You, Me, and My OCD

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Yes, I suffer from a mental disorder. Honestly, I bet 99.9 percent of the world’s population suffers from some sort of snafu up in their cranium in one form or another. Maybe some just aren’t as prominent as others.  Or, perhaps they simply remain undiagnosed.

Do you suffer from PMS or sometimes just get sad or irritable and really can’t pinpoint why? Well, there you go; you could be bi-polar.

Do you alphabetize your DVDs, make sure your socks are matched and folded before you put them away, or check again to make sure your door is locked before you go to bed at night? Then congratulations, I’ve just diagnosed your OCD.

Has something ever shot out of your mouth and immediately afterward you thought, “Did I just say that? That couldn’t have been me!” Bam. Multiple personality disorder.

So you see, whether you pay much attention to it or not, most of us suffer from a mental disorder in one way or another.

Mine just happens to have been diagnosed by a doctor. I guess that makes a difference in the grand scheme of things when it comes to how the world looks at you, right? Perhaps it shouldn’t, but believe me, it does.

I generally don’t talk about my mental illness to people that I’ve just met if I can help it. My husband, however, likes to throw it out there in casual conversation like it’s a truly interesting discussion piece. Who knows, maybe it is. That doesn’t change the fact that spreading the word to people I barely know gets under my skin nonetheless.

This isn’t because I’m ashamed of my disorder or the way I think. I know it’s “not normal”, sure, but I don’t think I’m some sort of terrible person because of it. I don’t want to go bury my head in the sand or hide out in a dark room because, Heaven forbid, people know.

No, I honestly don’t like to mention it much because people tend to get ridiculous about it.

No one should feel the need to talk to me like I’m a ticking time bomb. Don’t think I didn’t notice that your voice went up 2 octaves in my presence and that you’re addressing me like a child because you don’t want to rock the boat. I have a mental disorder. I’m not an idiot.

I don’t know if other people that have been diagnosed with OCD can relate, but I’ve been faced with all kinds of stupid remarks or reactions when my little (okay, big) mental issue is brought to the surface.

“What, you mean like that hand washing thing?” This is one of my personal favorites. Thank you for the ignorant stereotyping. Your lack of knowledge is duly noted.

People with “that hand washing thing” only make up a small percentage of those suffering from OCD, which is defined as:

An anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

So yeah. It naturally must be “that hand washing thing”, even though OCD can present itself in pretty much any way that a mind with some sort of imagination can conceive.

Mine happens to lean more toward the compulsion side that the obsession side of the disorder. I have an immaculately spotless house because dust, dirt, loose hair, fingerprints, and a plethora of other things can give me anxiety attacks. I say the word can, because over the course of the past few years since I decided not to walk through my life in a drug induced stupor, I’ve had to work really hard at combatting this thing and I’ve experienced a great measure of success. There are things that used to send me into anxiety fueled fits of rage that I am now able to overlook.

It’s been a huge struggle, though, let me tell you.  I’m still not “cured” by any stretch of the imagination, and maybe never will be, but I have made some huge strides in several areas thanks to some family-inflicted cognitive behavior and exposure therapy. This basically boils down to my husband putting his foot down over certain things that I would do, even at the risk of my mental anguish, before I drove the rest of the family crazy. Yes, I resented this for a while, but I got over it.

Sometimes, when you don’t have a choice in the matter, all you can do is try not to totally flip out, cope, and move on. I have realized that anxiety levels can’t stay intensely elevated forever. It’s like a bad high. You have to come down sooner or later, and as soon as I realized that I would eventually come down, things started getting better.

As much as I’ve worked hard to overcome certain obstacles though, it just makes it worse when people, who know exactly what my OCD entails, throw this little gem at me:

“Wow. You should come clean my house!”

Umm…no.

You see, you’re assuming that I, in some way shape or form, enjoy this behavior. I don’t. Not at all. Doing what I do and feeling what I feel is like a ball and chain around my neck that I can’t ever take off. It’s a huge weight on me all the time. By suggesting that I branch out and take this behavior outside of my home, you’re essentially implying that I should give up the only small sense of freedom that I currently enjoy, because when I am able to step out of my home, I am also able to breathe and relax.

Which brings me to my next point:

Stop apologizing for the condition of your own home when I walk through the door. Okay, so your place is a little messy. So what? Are you honestly under some false assumption that this will cause me to freak out to the point that I’m hyper-ventilating into a paper bag while I stand in your living room?

