Living With Mental Illness: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD7“For God is not a God of disorder…” 1 Cor 14:33(a)

Believe it or not, I’ve had more than a few people (back in the day when I was a believer) tell me that my OCD was a ‘gift‘ from God – and they actually used that part of that verse. I figured you’d find that amusing. Of course, mental illness is not funny. It can be, well, amusing. Trust me on this, I’ve got a few mental illnesses that I’ve been coping with for a while now. If one cannot laugh at oneself sometimes, I reason one would truly go completely insane.

I am going to write a few articles on mental illness, but am only going to cover the few that I have been diagnosed with. I cannot comment from a personal perspective on others, because I have no personal point of reference, nor am I trained in psychiatry. Today, I will write on OCD. Next time, Major Depressive Disorder. Finally, well, I’ll leave that one for you to wonder about. Now that I’ve got everything on my desk perfectly symmetrical, let’s get started.

Totally Captivating…

Before I continue, if you don’t know what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, here’s the definition from the US Department of Medicine website,

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder is 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). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. Not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.”

That is very basic. OCD effects different people in different ways, and I won’t go into them. This is not meant to be an in depth dissertation. It’s a personal story. A testimony, if you will.  For me, it involves symmetry and order, as well as an aversion to people touching my stuff. I have things I am compelled to do, ritualistic methods of completing tasks and an aversion to non-intellectual change. Sometimes, these things are crippling – even more so than my physical disabilities. So much so, that on rare occasions, it prevents me from leaving my house.

It’s difficult to explain this, but not because I have an aversion to sharing aspects of my personal life with the Internet. That much should be obvious, by now. It’s because no matter how I write it down, it seems absurd that someone puts a premium value on freethought and considers it a detriment to be shackled by of indoctrination can be captivated by thoughts and ritual. It is, indeed, a paradox.

Why You Move My Stuff..?

Allow me to share a couple things I totally get:

CDO_8

Yeah, a place for everything and everything in it’s place. And in order, lined up and symmetrical, too. I can’t describe the feelings that I experience when something is out of order, or out of symmetry. Not quite dread, but very unsettling. So much so, that I am compelled to “set things right.” Even things that don’t belong to me. This can make me a very irritating house guest. But, I’m not a germophobe or even a clean freak.

When I visit someone’s home,  I pay very little attention their housekeeping. It doesn’t bother me if they’ve not picked up the place. Some of my best friends are total slobs, and I love them, dearly. In fact, my own work area has been known to collect dust, discarded papers and empty water bottles. The fact, alone, that I am a heavy smoker means there’s usually ashes on almost everything. My nightstand, at any given moment, may include a plethora of odds and ends, candy wrappers, etc. But everything that is on my desk and night stand are at either right or forty-five-degree angles. It has to be, or I cannot continue with whatever is next unless things are put right.

What I do pay attention to is how things are ordered. What’s hanging on the walls, resting on the shelves or mantles, and how the furniture is arranged. I’ve been known to straighten pictures, slightly rearrange furniture, arrange things on counter tops and sometimes even go so far as to move a friend’s car if it’s parked crooked in the driveway.  My wife and I have taken to calling this “Monking” something, after the character portrayed in the now-canceled but very popular TV show, Monk.”  She knows me so well, that when we are out somewhere and she sees that “look” in my eye, or notices something I would consider “out of place”, she knows what’s coming next. She’ll say something like, “Gonna monk that, ain’t ya?

This is a great tension reliever, and we always get a laugh out of it. In fact, when we are preparing for guests, my wife might ask me to “monk” the house a bit before our guests arrive. After rearranging things, I find that giving them a little light touch puts everything right. I don’t go around touching things all willy-nilly, though. I can’t explain this one, either, though. It’s quirky, but usually so slight that I doubt anyone even notices it. It’s very subtle, and might appear like I am drumming on things. However, don’t even get me near a sheet of bubble wrap. I will drive you positively mad.

Changes…

I don’t like my surroundings changed. I’ve moved my TV set exactly once since moving into my house, and that’s only because having it mounted on the wall above the fireplace was literally a pain in the neck. I derive a great deal of comfort when I am in my home, in familiar surroundings, where everything is where it should be, arranged in whatever geometrical pattern suits me. The first thing you will notice when you walk into my house, though, are about nine thousand pairs of shoes on the side of the main walkway, and probably pillows and blankets strewn on the couch.

However, you will immediately recognize angular and symmetrical patterns everywhere. If you move the bowl on my coffee table, I will move it back. If you pick up a picture and don’t return it exactly where it was, I’ll rearrange it back. Even the dog’s bowls have a spot they belong in. FSM help you if you leave a door or cabinet open ;). I am probably the most organized slob you’ll ever meet, and I’ve actually made myself late for appointments (and canceled a few) because someone has come through the house and picked up a lot of things to admire them, but set them back down in a different spot and I am compelled to set things right before I leave the house. Don’t get me wrong, I am not angry at my houseguests, and the items they look at might very well appear to them to have been returned to where they were, but my mind sees this differently, and it must be made so.

