Monday, September 24, 2018

What it's like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder.

I have obsessive compulsive disorder, but much like autism, there's a spectrum on how it manifests. For me, I become obsessed/compulsive with cleaning, with fictional characters, with inventory, with random thoughts that never seem to end but just cycle and cycle and cycle for hours (and even days) on end. I can close my garage door, turn a corner, and then have to circle back just to make sure it's closed. I can check a door two, three, or four times to make sure it is locked. I can wash my hands over and over. It's a strange thing.

In my day to day life, if someone leaves a mess in my house, I am compelled to clean it up no matter how exhausted I am. If I start to draw something, I can become obsessed with it. I lose so many hours concentrating on one thing that I forget what time it is and a whole day flies by and I work myself to exhaustion. I can become obsessed with fictional characters and write and write and write until I reach a point that I hate all of it and just need to step away for a long time in order to feel right with the world again. But it's difficult to reach that stepping away point. My brain tumbles over and over on thoughts for seemingly no reason...details that plague me until the wee hours of the morning.

If something stands in the way of my obsession I can become irritable or even angry. It's difficult for me to let things go. For example, if I went on vacation, and the thought that I might have left the stove on somehow enters my brain...and I didn't know anyone that could go and check for me that it was turned off to reassure would ruin my whole vacation. That one thought...that one thing...would destroy any fun that I could possibly have. My mind would turn on that one detail to the point of...obsession. Insane obsession.

Having OCD means that I am the butt of jokes. People snicker around me that they can just leave something messy, because they know I will eventually have to clean it up. I am compelled to do that. People will take advantage of me at work because they'll automatically assign the management of a huge database to me because they know no one else will do as good a job because I will obsess over each item. They don't care that it's stressful. The easier jobs will go to someone who doesn't have O.C.D., who has shown that they are "normal" and in other words...don't really care and won't do a good job because (again) they don't care.

Living with obsessive compulsive disorder means that people who do genuinely care will tiptoe as if walking on eggshells around you. They know if they mistakenly put something out of place that it will bother you. That you will have to correct it, and your compulsion to correct them makes them irritable because no one likes being corrected. But you can't help it.

Like most mental disorders, there are good things about having obsessive compulsive disorder. I'm very organized. I can find records that go back decades because I know exactly where they are. I manage money well (almost to a fault). I could tell a person exactly how much something cost or how much they were spending on a certain thing because I keep track of it on spreadsheets. Over time I've tried to break my obsession with perfection. I had a dent in my wall that I filled in with spackel but didn't paint for over a year. I did that on purpose. Every day I looked at it as a challenge not to cover it up. It was a challenge to myself: I dare you to leave this glaring mistake on the wall for all the world to see. Leave it there and don't fix it. Let its imperfection be a contribution to your home.

Chaos bugs me. Before I started writing this blog I was out in the yard raking up all of the leaves that blew on the grass from the neighbor's ugly towering poplar trees. Now there are a few more on the lawn, and I can't stand them. So even though I'm tired and just want to read a book, I'm going to go outside and pick all of them up. Every single one, and then throw them in the garbage.

Some people say living with obsessive compulsive disorder is a good thing. It's not. I wish my brain was normal, and I wish it didn't obsess on things. But it does, and that's just the truth of it.


  1. Darn that tree.
    I'm a bit compulsive about hand washing. My wife has watched me wash my hands twice in a row before eating. But it's not on that level of compulsion.
    Well done on ignoring that spackeled wall.

  2. Knowing how much things cost would be good if you went on the Price is Right.

  3. I hate when people flippantly say something like, "That's just my OCD," when they have no idea what OCD is like. Especially when they're applying it to something trivial.
    But, then, it's used in the same way people will use being "honest" as an excuse to be mean.

    1. This weekend, there was an incident that triggered my obsessive compulsive disorder, and it resulted in a lot of bad feelings. Here's a message that I wrote to my group:

      "I want to explain my angry feelings this morning, which are being grotesquely magnified by my obsessive compulsive disorder. I know we joke about my OCD, but it is real. I obsess about things all of the time. For example, I built a whole D&D world for a character I got attached to and then ran games in it for years (I also spent thousands of dollars making materials for said world that I really shouldn't have been spending). I get obsessive about my art to the point that I feel absolutely consumed by it. I get obsessive about writing and as many of you know, I've written books starring fictional characters I am obsessed with. Obsessive thoughts are part of my mental illness, and yes, I am high-functioning. Most people would say, 'Mike does not have a mental illness.' But I assure you that I do. I obsess about cleanliness, I obsess about fictional characters, I get obsessed by things like tracking inventory and other things that some might say, 'OCD is not a bad thing.' But yes, it can be. Very mush so. It's just a fact that this is how my brain works.