To be honest, your mess is like a breath of fresh air to me. I’m living vicariously through your stacks of junk mail piled up on the kitchen table and the dust across the top of your entertainment center because I can’t be that way but wish I could.

You wouldn’t know it though, because you won’t come to my house.

For different reasons, people are terrified of visiting my home. This is either thanks again in part to my husband spreading the word about my anxiety disorder, or the fact that I will bend over backward to over-correct my nervousness when we have visitors so that maybe people won’t notice it. Then, my obsequiousness just scares people, so I can’t win either way.

My in laws won’t visit because I make them uncomfortable. My family won’t visit, either. I can honestly admit that it hurts worse knowing they won’t come, than it would working through my anxiety with a house full of people. It makes me feel somewhat unloved when those closest to me refuse to help me get better at the risk of their own discomfort, or mine. Isn’t family supposed to be there to help us work through our issues?

This is why I adore my best friend. She’s the only one that seems to get this. Maybe it’s because she herself suffers from Bi-polar disorder, so we’re kind of like 2 screwed up peas in a pod. She will make the 5 hour pilgrimage from her house to mine occasionally, and I love her for loving me enough to stay with me despite my issues. She knows all about my anxiety, and guess what? If she sees me get nervous, she’ll talk me through it. That’s a true friend. Other than her and my husband, I don’t seem to have many of those, but not for lack of wishing there were more. People that understand are hard to find.

So I say this to those who don’t know how to handle a person with a mental disorder:

You can get to know us. We don’t bite. We’re honestly not all that different from you, we just have heightened emotions at times, and tend do things that others might not consider to be normal. Then again, who’s to say what genuinely defines normal?

We are who we are. People, just like you. Your perception of us won’t change a thing.

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7 thoughts on “You, Me, and My OCD

  1. Brilliant: very moving, utterly honest and very sad too. I can identify with pretty much everything you have written: OCD and I are no stranger to one another – and, like you, I get all manner of peculiar responses, and insensitive comments, from others.

    I do think that pieces like this will help, however, because so many people just will not look past that scary (to them) phrase ‘mental illness’ to the individuals afflicted, to the real people living behind the stereotype.

    It is very difficult to explain to those who are – for want of a better word – ‘normal’ what it feels like to have a day composed mostly of panic attacks; it is very difficult to explain why straightening the duvet, putting possessions in their precise places, checking the handbrake is on twelve times (etc) is necessary! And why one feels unsafe and jagged inside until these tasks are done.

    Perhaps the hardest thing of all is trying to explain why it is so hard to reassure, soothe or calm an very anxious person – and then being accused of being an attention seeker, or putting it on…

    Great post! x

    • Thank you! I couldn’t agree more!

      And let’s not forget those that assume we should just be able to turn this behavior off like we’re turning off a light.

      I love to watch the TV show ‘Hoarders’ because while those people may be exhibiting the complete opposite behavior from own, I can still sympathize with the way they are thinking, feeling, and suffering. Not to mention the complete lack of any attempt to understand and be supportive by those they love.

      I often find myself wishing people could spend even an hour stuck inside my mind. Then they might gain some better understanding of “what makes me tick” and not be so quick to throw their assumptions around.

  2. I applaud you for not going the drug route Shawn. I agree with you that we ALL have imbalances to one degree or another. I can see it in our family. And did I tell you my mom was diagnosed with bi-polar for about 20 years. She was unbalanced and crazy on drugs, they made her much worse. I wish someone in our family would write her story because it would give so many people hope. My mom is TOTALLY normal now and she has a story to tell. Larry just came in for supper. Love to you,
    ss

  3. It is true you could apply a label to almost anyone, mostly things are just personality traits until they interfere with someone’s ability to function. Nearly every aspect of personality that people have (being cautious, being adventurous, being nervous in public) can be blown out of proportion in someone’s brain and limit or remove their ability to function. When that happens you have a disorder (OC-D, BP-D, PTS-D). Someone who is very organized and functional is different from someone who is frozen in place and unable to function because some (heathen) filed their Led Zeppelin CD under Z instead of L. It sounds like you have made a lot of progress toward getting out of the hole. As you mentioned, the family is usually the best thing to help someone heal.

  4. Pingback: Extremely low, very slight, almost non-existent OCD | The X-ray of a relationship

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