You probably think this makes me kind of a douchebag to live with, or my house seemingly an unwelcome place. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I love having company over, entertaining guests and having people feel comfortable in my house. I am a very jovial host, and my house is a very comfortable place to lounge, hang out or whatever in. On the surface, as I said, it sometimes even appears very “lived in.” I don’t nitpick with my family, either. Well, not usually. I do have my moments when it seems the whole thing is about to fall apart, but when that happens, I retreat into my study and write a while.

Fortunately, my wife has never cared for decorating in the sense of where the furniture goes. As far as the items that decorate our house, my wife has chosen nearly every single thing that is on our walls and shelves, and most of the furniture. I don’t have an eye for decorating with respect to picking out things. When I had my own apartment back in the stone age, most of the decorations I had consisted of road signs, cinder blocks and wooden planks. My wife has a great eye for decorating, and a flair for symmetry, as well, When she arranges pictures, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac and various statuary and floral arrangements, they are nearly perfect, and she has long since long since not been bothered one bit when I move something a half inch or so.

Ritual…

This is where it get’s uncomfortable for me. I know I do these things, and although I don’t fully understand why, they are compulsory. I have my keys on a carabiner clip. When I am not carrying my purse, they hook on the second belt loop to the left of my belt buckle, from my perspective. If the loop breaks and cannot be fixed, the pants are discarded. I check the all the locks on my house twice before going to bed. I’ll get up half an hour later and recheck them. The books on my library shelf are in order of size, from largest at the ends to the smallest in the middle, in pairs. If there is an odd one, I won’t put it up until I buy another one the exact same size. Unless under extreme duress, I will not use a public bathroom. I’ll roll my wheelchair backward before moving forward. I tap my razor on the water faucet three times before rinsing it, and I will turn it over three times under the water before applying the blade to my face again.

I roll my own cigarettes, and have a custom plastic cigarette case that has three compartments, each holding six cigarettes. The middle one is always empty. If I look at a clock and it’s within a minute of the hour, I’ll stare at it until it hits the top of the hour. The presets on my car radio have to be in ascending order, according to preset number and radio station. I have two sets of light switches in my kitchen that operate two separate light fixtures. On each one, both switches have to be either in the up or down position, together. I won’t leave the house if the clothes dryer or oven is still warm. I find it almost impossible to not check a doorknob. I usually tap the back end of a fork on the table before using it. I always back my car up a tad after pulling into a parking spot.

Food quirks, you say? There are certain foods I will not mix with any other foods. Meats are one of these things. They have to be on a separate plate. If someone drinks out of my glass, I won’t finish it – no matter how thirsty I am. If someone takes a swig out of my bottled drink, I’ll throw it away. If someone eats off my plate, I won’t finish anything else on it. However, I’ll share a smoke with someone in a heartbeat. Go figure. The lid on my coffee mug has to be at a certain position or I cannot drink from it. In fact, I have a lot of obsessive food quirks.

This list goes on, at length. Suffice to say, living with OCD is doable, and often it doesn’t interfere with my life at all. I deal with anxiety by hiding it, and when I cannot hide it, I stay home. I’ve tried various medications over the years, but the only substance that works is marijuana, and the combination of where I live and my notoriety for being an advocate for its legalization makes it too much of a risk to partake. Thus, I border on being a hermit. I go days, sometimes, without leaving the house. Unless I have a speaking engagement, or a doctor’s appointment, I rarely leave town. I don’t know why, and at this point in my life, I don’t care. I live most of my life online, anyhow, due to physical disabilities. Most people who meet me have no idea I have OCD, and those that do, likely suffer from it, themselves. I have no idea what brought this on, but I’ve been this way for a very, very long time.

Final Thoughts…

Do you live in my world? Comments are open and unmoderated…

  55 comments for “Living With Mental Illness: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  1. formerly the round guy
    September 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

    You about summed it up.
    Some of the details are different, but you really captured living with OCD.
    I am by nature a messy person, but there is a symmetry to the way things are that makes internal sense to me and I go crazy if anyone tries to clean my private spaces (my home office or next to my side of the bed).
    I didn’t realize it until reading your post, but there is a symmetry to the piles and the arrangement that makes sense to me and I will move things back if they’re changed.
    I won’t let maids in when I stay in hotels (which I do about 80 to 90 nights a year). I can’t stand the thought of someone else in my room.
    I’m not sure where this relates in my own little world of mental illness, but I also loathe being touched by other people and will go out of my way to avoid it any circumstances.
    I’ve been married 15 years and I still recoil if my wife touches me without warning.
    Luckily she’s an understanding human being.
    I, too, have learned to live with my various compulsions and thoughts and have made peace with it over the years.
    I look forward to reading more on this subject. Thanks.

