Those of us with mental health “disorders” all have our own way of looking at them. I personally prefer to not look at them as “disorders” at all. I just see them as “side effects of my personality”.
I think all of my OCD/Anxiety-related issues are merely the result of overusing some of my personality traits.
I don’t think I was meant to use every personality trait I have all at once, all the time. But apparently that is how I like to operate. I have got every gear turning 24 hours a day and when that happens there is bound to be some “glitches” that develop, and that is kind of how I look at my anxiety and OCD.
But I can see why there is the need to categorize all of the possible symptoms that can result from these personality traits, so I happily identify as having several of the “disorders” out there, including OCD.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a mental disorder characterized by repeated, unwanted intrusive thoughts and/or feeling strong urges to perform certain “rituals” in order to relieve feelings of anxiety caused by these thoughts.
I am very proud to be somebody with OCD. It keeps my life interesting, that is for sure. Self-improvement is my thing and I love a challenge, so God knew what he was doing when he gave this disorder to me. Having said that, I do have days when I want to hold my OCD in front of me and punt it to Pluto. But I can’t dwell on that. I choose to focus on the good because focusing on the bad has taken me nowhere.
OCD is a tricky mister and I don’t know that anybody has it entirely figured out, but I can tell you who definitely doesn’t and that’s me. I am always working on getting to know it better but its tough because it is so deeply associated with memory and association and the subconscious mind. When I add my basic level of fear, boredom, over-thinking, and lack of faith in myself into the mix, it creates a messy mental maze that is a nightmare to try to work through.
I struggle with OCD.
It is not easy for me to admit that. Not because I am embarrassed by it, but because I can’t stand to feel like something is “beating” me.
I don’t hate my OCD. I hate that I don’t have the willpower to overcome my urges to check and double check certain things over and over again. I will tell myself “This time I am going to do it. This will be the last time I ever double check anything!” But then an hour later, I say “Well maybe just ONE more time.” And of course that turns into 10 more times.
It is by far the greatest challenge of my life and I really want to change that and put it in the past tense as much as possible. But my OCD has wormed its way into my psyche and wrapped itself around my greatest fear: something happening to one of my kids. And that makes it VERY hard for me to stand up to it. I have been trying for 6 years and I have come a long way, but I still can’t get to the point where I just say “NO MORE CHECKING!” and mean it. Knowing me, I will never get to that point. But it it is my goal to be more in control of my urges than they are of me, and I make continued progress in doing that every day.
As I said before, I believe that we get OCD and all of its symptoms, the same way that we get all of our other anxiety disorder symptoms.
I believe that these symptoms are the result of our thinking patterns, our personalities, and the external events going on in our lives all colliding together.
Is the brain involved? I’m sure it is somehow, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how.
Do I believe that because I have OCD that my brain is broken or sick or faulty?
There is too much ME in my OCD for me to blame my brain completely. Much like with my other anxiety related issues, my OCD is much too dependent on my own thoughts, fears and habits for me to think my brain is 100% responsible for it.
I have addiction issues that run very strongly in my family and my aunt once told me that an addiction specialist told her that all addiction was basically a form of OCD. I always say the opposite…I believe that OCD and anxiety disorders are a form of addiction – worry addiction. I am not a professional, I don’t know. And maybe those two things mean exactly the same thing. I don’t know about that either.
I think that anybody who has the mental capacity to sort ANY of this out, should win some type of major award.
So, if OCD is a form of addiction, what is the “fix”, you may ask. What is the reward center of your brain looking for?
I think it depends on the person and the obsession and compulsion but I think the brain is looking for comfort. Relief. Reassurance. Security. Sometimes I think it it just wants a feeling of things feeling “right”. We don’t like the sense of things feeling “off”. It can give us a strong urge to “correct” the problem. Additionally, trust doesn’t come easy to most of us with anxiety disorders, and that includes trust of ourselves and our own judgement. So we question our thoughts and our actions and feel compelled to check and double check things repeatedly so we can walk away and leave the issue alone with a sense of peace.
In addition to our minds very much wanting things to feel “right”, a big part of the problem with OCD is that we have somehow, often without even realizing it and often precipitated by a period of stress or trauma, created a thinking habit or a physical habit or pattern that the brain picks up on and starts to believe is now the new “normal”. This new habit could be just some random thinking habit that we latched onto due to our hyperawareness caused by stress, or it could be an actual physical thing we start doing that makes us feel safer or feel more in control during a time of stress or worry.
