Always on my mind

A couple of weeks ago, a reader was curious about what OCD looks like in my life. Although I know it is always hanging around on the periphery, it is much rarer these days for it to disrupt my life. There was a time about four years ago, when OCD made my life unmanageable.

It begins with the intrusive thoughts. It’s like something that sticks in my mind and won’t leave. These thoughts transition to obsessions. What makes an intrusive thought an obsession is that it pushes out everything else. Most of the time, OCD manifests itself for me in the context of food and exercise, which are closely tied to my body image.

I tend to get fixated on things, like an aspect of nutrition. In popular culture, diet fads usually center around calorie-counting mechanisms (e.g., points, macros) or the exclusion of certain food groups (e.g., no-carb, low-fat). These trends are a sick gift for me, because they provide a socially acceptable cover for disordered eating.

It’s important to distinguish between disordered eating and an eating disorder. Disordered eating refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors and attitudes that may not meet the diagnostic criteria for a specific eating disorder. These behaviors may include irregular or restrictive eating patterns, binge eating, purging, and excessive exercising. On the other hand, an eating disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by persistent and severe disturbances in eating behaviors, body image, and weight regulation. There are several types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. The main difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder is the severity and frequency of the abnormal eating behaviors and attitudes. While disordered eating may not necessarily interfere with a person’s daily functioning or physical health, eating disorders can have a profound impact on a person’s life and require specialized treatment to overcome.

What makes OCD challenging to manage is that it goes beyond thoughts and into behaviors that, in many circumstances, can be hidden or explained in public. The shame associated with these actions is often internalized because the outward behaviors are so frequently lionized or celebrated, especially on social media.

These days, I try to keep myself away from things I know my brains tends to unhealthily fixate on. For example, I spend a lot less time on social media. That change has had an enormous impact on my mental health, especially when it comes to OCD. Weekly sessions with my therapist also help. I’ve also become more skilled at practicing mindfulness and increasing my self-awareness.

Knowing how I am feeling in the moment, and what is influencing those thoughts, has been an important tool is giving me back a sense of control over what thoughts stick in my head. And, when there are thoughts that I don’t want, I know that I have ways to manage them.

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