  2. September 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

    As I do not live in your world, this is a hard post to comment on. I have no reference to know what this entails for you on a daily basis. What does seem apparent, at least from this post, is that you have figured out how to live with your OCD, something I assume is no easy task and is probably always evolving. All that I can offer is to keep positive in dealing with the limiting factors that OCD may place on your life. It is not something that you can change, so best to be positive and take the necessary steps for a happy life.

    • September 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Your comments are always thoughtful, even when you don’t have a point of reference. It’s why I read your blog and promote nearly everything you do. Your perspective is brilliant, dude. Thanks, I appreciate you.

      • September 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

        Thanks for the compliment Al…your words work in both directions…so apply them back towards yourself!

        • September 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

          Ah… I see a pleasing symmetry here. 🙂

  3. September 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

    The Ms on the M&Ms are all helter-skelter. First thing I noticed.

    OK, now I’ll go back and finish the article. Had to sort that out first.

    • September 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

      Wow, I SO get that. Ha ha ha! I would have had them all facing the same direction, too. Lmfao.

    • Brownian
      September 21, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      The Ms on the M&Ms are all helter-skelter. First thing I noticed.

      My OCD is quite minor compared to others’, but I noticed that right away too.

      One of the reasons that I’m generally untidy is that unless I have a satisfying place for something to go in, I really struggle to do anything with it. I rearrange shelves and closets, while clothing sits in a pile atop my dresser. Years ago my ex-girlfriend and I would agree to tidy up our apartment. I took the kitchen and living room, she took the bedroom and hallway. She’d done the entire bedroom and walked into the kitchen to see that nothing had been done in an hour. Well, not nothing. I’d removed the stove coils, and was busily scrubbing oil spots off of them with an old toothbrush. I’d done two. They were really clean.

      I’ve learned to manage it to some degree, and I’m medicated for depression and anxiety, so that helps. Now, if my girlfriend fills up the dishwasher, I don’t quite feel the same need to rearrange all of the plates and bowls and re-orient the cutlery basket, but I’ll still do so if I’m the last one to put a dish in before I turn it on.

  4. September 19, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Shouldn’t have told you that. Now, will you have to re-do the photo? I would.

  5. busterggi
    September 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I occasionally touch the boundaries of your world and it always makes me self-conscious when I do, kinda like damned if I do & damned if I don’t.

    But you have to somehow quit smoking for your reader’s good if not your own.

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay
      September 20, 2012 at 10:08 am

      No, Al doesn’t have to somehow do anything, not for you, not for his readers, and not if he doesn’t want to. Lecturing/cajoling/commenting on peoples’ smoking habits is still rude despite the fact that society has decreed that smokers are public property for prying personal comments.

      Al, I know so well what it’s like. For me SSRIs have been amazingly effective. I would spend five hours from the time I got into bed getting up every five minutes to check-reset the alarm clock, urinate even if I didn’t have to. . . .lord, those were long nights.

    • Amy
      September 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      I have spent most of my life in varying degrees of OCD. Sometimes, it’s hardly noticeable, sometimes, it’s hard to focus on anything else really. I saw a lot of myself in this post, and in the comments. One of my main ones is counting everything I do, and everything I do has to be either twice or a multiple of 4 (I have no idea why 4.) Despite what looks like messiness and chaos in my house/bedroom/car/everywhere and people complaining that they can’t find anything, I know exactly where everything is and it has to stay in that same spot.

      Thank you so much for this entire series, it’s an awesome thing to open people’s eyes to. Might I make a request? I know you’re focusing on things you have experience with, and I don’t know if you do have experience with this or not, but I would love something on Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s often misdiagnosed, misunderstood, and many people aren’t even familiar with it at all, but it’s something that has plagued my life and many others for years, and caused me many problems, and I would love to have more people aware of it.

      • Amy
        September 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm

        That was meant to be a separate comment, it glitched and got thrown in as a reply to the other comment. Sorry.

  6. davidjordan
    September 19, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    I count. I count steps, I count items, I count seconds. Its not something I’ve ever NOT done as far as I can remember. I deconstruct any sandwich I didn’t make myself and eat it piece by piece. Jello with things in it (fruit cocktail was the big one when I was a kid) is inedible to me. I’ve never cared about my surroundings, all of it is food and things that happen in my head. I don’t need to touch anything.

    unlurking to share my little slice of OCD.