Because this new habit gives us reassurance or was done often during this time of stress, the brain thinks it must be needed. So it puts a “sticky note” on it the habit to encourage us to keep repeating it. The brain thinks it is helping us by doing this. And now the old normal is gone and a new normal is there that, to us, doesn’t feel very normal at all. But we keep repeating this habit anyway, because it now feels “right”.
Human brains love patterns and repetition. We are designed to want to continue to do things the “same way”. Wake up, brush your teeth, go to work, come home, make dinner, watch TV, go to bed.
I think for those of us with OCD, being the sensitive over thinkers we are, maybe our brains like patterns a little more than the average person. I think we are just wired that way.
Routine is comfortable for us. Our brains like it.
For one thing, an uncertain world is not as safe as a certain world and we all know how much the brains of those of us with OCD and anxiety want to keep us alive. So routine is very important to our brains.
But for humans in general, in an evolutionary sense, imagine how chaotic our lives would be if we woke up and didn’t have our patterns to “anchor” us in our lives. Back in the caveman days, what kept the tribes going was that everybody had the same plan, the same agenda…the same “normal”. Communities would never have developed if everybody was off doing some random thing everyday, never sticking to a routine. So it’s a part of our makeup to want the “same” and our brain encourages repetition. Repetition feels “right” and I believe this is a factor in addiction/OCD.
Analyzing these obsessions and performing compulsive rituals to appease that part of our brain that wants the pattern and wants things to feel “right” and secure, throws a treat to the reward center of our brain. And just like with my German Shepherd trying to please his own reward center, the brain learns that the way to get more “treats” is to do the same thing over and over again.
I don’t think that every OCD obsession or ritual evolves the same way or necessarily has to be stress related or trauma related. But its a scenario that I believe probably applies a good deal of the time and it is the way I think my own OCD has developed.
Now, keep in mind that I can’t prove a word of that or anything in this post. Any professional could look at this and think it was complete nonsense. I am always open to hearing new ideas and theories and I will change my mind anytime something comes along that makes more sense to me. But this post is about what makes the most sense to me at this point in my life , based upon my experiences with OCD.
I am very aware that my compulsions to check and double check lamps and outlets and stove burners are very irrational.
But after I lost my twin babies at 3 months of pregnancy, I felt my world was very unsafe and out of control and I started checking and double checking “unsafe” things over and over again in order to stop life from throwing another tragedy at me out of the blue. My brain very quickly latched on to that pattern and thought “Ahh, this must be how we make sure to never get hurt again!” and now it feels wrong to not check, even now when I am no longer feeling the acute stress of what happened to me.
It feels like I am going against the natural “flow” of my brain. Its like telling myself to start saying all of my words backwards. It feels all wrong. My brain interprets the wrong way as being the right way. And even though I know that my brain has it mixed up…there is too much discomfort and fear involved for me to reset it back to the way things should be. I have no doubt I could reset this pattern by doing things the old way – the real “right” way – on a continual basis. But it’s easier to just give in and do the compulsions then to stand up to that strong compulsive urge to go check. That urge is painful at times.
People who think that OCD is as simple as just “doing or not doing something and that is that” – are underestimating how complex the mind is, and how our inner world involves so much more than the words that we think and the things that we tell ourselves.
Humans are extremely “feeling based” and “emotion based” and when your feelings don’t jive with what your logical thoughts are telling you….it very complicated and downright nightmarish at times.
To make matters worse, those of us with anxiety and OCD are sensitive over thinkers, who feel everything ten times “louder” than the average person, it seems. Our feelings are very, VERY loud and when they are telling us “You better do this or not do that or something terrible will happen”, it feels almost impossible not to listen. With OCD, your own brain – that thinks it’s helping you – is actually working AGAINST you, encouraging you to do that which you know you should not and don’t need to do.
I always say that with anxiety, you can’t fight it. You have to love it and work with it.
