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Living with OCD

May 7, 2009

I was talking for a bit about disabilities and Tourette Syndrome, and I’d like to continue that thread with a discussion of one of the ways that affects me. As I mentioned briefly in my two-part essay, part of my Tourette’s is obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, I’m not really sure how my particular brand of OCD should be classified. The description of obsessive-compulsive disorder as it’s most commonly thought of doesn’t resonate with me all that well, but the description of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder seems to fit me only just a tiny bit better, as it conveys a sense of severity and pervasiveness that’s rather at odds with my own experience. The thing is, it’s OCD, not OCPD, that’s the documented co-morbidity of Tourette Syndrome. So I’ve got OC-something, that’s for sure. Beyond that, well, does it really matter?

The most notable thing about my OCD is that it’s inconsistent and it fluctuates. When I say it’s inconsistent, I mean that not everything will bother me to the same degree, or even at all. I can stuff my clean underwear into the drawer without a second thought, but all my pens must be capped in a certain, precise way. When I was a child, it would drive my mother crazy when I followed around after her as she set the table, straightening the place mats and napkins and orienting the glasses relative to the plates, and yet my bedroom was a mess. And when I say it fluctuates, I mean that sometimes the sense of compulsion I feel is weaker, sometimes stronger. There are days when I have to check, double-check, and triple-check all the lights to make absolutely certain they’re off before I can leave my apartment, and there are days when I don’t need to check at all to be confident enough to go. There have been times in my childhood when I would stand at the top of the basement stairs in my parents’ house, peering intensely into the darkness to make sure that there wasn’t a hidden light that was still on.

I don’t have the same kind of anxiety that seems to be associated with OCD. Mine is the same urge associated with Tourette tics: It needs to be done for its own sake and I feel antsy if I don’t do it. I don’t touch things five times to prevent my boyfriend from becoming ill, I don’t think something terrible will happen unless I hop every third step. I don’t have the ritualized behaviors that seems to be typical of OCD as distinct from OCPD. When I double-check the lights, it’s more a matter of a glitch in my processing where the knowledge that I turned them off fails to stick in my short-term memory. There does seem to be a bit of illogical, almost magical, thinking in place, as when I scan the darkness for errant lights. It’s almost like my hiccuping sensory memory is battling it out with my intellect. I know I turned the lights off, but at the same time I can’t trust that they’re off.

My OCD expresses itself in a strange variety of ways. There’s the relatively “normal” inability to put a stamp on an envelope any way but perfectly straight, but then there are the forays into germophobia and trichotillomania (hair plucking). They’re relatively mild: I’m nothing like Nikola Tesla, who couldn’t stand to touch other people’s hair and who brought his own silverware to restaurants, which he then polished with nine cloths; and only occasionally will the left side of my left eyelid become bald from my pulling out eyelashes. I am, however, somewhat neurotically more careful than average about what I touch, and occasionally use my sleeve or shirt bottom to open a door. It takes me a bit longer than it should to wash dishes or to shower, because I feel the need to scrub thoroughly, even if it’s grossly out of proportion to what’s necessary.

My biggest OCD issue is symmetry. I’m not quite as bad as Monk, who’ll mix pots of regular and decaf just so they’ll be even, but anything that touches my body like my socks or my hair must feel the same on both sides. Sometimes after scratching an itch I’ll scratch the analogous spot on my other side so the sensations will be symmetrical. Occasionally, when going down the sidewalk, I must alternate which foot steps over a crack, and since most sidewalk squares are not to scale with my stride, this makes for some odd footwork on my part to make sure that my right foot steps over the first crack, my left foot over the second, my right over the third, etc.

As bothersome as my OCD can sometimes be for both me and whoever’s with me, on the whole I’m glad that my symptoms, like those of my Tourette’s, are relatively mild. I’ve heard stories of people who have it so bad that they can’t function at all, trapped in an endless feedback loop of ritualized behaviors. Me, I’m just a bit quirky.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Manda S. permalink
    May 9, 2009 12:01 pm

    I should have known that your writing would be excellent! I just stumbled across your blog while browsing about on facebook, and I must say that you’re awesome.

    • May 9, 2009 12:56 pm

      Aww, thank you. And yet I have such a SMALL readership after about 7-8 months of this. Oh well!

      *Hugs* you back!

      • Jaelyn permalink
        May 9, 2009 4:25 pm

        That’s because you don’t advertise enough. When you write a book you have the publisher to do some of that for you, and then you go on the bookstore circuit talking it up (or the talk show circuit if you’re huge). Here on the web, most of that is up to the individual. I failed miserably on that account when I had my online store, but fortunately it didn’t lose me (I didn’t lose me) too much money. :p

        That said, I do like your pieces and find them well worth reading, even if only a small readership seems to agree with me. Besides, those few months is barely a start. šŸ™‚ Maybe more stores others can connect with (most people don’t have OCD and don’t actually know anyone who does). As sad as it is, I think most people don’t really want to *learn* anything, which is what your past few posts have been, they want to be entertained (which explains things like Perez Hilton); and, to be honest, they don’t know you, so they don’t care enough about your personal story to read it and *learn* about something new. So maybe mix it up a bit more. (Because, frankly, my favorite pieces are your personal ones, but I *do* know you.)

        The comment about the stairs reminds me to ask: did you ever watch Phoebe in Wonderland?

        • May 12, 2009 11:55 am

          Re: Phoebe in Wonderland

          No, I haven’t, but I’ve only just recently heard of it. It does sound interesting, though, and I’d like to eventually.

  2. RidoKilos permalink
    November 19, 2009 11:11 am

    I would like you to know (and really hope you don’t mind) that I have used this wonderful piece of writing as an actual Prose piece for my Oral Interpretation class. It is getting me a wonderful grade and I shall use it again for my ‘Showcase’ piece as part of my final grade. Thank you so very much for writing this, not only because it has helped me but because it educates the masses so well about tourettes and OCD. THANK YOU! šŸ™‚

    • December 7, 2009 12:55 am

      I’m very sorry to take so long in approving this comment and in replying, but I don’t keep such a close eye on my blogs anymore.

      I’d like to thank you for your kind words and for letting me know that you’ve used this piece. I’m glad you found this informative, and I’m glad you’re passing the education on to others.

      I am curious as to how you used this piece. If you could explain how your presentation(s) went, I’d be very interested to hear about it.

      • RidoKilos permalink
        December 7, 2009 2:33 pm

        I basicly just read your blog entry as a prose! I did my best to read it as if I were truely in your place. Not to sound depressed or afflicted but more of a story full of insight.

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