  7. September 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    I can’t have paint on my hands. If I’m painting, I’ll stop if I get even a little bit on my hands and go wash them. My friends once got me to put a paint handprint on a wall. I ran to the nearest bathroom holding my hand out like it was on fire and didn’t come back out until I’d scrubbed it raw. I don’t know why I get that way about paint; ink doesn’t bother me and neither does dirt. I’d consider sticking my hand in a can of paint to be just as bad as sticking it in raw sewage.

  8. September 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I can relate. I can totally relate. My stuff has to be just-so, and I don’t like people messing with my stuff.

  9. Lee
    September 20, 2012 at 12:41 am

    If you haven’t previously encountered it, you might be interested in reading Zenna Henderson’s short story “Swept and Garnished” (in the collection “Holding Wonder”); the main character has OCD. Be warned that it’s a fairly dark story — I won’t go into details for fear of spoilers.

  10. Kilian Hekhuis
    September 20, 2012 at 6:25 am

    When I’m behind my keyboard, before I start typing (and sometimes during) I have to occasionally run my fingers over all the keys, usually starting with the numeric keypad (four fingers at a time). Did it four times while writing this reply. When I hold the TV remote, depending on the configuration of keys, I must run my fingers over or between them. When touching a door handle (we have proper handles in Europe, not the strange spherical things you have in the US) I usually have to touch the inner bend. When eating a small bag of M&Ms (peanut variety only!) I turn the contents on the table, and sort them out by colour. I can’t eat from a colour that there are less of than another colour, and will eat them by order of “surplus” count (thank god I don’t feel the need when devouring a family bag). When aranging the morning tea cups for my family, the ears must all face the same direction (though no need for exact alignment). Although this is all very mild, and I doubt whether it would register as “true” OCD, I can very much relate to what you’ve written.

    • Kilian Hekhuis
      September 20, 2012 at 6:28 am

      Forgot one thing: I very often feel the need to synchronously with both hands run my thumb over the top of my fingers touching the rims of my nails (back and forth) and the same with thumbs below, as well as running the edge of my thumbnails over the bend between the first and second phalanx, and the same with my fingernails and thumb phalanxes.

      • feedmybrain
        September 21, 2012 at 10:55 am

        My first long term girlfriend had OCD that she really struggled with, I was 16 and had never encountered it before so I didn’t really understand it or make an effort to understand. There were times when it would stop her doing things as Al describes and I was impatient and just wanted her to ‘snap out of it’.
        Stupid kid that I was.

        Great post Al

    • CJ
      September 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      I’m starting to cry. For all these years, I thought I was the only weirdo in the world who needs things to be arranged symmetrically and at precise 45- or 90-degree angles; counts everything; arranges M&Ms by color and eats them in order by “surplusage”; runs my fingertips around my nails, around the undersides of my fingertips, and around the buttons on the remote control. And please don’t touch me. In my case, it must be pretty mild, in that I can function well enough. Still, it’s good to know there are other people just like me.

  11. September 20, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I feel like there is a big difference in your rituals, which you recognize as irrational and the result of a mental disorder, and see as either a difficulty to be overcome or simply incorporated into your lifestyle; and religious or magical thinking, where people see their rituals as good and useful in themselves. There is nothing irrational about coping and dealing with something that is actually, physically wrong with you.

    Some of my friends joke that I’m “OCD” about a few things, but I always feel uncomfortable when they do so. I know I have some issues, but they are relatively mild and OCD is not one of them, whereas I know a few people who really are OCD, and it’s not a joke I find funny.

  12. Jacob D
    September 20, 2012 at 9:50 am

    It is nice to hear other peoples’ stories about their OCD. About a year ago I was diagnosed with OCD, and it is a hard thing for others to understand. I had/have several problems. Incessant checking of stoves, car doors, apartment doors, with counting rituals to go with it. Excessive hand washing. And perhaps the most impactful: a need to collect. As a big geek, I am into geeky stuff like comic books and action figures. I was acquiring collections of things, so much it was starting to drive me into deep debt. But not completing the collection created such anxiety that the stress of the debt was less bad that the anxiety of not completing a collection.

    All of this was effecting my marriage and my graduate education, as I spent more and more time obsessing, and less time doing the things I should have been doing.

    It was all so embarrassing and frightening. There is so much shame, because you know this is not normal, but you do not know how to stop. I did not want anyone to know, so I hid the checking, the hand washing, the collecting as best I could, even from those closest to me, like my wife. The disease turned me into a liar and a sneak as I had secret credit cards no one knew about in order to finance my collections. Nothing stays hidden forever, and eventually the truth came out. It was frightening at first, but in the end it was one of the best things to happen to me.

