I have a clinically diagnosed disorder commonly referred to as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The name of this disorder was not assigned to me until after I became an adult, but the condition has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Wikipedia offers this definition of OCD: A mental disorder where people feel the need to check things repeatedly, have certain thoughts repeatedly, or feel they need to perform certain routines repeatedly. People are unable to control either the thoughts or the activities. Common activities include hand washing, counting of things, and checking to see if a door is locked. Some may have difficulty throwing things out. These activities occur to such a degree that the person’s daily life is negatively affected. Often they take up more than an hour a day. Most adults realize that the behaviors do not make sense.
Just as a person with diabetes or pneumonia may say that the textbook definition of his or her condition does not quite capture the reality of the illness, so it is with OCD. It is possible that the definition above sounds bizarre, even scary to you, but to me it rings absolutely true. It fails, though, to describe adequately the effect that this disorder has on my life.
OCD is presented in movies such as What About Bob? and in television programs like Monk in a lighthearted, comedic manner. In both of these cases, the character with OCD is a quirky, albeit likeable person who endears himself to others in spite of, or even because of, his strange behaviors. In other words, these characters are fictional.
In my nonfictional, real world, OCD is as much a part of my life as breathing. The condition “compels” me to count almost constantly. I count the number of steps I take when walking to the mailbox and back, the number of window panes in large industrial buildings, the number of times I stir my pancake batter, and the number of characters on signs and license plates.
I do more than count these things. I feel compelled to make the sum of those words, letters or characters “add up to” a number that is divisible by six. This mental counting and manipulating is taking place in my brain while I am driving, carrying on conversations with people, and participating in the countless other tasks and activities of an ordinary day.
This mental process, aside from being absolutely useless, is very tiring. It is worst when I am traveling in a car and my eyes are bombarded by the words on multiple road signs, billboards and license plates. I can hardly finish processing one group of words/letters/characters before I feel the need to attack a different group.
Do you realize, by the way, that all speed limit signs contain 12 characters? For someone like me, who is always trying to form multiples of six in her brain, I find those signs restful because they require no work from me. Also, I am calmed when I hear a sentence or phrase whose total number of letters is already divisible by six, such as “Have a nice day.”
Counting is not the only manifestation of this disorder that I exhibit. I feel anxious and unsettled much of the time. I have irrational fears (I wonder if I just ran over a person on the highway and didn’t realize it? What if I unknowingly am carrying some disease with which I am infecting other people? Is it possible that I am somehow responsible for that car accident that I heard about on tonight’s news program?)
Even though I know the fears I am having are irrational, they are very real to me. My body responds as if those terrible possibilities are reality. My heart races, my breathing rate increases, and I get that hot feeling in my ears that people describe having before they faint. Thus, in order to try to feel better, I begin obsessively counting something—window panes, steps, words, letters, etc.
I also fight against indulging in other compulsions. Lately, I have felt compelled to take all of the books off of my living room bookshelves (over 300 books), cart each one out to the garage, and blow the dust off of it using my husband’s air compressor. A non-OCD person might make a reasonable decision simply to dust the books while they are on the shelves, but doing that would not satisfy my compulsion.
No one needs to tell me that these compulsions are illogical, even idiotic. I know that already. I see a psychiatrist, who tracks my progress in dealing with this disorder. He prescribes two different medications that help me. Plus, I have received counseling from various therapists over the years.
Please do not let this confession of my OCD tendencies make you feel uncomfortable being around me. I have not changed. Do not worry about whether or not you have initiated a counting episode in my brain by the words you say. You probably have, but it’s okay.
Like you with your illnesses and troubles, I find ways to cope. I even find some humor in the situation. I read the other day, “I have CDO. It’s like OCD but the letters are in alphabetical order, as they should be.”
I have entitled this piece “My OCD” because I am describing only my experiences with obsessive compulsive disorder. Other people with the same condition may be affected differently.
Having OCD is a reality that I must “accept because I cannot change” it. Although you may not understand this condition, you almost certainly have some “unchangeable” conditions in your life. I wish you well as you live with those realities.
Have a nice day.