I often hear people say, “Oh, I’ve definitely got OCD” and “I’m SO OCD about this, SO OCD about that!” when the facts tell a very different story.
OCD vs going a bit ‘OTT’ (‘over the top’) – parallels, to make the point that they are very different:
a slight cold vs double pneumonia;
slight angina vs a massive coronary;
fell and sprained an ankle vs fell and broke both legs, major, major breaks;
you get the point…
If ‘all’ that you do is spend a bit longer, an other half hour, another hour, on the house cleaning, that’s all, you ain’t got OCD;
if ‘all’ that you do is lock the door, pull the handle to ‘make sure’ that it’s locked, if you even unlock it and lock it again, if that’s ‘all’ that you do, you ain’t got OCD;
if ‘all’ that you do is turn a light off but you turn it on again and turn it off again, just to ‘make sure’ that you really have switched it off, if that is ‘all’ that you do, you ain’t got OCD.
So, you might ask, what IS OCD, what sort of behaviour is a symptom, a manifestation, of OCD?
Contrary to what my youngest son used to think, ‘OCD’ is not an acronym for ‘Obsessive Cleaning Disorder’, although the mere fact that that is what he thought it was, it goes some way to expressing the nature of the condition.
OCD = Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
An ‘obsession’, as part of OCD, is a focus on something beyond what is ‘normal’/’typical’, it is an irrational, extremely excessive pre-occupation with something, a pre-occupation which is often life-affecting, debilitating, a pre-occupation which can be infuriating, which is infuriating when the rational side of the OCD sufferer can’t stop the irrational side behaving so bizarrely.
I was diagnosed with OCD (amongst other conditions/mental illnesses, e.g. clinical depression, some years ago). How does it manifest itself in my life?
Everything I eat, even a piece of chewing gum, everything I drink, even a splash of milk in my coffee, I make a note of the calories and the protein. Depending on how much I’m running, my daily calorie ‘allowance’ varies. From the minute I wake up in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night, everything I do is done under the umbrella of food/diet thoughts, calorie/protein counting, running and thinking about running:
how many calories have I had so far today?
When can I eat next?
What can I eat?
How much did I run today, how much tomorrow?
Have I got a big run on the short-term horizon?
Regardless of whether I’m working, playing, watching a movie, listening to music, reading a book, everything is subsidiary to food and running. That’s obsession, within the context of OCD, but there’s more to it, an extra dimension which makes it a lot worse:
I ‘need’ to go over the maths, the calculations, the adding up, over and over and over and over and over again, to the point at which I can be almost in tears – tears because of the state of frustration into which I allow myself to fall. What do I mean?
eg 4 different kinds of cereal, 50 calories’ worth in each scoop, 60 calories’ worth of almonds, 45 calories’ worth of chia seeds, 100 calories’ worth of milk. Easy sum: 405 calories – BUT even though it is an easy sum, my brain often doesn’t ‘accept’ what I’m seeing, doesn’t accept the maths, the penny doesn’t drop, and I have to do the calculation over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again until my brain does give me the ok!
the kitchen, we have 4 gas hobs, each, of course, with it’s own control. When the pointer on the control is facing in the ‘off’ position, it is, yup, you guessed it, off. BUT I can be looking at it, see that all 4 are in the off position but, often, my brain doesn’t acknowledge, doesn’t accept, that the hobs are off, that the controls are in the ‘off’ position and I ‘have to’ look at them over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again until my brain does acknowledge, does accept, that they are in the ‘off’ position! Believe me, on a bad day, it can be very difficult! Often, to be absolutely sure that the gas hobs are off, I actually smell them to make sure that I can’t smell any gas but even when I do that, I often have to look and look and look and look and look and look and look again and again and again and again…
Exhausting, infuriating, to say the least – and it’s no fun for the families, partners, loved ones of OCD sufferers, watching the behaviour, watching the frustration.
Why, you might, you know doubt are, asking, why do I not just walk away from the gas hobs, just walk away? All I can say is that that is a lot easier said than done. If it was that easy, I would’t have the problem. If I walk away, the question, “are the hobs, all the hobs, off, will prey on my mind until I do go and check – and check and check and check – again!
I watch everything that I eat: I am not only obsessive about my calorie intake, it is another manifestation of my OCD. I have not eaten a crumb of cake for over 5 years, not one biscuit/cookie, not one sweet/candy. For me, it’s all or nothing. It doesn’t matter how much I might want that sweet, a piece of that cake, a slice of that pizza, I can’t, I just can’t! That’s not willpower, it is a manifestation of my OCD: there is a huge difference! Willpower implies that I’m going through an internal “I want, I mustn’t, I really want, I can’t, what harm would it do, you just can’t….” conflict. I don’t go through that! I just can’t, and that’s that. The problem is that I spend many, many hours of my life hungry.
I used to fool myself, delude myself, tell myself that it’s all about ‘control, my ‘obsession’ with food, that I like/need to be ‘in control’, not only of what I eat but of my life generally but, of course, the irony of ironies here, I’m not at all in control – I am BEING CONTROLLED by my obsessions!
I hope that this blog has given you a window into the difference between being “a bit obsessive” and having, and suffering from, and with, OCD.