    It allowed me to seek help. Luckily, my school has great psychiatric services, and I was able to get both therapy and medication. I have been able to decrease the checking and I have sold off most of the collections, enough that I have paid off the debt. And my wife has been wonderfully supportive. It was like she had discovered a missing piece of what made me how I was, explained my lack of focus, my aloofness. She says she feels like she got her husband back.

    I will always struggle with OCD. The medications take the edge off, but the monster is still in my head. I struggle with it every day, but it is much better. I look back at the person I had become under OCD, and I do not even recognize him. I am different now. It is difficult for the OCD to thrive in the light of day, and even though I still struggle, and always will, I am grateful that I found help, and have such a great support system, and am especially grateful for my wife.

    I did just want to say for anyone struggling with OCD that getting psychiatric help was revelatory. I know not everyone is in a college health system like I am, and that it can be expensive, but learning to control the OCD is worth it.

  13. darwinharmless
    September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I wonder what the relationship is between OCD and addictions like smoking. When one tries to quit, the physical withdrawal symptoms are over in a matter of a couple of days. From then on it’s all psychological compulsion. I wonder if anybody has tried to deal with quitting smoking with the same medication as is used for OCD. That might be a big improvement over nicotine gum or patches, which basically just keep a person addicted until they can’t stand the compulsion anymore and go back to smoking. Would the same question apply to other addictions, like heroin? What about eating disorders, like a compusion to eat chocolate?

    I ask this question because smoking was the only compulsion I felt powerless to fight, until I managed to quit. And I know that the compulsion lasted much longer than did the addiction.

  14. September 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Thank you, everyone, for sharing these things. I would wish that the stigmas attached to mental illnesses would vanish, but as long as their are people who remain ignorant about MH, and people who still think Mental Illnesses are caused by demon possession, etc., we will all have an uphill battle. You guys rock. 🙂

  15. Dadboyghost
    September 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t like the term Obsessive Compuslive Disorder. It has the word ‘disorder’ in it and that just sounds untidy to me.

  16. jj7212
    September 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I think I may have given some people OCD. I was an asshole about inspections in the Marines! Uniforms, weapons, barracks rooms, and the 26 HMMWV’s I had in my platoon. 13 of those trucks had Avenger weapon systems (for stinger missiles) mounted on top. They were valued at $1 million each. And I had another couple million dollars worth of other ‘sensitive’ equipment. Attention to detail can be life or death, which is a big reason why Marines are very strict. It’s reasonable from a warfighting leader’s perspective.

    But you make me feel bad for it, Al! lol Just kidding. I may have OCD myself from it though… I had asshole Sergeants when I was younger too. Go figure.

    I restored a 1957 VW microbus in my home garage when I lived in SoCal that I brought over here to Japan with me. It’s so detailed in every way that I’ve won the Best Type II award several times at VW events from Tokyo to Kobe. My wife drives an original 1959 Karmann Ghia convertible. It’s nothing short of beautiful.

    If I have OCD then I guess I’m constructive about it. My advice would be to focus the (OCD) energy on something positive and useful. But easier said than done…

    • jj7212
      September 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Side note. I rarely brag about my VW’s. I could care less about an ‘image’. But the best part about driving a nice VW bus is the big smiles it brings to little kid’s faces! When I drive around town, kids always get excited and give me a big wave or peace sign! Kids in the next car over always have there nose pushed on the window with bug eyes and mouth agape! It’s a happy car and it’s a also fun to teach my two boys how to turn a wrench.

  17. September 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Hello, fairly mild OCD here.

    Growing up in a “military” area made it less weird that I used to scrub baseboards and the floor and make sure all the sofa pillows were angled just so. (My first round of Prozac cured that.)

    But to this day my clothes must be arranged a certain way in the closet — by type of clothing, then by colour, then by sleeve/pant/hem length. Light to dark, short to long, left to right. The clothes might be covered in cat hair, but by gopod they are orderly about it!

    My books are arranged by type of book (fiction/nonfiction, with separations based on book subject); then alphabetized by author surname; each author’s books are then alphabetized by title. And they must be put back in the same place they came out of.

    All the spices are arranged just so in the cabinet, and all can labels must face outwards.

    The presets on my car radio have to be in ascending order, according to preset number and radio station.

    Oh come on, that just makes good logical sense! (Mine are the same way.)

    • September 20, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      I had an aunt that did a lot of home canning. Her jars were arranged in alphabetical order on the shelves. Label forwards, of course.

      • September 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm

        Makes sense to me. How else will you know what’s in your cupboard?

  18. September 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    I do not have OCD. Let me get that out of the way first. I had to, it was bothering me. But I am greatly interested in this as well as other mental illnesses, since my ex had several and we wrote a book about it. I am only sometimes severely depressed. But I too would so much like to get rid of the mental illness stigma, which is why I go around talking about mental illness. Too many people still think it’s something we need to hide.