      "Last night, at the end of the game, I felt cut off. My family used to do this with me. My father cut me off many times and never explained things that I wanted to know with authoritarian silence. So I am used to this kind of abuse.

      "In the game, I wanted to know if we found the oubliette to rescue some of our characters. All I wanted was an acknowledgement of, 'Yes' or 'No' and 'We'll go into this next week.' That would have given me closure. That is not what I got. What you are seeing is my obsessive compulsive disorder wanting some kind of closure, and I feel angry that the closure seemed so simple and I was ignored.

      "This shouldn't be a big deal. But I am a mentally ill person with incurable obsessive compulsive disorder. So IT IS A BIG deal.

      "I try very hard to not do these kinds of things to others because I do not like them. I do not respond well to them. There are times when I run games and then I end them for the night and people ask me not to JUST so they can find out what happens, and I have always obliged them with an extra five minutes to provide a kind of closure. I realize that "cliffhangers" are a marketing tool. I do not expect to be a part of the marketing industrial complex in my own home among 'friends.'

      "Anyway, this is why I was angry last night (at the end). This is why I am angry now. This is why I will be angry all week. I have obsessive thoughts. And they turn over and over and over. It is difficult for me to shut them down."

    2. Anyway, Andrew, I'm sharing that huge text message above with you because it was a very real discussion I had with a group that was taken aback by my reaction to something that should have been of no consequence. Additionally, you seem to understand exactly where I'm coming from. To this unfortunate group of people, I got really mean and nasty, because I was furious. It's not a normal reaction, and even as my anger got out of control...I knew it wasn't normal. But there was nothing I could do to control it, and I hate that.

      It's like getting on board a train and it's going to a destination you don't want to go to and there's no way off. In the end, it doesn't even matter that you got onto the train in the first place. All that matters is that you are on the train, and it's going straight to Hell and that (as they say) is that.

      I think obsession and compulsion have ruled my life in remarkable ways. There were times in college when I performed well. But if I got obsessed with something for an entire semester, I would perform badly because I couldn't get my mind off whatever had grabbed my attention and all my time would go to that "useless" thing/activity to the detriment of school work and learning.

    3. I also get all kinds of comments when my O.C.D. has been triggered. "Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" "Why are you obsessed with this?" "Why can't you let it go?"

      The answer to all these questions is, "I can't let it go BECAUSE I have a mental disorder that won't allow me to let it go." "I'm obsessing about it because my mental disorder is making me obsess about it." These are not options for me. I am on this train, and it's going straight to crazy town with no stops.

  4. I am so sorry you have to deal with that. I had no idea.

    1. Thanks, Liz. I imagine all of us have some form of crazy lurking in the closets of our minds. At least mine makes it so I get to live in a spotless house.

  5. Like Liz, I had no idea you have to deal with being obsessive compulsive. What a tough break. On the one hand, your ability to get carried away and work for hours at your art and writing means you have a real artist's gift. But on the other hand, what difficult challenges everyday life must mean for you. My heart goes out to you, darling Mike.

    Forgive me for asking, and lord knows you must be sick of suggestions, but have you ever tried doing deep meditation? Maybe it could help take the edges off some of the worst moments. It's helped me, but then I don't have a mental illness, I'm just a little weird.

    Anyway, you're still remarkably accomplished and should be very proud of yourself. And if you lose your temper now and then it's because of your O.C.D. Forgive yourself. With me, I've just got a bad temper and little reason to be that way.

    Take care, Mike.

    1. I haven't tried meditation. I have no idea on how to even start with that kind of thing. Maybe I could read a book about it. Lately, I've switched over (almost entirely) to listening to classical music and that does seem to help out quite a bit.

  6. Not everyone can be "normal." Its not as easy as it appears to be normal either. I like your challenge to yourself - hopefully its in a mostly out of the way place so it does no bug you too much.

  7. I too sometimes have trouble letting go of certain thoughts. It could be worrying about something or I could be upset with someone or overwhelmed by a situation. This leads to anxiety and insomnia. I go back and forth. I'll have a stretch where I'm okay. Then something sets it off, and I'll get into a rut. I often think "I wish I wasn't this way." Anyhow, I know of a good meditation app for your phone and I learned how to meditate with it. It's called Buddhify. It really does help.

  8. Hey!! Thanks for the post. Mental health disorder like OCD really ruin your life completely. I know this because I gonna through this horrible state of mind. To overcome the OCD I searched for the best Counsellor in Chiswick. Finally, I get rid of it. Hey! you have shared really a great post.