ‘something’ going on (scientific term) and the whole idea of what is normal is going out of the window, which I think is a good thing. The more we can do to remove the stigma, the more acceptance and understanding we can get from everybody.

But today, I am here to talk about OCD…

Talking about OCD is like one of those squiggly things you get in your eye… You can’t quite grab it, and soon as you try and examine it, it moves to another area and just won’t be pinned down. OCD is so misrepresented and misunderstood as a mental condition, it’s the casual nature to which people refer to it. As soon as the letters are said together, there is immediately images in people minds of what it is, and that they are soooo OCD because they line up their shoes according to colour. The likelihood is, most of you aren’t, and I sincerely hope you are not, because it’s not fun. I have OCD, and given the opportunity to write this blog, I would like to redress the balance a bit, try and promote a better understanding of what it really means to have OCD, as it’s the butt of many a joke. I’m not here to take away the lolz, I love a good mental health joke as much as the next masochist, but let’s know what we’re laughing at shall we…

Being tidy is not OCD…

OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Which means that people who have it, have an Obsession, which brings them to a Compulsion and, well… It’s a Disorder… This can manifest itself in a huge variety of ways, as everyone’s is a little bit different. One of the biggest misconceptions, the common ‘I’m a bit OCD’ moment is to do with tidiness and mess. Being tidy is not OCD, more than likely tidiness or cleanliness is the result of someone’s compulsion. The difference with this is that whereas someone who likes being tidy, tidies up because they like it, the person with OCD tidies up, more often than not, because of some deep rooted dread or fear, there’s a need to do it that can sometimes be overwhelming. The tidiness is the compulsion in action, because of their obsession… Starting to make sense?? No, me neither….

Come back in time with me… I think my OCD started somewhere in that wonderful and not at all confusing period called puberty, I was about… 13? By the very nature of the condition, it’s very hard to pinpoint, but I am trying to remember when my compulsions started, though back then we called them ‘habits’ because I had no idea what was happening to me…

My OCD is theistic based, which is bizarre as I have no spiritual beliefs at all, but that doesn’t even matter. I think I had some sort of desire to have everything right, to always have some kind of cover for myself for things that I didn’t want to happen. I didn’t want to go to hell (which I don’t believe in) and developed this almost medieval level of religious paranoia. A fine example I remember is touching some red fabric (red like the devil) and then rubbing my finger on something blue until it was sore to try and ‘remove’ the red…

The ‘habits’ started as a bit ‘just in case’, a bit harmless, a bit ‘just this one time’, but then it expanded and expanded until it was ingrained in to my thinking. The feeling of not completing a compulsion can be overwhelming, to the point of crying, self-hurt, serious introversion… all things I have done. The consequences can seem so real, for me, being damned for all eternity, for others it can be the death of family members, other people, catastrophic events that they will take responsibility for but have no relation to. It might be hypersensitivity, but I have a huge dislike of people adhering to superstitions, because that’s basically what the thoughts are, the mind making illogical connections between two unconnected things. Sense doesn’t really come in to it, but it feels real, in the mind at least, and the thinking is a vicious circle… Imagine actually having the deadly fear that stepping on a crack will break your fathers back or the number of magpies you see has any effect on your day…

It’s little prayers, mantras… a phrase…

In the end it does become a habit. How many things do you do without thinking about it? A little tick you might have, some place you scratch when nervous, little habits when leaving the house… That’s how it gets, but instead of being physical, tangible useful things like not forgetting keys, it’s little prayers, mantras… a phrase, sometimes a glance to a certain thing or place that’s so ingrained, it’s like blinking or breathing. I don’t even believe what my obsessions are about, I can comfortably call myself atheist, I know I am a good, kind conscientious person, I know I am not an X-Man and can affect things with my mind… In lucid moments, I can see how ridiculous it all is.

I call it ‘Fear of Fear’, I don’t believe my obsession, and I know my compulsion won’t do anything, but I am afraid of the guilt, of the burning confused feeling that I will have to carry around with me until I forget it happened. I do actually forget, all the time, and move on, but the brain doesn’t seem to register this for future prevention. I can still remember times when I didn’t forget from years ago, that’s how real it can seem.

Where does all this come from? I’m afraid I’m not here, nor qualified to give medical reasoning, I can only provide my own experience to work with, however I have been given some interesting thoughts from people I’ve spoken to and therapists. It was proposed to me that the OCD was developed by me as a sort of safety blanket, a ‘get out of jail free’ card for what I didn’t understand. This does actually make sense, in that I am a bit of a control freak. To counter what I was saying earlier about being tidy does not necessarily mean you have OCD, I think some people are more susceptible to it. I do like to be in control, I am very conscientious and a perfectionist, but with that comes the side effect of it entering in to my thoughts, in ways I can’t control. I also have a vocal stammer, which I am convinced is connected to incomplete, confused thoughts. Double win.

I like being who I am, I like being conscientious, I like the work I produce and I like my work ethic. Would I trade all that for a quiet mind? Honestly, I don’t know… Who knows what the other side is like…

We all fear what we don’t understand…

It took me such a long time to address the issue because I didn’t know! I thought that’s how brains work, it’s not like I can go ‘well, when I had my last brain this didn’t happen…’ I remember as a child watching As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson, with everyone saying how funny it was, and not laughing, because I recognised what was happening, the feeling behind it, but not quite understanding. It was only a few years ago (I’m nearly 33), that I truly diagnosed myself, by just randomly looking on the internet and coming to a website of an OCD association. I read up how they defined OCD and immediately burst in to tears… There it was, in black and white, all these things I had been feeling all these years… So definable as to have the exact symptoms, word for word, listed down in front of me. I wasn’t weird! It really helped, it took away some of the mystery, made it in to something more tangible and understandable. And of course we all fear what we don’t understand…

If you have OCD, and this post resonates with you, please PLEASE speak to someone and talk about it. By far the greatest weapon against OCD is sharing it, releasing it to the open air to suffocate in the wind. A few years ago, I could have never been as open in the blog as I have. It’s still weird to talk about it, but if someone doesn’t want to listen or doesn’t understand, then they’re not the people you should be talking to.

I still deal with it regularly, but I’m not after sympathy, I just don’t like ignorance, conscious or otherwise. Honestly, OCD, like anything, can have its funny side and I am a huge advocate of laughter being one of the greatest ways of dealing with issues. I just hope by reading my experience, people might recognise behaviour in themselves or take a second thought when they’re being ‘soooo OCD’.

Do keep yourselves clean and tidy folks, but only because you want to…

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