    And sometimes you have to laugh at it because otherwise it’ll drive you nuts. Yes. I do know what I just said.

  19. September 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    My wife an I are both fairly certain that I have OCD, or at least something that approaches it.

    Much of what you wrote really strikes the target for me, though my personal obsessions and compulsions manifest somewhat differently. For example, I also cannot concentrate at all if things in my surroundings are not orderly and symmetrical. Sometimes when I go to start on something important I get completely sidetracked by re- and re-re- organizing things to find the most satisfying configuration. It has caused me to fail to finish assignments or tasks on time, or sometimes at all. This extends to non-physical things too, like my computer. When I write, for instance, I can’t just type away and fix errors later. As soon as I see something underlined in red I have to stop and fix it, I just can’t move on, my whole train of thought is derailed until I fix it.

    I don’t tend to be messy at all. I’m not a germaphobe, but I can’t stand dust or grime on things. I’m not obsessive about washing my hands, but I have to wipe down my keyboard, mouse, iPhone and computer screens several times a day. On the other hand, I love being outdoors and I have no problem getting dirty. For years I worked as an aircraft mechanic, the grease and oil and grime didn’t bother me on the job. But I could be frustrating to work with when I insisted on laying out tools in certain order, and doing things ritualistically. I used to compulsively bite my nails and cuticles, to the point of bleeding. I still do, but not nearly as bad as before. And on and on…

    I think that over the years I have learned to minimize the effect of all this on my life, and to some extent minimize the actual manifestations of the problem. I have gone through cycles of severity. It seems to be worse when I am generally under more stress, and less severe when I am not feeling particularly stressed. So I don’t know, maybe this isn’t actually OCD. It causes some strife around the house, but I try to learn how to let things go. It can be challenging with a wife and kids who are all not at all orderly and tidy. ;-P I’ve never tried to have myself diagnosed, honestly I have no idea how to even go about it.

  20. September 20, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Oh, I forgot to point out that we joke around about my “Monkness” too. Whenever I start straightening things on store shelves my wife tells out daughters “Daddy is being Monk again.” 🙂

    And the radio presets: absolutely must be in ascending order.

    Bookshelves: let’s just say I really wish publishers would all use similar dimensions and colors.

  21. Skip White
    September 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I can’t say I inhabit the world of OCD, though I’d say the world I inhabit is in the same solar system. I’m a fairly messy and disorganized person overall, though there are some things that I absolutely need to have a certain way or I’ll get upset.

    Perhaps the most… dramatic of these is that if it’s my turn to cook dinner, as soon as I get home from work, even before my wife and the dog greet me, I must make sure all the pots, pans, knives, dishes, etc. I need for the meal are clean and ready to use. If they are not, and the sink still has dirty dishes in it, I first have to empty the dishwasher of all clean dishes, then load it with the dirty dishes from the sink, in order to create enough room to wash whatever I need to cook. I cannot be interrupted in this process, or I will get increasingly angrier and angrier. My wife offers to help, and I always refuse, since I feel like it’s something I have to do alone. On the other hand, if we’re getting take-out or something, the dishes in the sink are no big deal.

    I also have daily rituals about how I wear and/or carry things. I always wear my watch with the face on the inside of my wrist. My keys must always be in my left pocket, along with any coins. In my right pocket, I must always have my cell phone on the inside (closest to my leg), with the screen facing my leg, and the top of the phone facing down (so, upside-down). My wallet must always be on the outside of my phone, within the same pocket. Also, I have a tendency to want to curl my left hand/wrist/fingers in such a way as to resemble the talons of some hawk or eagle, though I suppose that’s more like a tic.

  22. Akira MacKenzie
    September 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I haven’t been diagnosed with OCD (I am a rapid-cycling bipolar, though) but I suspect that it is an issue for me. My problem isn’t so much the “C” portion of that acronym, but the “O.” For example I will very often have this all-consuming worry that I have not done something (e.g. lock a door, turn off a stove, put away a bottle of medication) and I MUST go home immediately to check or something terrible will happen. This is a problem since I work at a job that is not at all lenient when it comes to leaving during the work day.

    I also have a bouts of hypochondria. For instances, recently I had a bad tooth pulled and about a week later I started having neck pains, headache, dizziness and what I thought was a fever. It turns out I may have had a low-grade infection from a left-over dental abscess, but before that I living in terror that I had meningItis and I scoured medical websites to diagnosis myself.