I think the same thing goes with OCD, but at the same time you have to stand up to it. The voice of OCD is persistent. It is so convincing. The voice that tells you to count by 3’s, or go check your locks or wash your hands or go make sure your hair isn’t falling out….it knows your weak spots and it goes straight to them to get you to do what it wants. It pokes you and prods you and nudges you and it feels like 20 arms clawing all over your body, pushing you into doing that which you know you don’t REALLY want or need to do.
It’s not as easy to just try to “distract yourself” and wait for the voice to pass, as it is with other anxiety related issues. “Let it pass”, doesn’t alway work because the feelings are SO strong. It takes serious courage and commitment and dedication to REFUSE to listen. And I get so frustrated at myself because basically, I lack the courage to refuse to listen. I’m too afraid of what the consequences might be if I ignore it.
It’s not just about saying no once or twice. You have to stand up to OCD every single second of every single day and keep your guard up because if you don’t….if you give in “just this once”, you go right back to square one and the game starts all over again.
Please note that I do not want you walking around thinking that your OCD is a bully. You can’t look at it that way in the long run because that attitude will never carry you through it. Really, your anxiety is more like a scared child….YOUR scared inner child, as cliché as that sounds, and it really just wants us to convince it that everything is okay. But that is hard to do when it is convincing us so strongly that everything is in fact NOT okay.
I perform my compulsions because I am terrified of what will happen if I DON’T do them.
I am terrified my kids will die in a fire if I accidentally leave my stove knobs on or forget to turn off a lamp, and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life.
Its horrifying to me. So I keep checking. I keep taking photographs of my household objects with my cell phone, even though I know it’s not really a “normal” thing to do. I cannot take that risk. Its unthinkable.
Not everybody thinks, on a conscious level, as though something will happen to them or their loved one if they don’t perform their “rituals”. But all of us with OCD feel the emotional equivalent of that, in some way or another. We all have the feeling that if we don’t do what we feel compelled to do…..it will all be very wrong. Just wrong…that is the only way I can describe it.
For me, to say no to my checking compulsions would be the equivalent of me standing on top of a thousand foot bungee tower and being told to jump – every day of my life.
I am terrified of heights. I am terrified of bungee jumping. I am terrified of dying. I don’t want my fate to rest in how good of a quality that particular bungee cord is or isn’t. And I find myself several times a day, faced with the realization that jumping off that platform is what I need to do to save myself. I NEED to jump to make myself emotionally healthy again. If I ever want to be in control of my life again, I HAVE to trust that cord and jump off that platform and let the chips fall where they may. Then after I jump and put myself through the sheer terror of that long, long fall……I have to climb up that ladder and jump again. And I have to keep jumping and keep jumping all day, every day until eventually..it feels like the most natural thing in the world to me.
How awful does THAT sound?
Who wouldn’t rather take 20 pictures of their stove knobs then put themselves through THAT?
Except it’s not just 20 pictures of stove knobs. For me, its outlets and lamps and stove knobs and Scentsy’s and windows and stairs. One little thing turned into 20 “little things” that I now have to check every night before I go to bed or I can’t sleep.
I am about 75% better than I was right after I lost my babies. OCD was my entire life then. But this last 25% is still interfering with my life and I wish I could find the strength to let it go.
Again, I know myself well enough to know, on a very conscious level, that if I just say no to these compulsions everyday for two weeks….they will be gone. I will reset myself. I KNOW this like I know my own name. I know this is all brain junk and nonsense and that I just have to walk through the fear to get through to the other side. But that means jumping off of that platform and ignoring these tremendous urges I have to “protect” my family, and I am scared I will never be able to do it.
This is about my kids. My kids are my everything. How do I not check something when it feels like it will cause them harm if I don’t? But how can it not be easy for me to stop when I know the feelings aren’t “real”?
My OCD is basically just a huge mess in my head, all blobbed together like those garbage sludge piles they find floating out in the middle of the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong – I still love myself. I still love my brain. None of this is my fault. None of this is my brain’s fault. It’s just the way it is – the two of us together create OCD. I just have to keep trying until I can find a way to get us both out of it. But it is very, very frustrating.
I am going to wrap this post up in Part 2 where I talk a little bit about the obsession side of OCD and how OCD has been a part of my life for a lot longer than I previously thought.
Stop by the International OCD Foundation website for tons of great OCD info and resources.
For more anxiety support visit The Worry Games on Facebook.