Before I get into this post, I want to acknowledge Stephen and Fionnuala Black and their remarkable blog, Fractured Faith. Stephen’s writings about his experiences with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have helped me to acknowledge and begin to come to terms with my own reality. I am grateful for his work.
When it comes to hiding my mental health struggles, the easiest condition for me to conceal has been OCD. It is also the easiest to make a joke about. But, it isn’t funny.
The clinical description of the condition is straightforward. Unwanted thoughts become obsessions, creating anxiety. To alleviate the anxiety, the person with OCD engages in repetitive, sometimes ritualistic, behaviors. A comprehensive discussion of the disorder can be found in this article in The Lancet from 2002.
What happens when my OCD is in overdrive is that my mind becomes completely overwhelmed with these intrusive thoughts. In order to clear space in my head, I must act on them in some way. It becomes debilitating when the thoughts and subsequent actions consume me to the point that I cannot do anything else. Some of the resulting behaviors, like my nail biting, are highly visible to outsiders. Others are far less obvious.
The most recent manifestation of my OCD is something I wrote about last week, although I didn’t explain it this way. In my post entitled Circles, I described how I walk in laps about my community as a form of exercise. What I left out was that this behavior is compulsive. I have developed an obsession with recording the number of steps I take everyday. If I do not achieve the arbitrary targets I set for myself, my anxiety escalates and I enter a spiral of self-loathing, convinced that a series of awful consequences is about to befall me. I lose hours a day thinking about and acting on this obsession and compulsion.
For a long time, I thought that the answer to these obsessions and compulsions was to eliminate the objects that accompany them. Like if I don’t use my Fitbit, my current feelings and behaviors will go away. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. Instead, I work through it in psychotherapy, developing resistance and resilience.
Writing about my OCD is harder for me than blogging about depression, anxiety, and PTSD combined. There’s a lot that I want to say, but I need to take it a little at a time. Stay tuned…