  23. trixie
    September 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I don’t have OCD, but my 10 year old daughter does (along with Asperger’s, ADHD and Tourette Syndrome). I can’t speak for her, but reading your experiences gives me some understanding of what she goes through. She’s pretty good at telling us what’s a tic and what isn’t. The “isn’ts” are usually the compulsions. She’s only been recently diagnosed, a little over a year now, and we are getting psychiatric help, but I so wish we could get those childhood years back. I’d be way more understanding of those behaviours that drove me nuts and isolated her from other kids.
    Thanks, Al. And sorry, I don’t mean to turn this into one of those infernal mommy message boards.

  24. Erin McC
    September 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    i dont live in your world, mines a little over to the left =) i live with an autistic partner, two kids diagnosed with autism and sensory dysfunction, and one kid undiagnosed but with traits of both autism and ocd. i myself have a few ocd issues, mostly eclipsed by more severe ocpd tho. neurotypical is not represented in our world =)

    severity comes and goes. ive had times where i had to get out of bed multiple times to straighten the doily on my coffee table, or where i am stranded at the grocery store in front of the canned beans literally unable to make a simple decision on which one to buy.

    the greatest help for me has been learning to recognize when i am having severe “issues”, and to establish procedures with my partner for asking and receiving help with dealing. i do the same for him and his “issues”. this self awareness is one of the greatest gifts we can impart to our children. and having someone who knows you like that really helps.

    on the flip side, as one who cant leave the room with a cabinet door open, living with someone who routinely goes into the kitchen, opens every single cupboard, and then walks out without closing them, can sometimes cause one to start foaming at the mouth =P

  25. quintus
    September 21, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I do a few of the above, never thought they might be unusual *sighs*.
    Standing on cracks in the pavement. Obviously no cracks would be best, otherwise they have to even out between left and right foot. For number and type of crack. There is, of course, an entire taxonomy of cracks.
    After a few years of this I decided to try to put an end to it by not looking at the pavement. I got to tread in dog shit a lot but could still feel the cracks through the soles of my shoes.
    There’s a moral in there somewhere.

  26. keri
    September 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    AUGH. My OCD tendencies are COMPLETELY inflamed with rage by that first image you posted – the “CDO” one. I hate it so much. Every time I come across the “joke” online, I get furious at people trivializing the disorder and treating it as the “germaphobe + organizer” disorder. I mean, “CDO” doesn’t even make sense, since it’s an initialization!!! I couldn’t even read much of the rest of the post because it made me so upset, so I came down here to vent about it. 🙂

    I was diagnosed with OCPD when I was 8, but I honestly think it would be more accurate to say that it’s Asperger’s Syndrome (female child presentation). I definitely have the obsessions, compulsions, and obsessive compulsions, but I think they’re more in line with the autism spectrum than a pure OCD. (Also, the fact that it’s labeled a “personality” disorder makes me think this.)

    It has made my worklife very difficult! Particularly in being resistant to change until I understand the reasoning or in how I need my desk to either be not touched/put back exactly (it often gets dismantled when the space is used for receptions and things – I work in a museum) or changed entirely (small variations drive me batty!). I’ve got a lot better, but my routines are still causing me to be late in the morning even when I try to accommodate them, and it affects my interpersonal skills a bit.

    Things you mention like food quirks, being an organized slob, being very particular about patterns (especially if it’s something other people will see), that’s aaallll part of me. I succeeded quite well in a women’s clothing shop when I was in university because I was fast and neat at folding/arranging the clothing to be perfectly straight, wrinkle free, in perfect color order, and exactly the right distance from the next item on the shelf or rack. Unfortunately, I couldn’t handle crowds during busy shopping days, and I’m abysmal at selling things to people.

    (Lately I’ve been more and more obsessed with my small fountain pen collection, and it’s showing in how I use the things. I have to change to a new pen every day. Each pen must have an ink that goes with the barrel, if I have a similar/complementary color available. They must be arranged just so on my desk or in my bag. Replacing the ink by refilling the pen or swapping the cartridge is also a special ritual, which I’ve tried to avoid doing at work. I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t abandon this collection, even though it brings me much joy.)

    Oh, one more thing! When she’s bragging about how smart I am and my organizational skills, my mom likes to tell a story that actually points out how my OCD tendencies were developed along with my hand-eye coordination. When I was 2 or 3 years old and had my first box of crayons, she started noticing that I never let them scatter in disarray. I always arranged them in a row as best I could, and the color pattern was always the same as in the box. And I would fuss if someone messed it up.

    • Monika T
      September 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      I’m not an expert on OCD but I would say don’t get rid of the fountain pen collection. I err on the side of doing things that bring you joy as long as they don’t do you or other harm. So as long as you can do your rituals at home and are not going into debt to collect more etc then keep this habit. People are different in endless variation and strange things bring us joy.

      For me the obsession is work. Not always healthy but pretty productive for a mental illness. Stopping work and engaging with the world can be a problem but I am getting better. Good luck.

  27. Svlad Cjelli
    September 22, 2012 at 5:12 am

    I still feel it. But at some point, I began to disassociate from myself and dowzer on with my day behind a pokerface. I still feel it.

  28. poose
    September 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I’m a rider (motorcycles) and I always blip the throttle before taking off. Totally unnecessary, but I don’t feel right if I don’t do it.

    While riding I’ll periodically punch in the turn signal cancel button-just in case.

    Whenever the sun is at the right angle I check my shadow-not in a vain way (although I admit I’ve had “pinch me, I must be dreaming moments”) more that the bike is all okay, nothing dragging/leaking/falling off kind of inspection.

    I feel we all have our rituals, usually irrational and not always helpful. Just part of who we are.

    Al, your a strong man for fronting up all of your quirks. I respect that immensely, and look forward to your next instalment.

  29. September 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Al – Just stopping by to say THANK YOU for writing about mental illness! I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and do have some of the overlapping symptoms, like being resistant to change (though it depends on what is entailed in the change) and some minor ritual practices.

    Whoever thinks this shit is a gift… give me the damn receipt because I am taking it back.

  30. carolw
    September 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I had a lot of quirks as a child that have minimised as I got older. I used to sort and eat candies by color and count letters in words. I also thought of numbers (1-10) as having personalities, based on their shapes. Now I can’t stand having cabinets or drawers left open, and at work I open the programs I use for the day in a particular order, and have to have the icons on my toolbar in a certain order. I have particular places for everything in my purse, and for the items on my dresser.

    • lurkeressa
      September 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

      Oh, that sounds familiar. Everything was better if it added up to 3, or 7, or 10, 12, 15… 8 wasn’t the best, but it was okay, it was a nice number. My friend said her favourite/lucky number is 9 which I couldn’t understand because 9 is 1 short of 10 and such a nasty little bully. 😀

      By the way, a while ago I had a conversation with another friend about this subject. We talked about which Discworld character would be which number based on their personality…

  31. Cluisanna
    September 23, 2012 at 12:57 am

    I think most people have certain ways they like to have things, but most of it isn’t OCD. I, too, have some quirks regarding order and these things, but those aren’t really severe. What is severe, however, is my Dermatophagia, which is also a form of OCD. (Warning: gross! Don’t google this. Just don’t.) I bite the skin on my fingers and lips as well as my nails, often to the point of drawing blood. I have done this all my life, and I think it has something to do with being extremely stressed out/tense from internal triggers (does that sentence make sense? What I mean is I cause myself stress and somewhat relieve it by biting my skin and nails). I also suffer from depression, so there’s that, too.

  32. lurkeressa
    September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Wouldn’t say I’ve ever had OCD, it’s too mild, but I always had these minor OCD-like quirks that kept changing after a while. I’d have to breathe in a certain way at some moments, click my tongue in certain patterns and start over if it went wrong, walk an equal amount of steps when going somewhere, preferably starting with left foot… (Steps of certain length! Important! Not a short step with left and a long one with right, where will the world end up if you start messing with steps like that?)

    It’s all mostly disappeared since, except I still occasionally feel I have to touch things equally much with both hands/feet and stuff, this symmetry thing is the most persistent one. Oh, and people browsing my belongings/computer? No, it doesn’t mean I have something secret there, I just don’t like it OK?!

    How do you feel about the way people casually say “ah, my OCD again” when referring to mildly irritating but far from crippling compulsions they might have about some things (like the need to have the stuff on their desk or bookshelf arranged in a certain way)?

  33. Infinite?
    September 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    I finally went to therapy for my depression and anxiety, and ended up with a diagnosis of OCD. What’s interesting is that I had many more overt compulsions when I was a child. I had to have my socks up over my knees, my right foot had to land on the last stair, I had to walk on colored tiles, etc. As I grew older I would have many more mental compulsions. I still like to group the washing up on the drying rack, eat my food one item at a time, and check my new purchases over and over to make sure they’re not broken. But I spend more time looking for reassurance because I think I upset someone or they don’t like me, beating myself up for having thoughts I feel are wrong, thinking if I don’t do something correctly the world will come crashing down, etc. This has all been helped by medication, CBT, and meditation (used like CBT to train myself to let my thoughts go instead of grabbing onto them). The literature says it never goes away, but once you can get it under some semblance of control at least you can live life with some reasonable sanity. Thanks for posting your story.

  34. September 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing what living with OCD is like for you. You mentioned you tried medication but I am wondering if you’ve ever tried the frontline treatment for OCD, Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy? It truly works. My son suffered from OCD so severe he could not even eat. He finally got the right therapy, and his OCD is now classified as mild.

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