I was diagnosed with a mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) during counselling. Now OCD is not, as many people seem to think, a desire to clean – although it does affect some people that way.
Wikipedia describes OCD as “… a mental disorder where people feel the need to check things repeatedly, perform certain routines repeatedly (called “rituals”), or have certain thoughts 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.”
In my case it manifests itself into intrusive thoughts.
A good example of this is if I’m leaving the house, I cannot leave without checking doors and windows are shut to prevent burglaries. I need to check two or three times, even if I know that they haven’t been opened that day or night. So, leaving the house will entail me checking the windows and back door. Then I’ll “just pop to the loo” and check again before I leave. I’ll then visually check them when I actually leave the house. The front door I will lock, then I physically have to try the handle and say to myself under my breath that “the door is locked”. I have driven home over 150 miles at 2am to check I locked my front door because I didn’t follow my ritual and I was convinced that we would lose everything if I didn’t do check. I could have called a friend to check, but in my head, it made more sense for me to drive all the way home to do it myself.
The thought of going out and leaving windows on the latch makes me feel physically sick and I panic if anyone suggests it. My long-suffering husband brought a hire car home for a few days when ours was in the garage. My son and I went out to sit in the car and he suggested we go for a spontaneous drive round the block. He locked the door and off we went, but before we got to the end of our street, I was utterly panicking as I could see one upstairs window was on the latch. We would be out for 5 minutes, and our neighbours were in their gardens so would see any possible intruders. But I simply couldn’t do it because we might be burgled.
I also become fixated on certain things which become “important” to me, and then just as quickly, they’re not – for example a specific game, a specific TV programme, even a specific task – it doesn’t matter, it’s just important and I must do it to the exclusion of everything else. It occupies most of my waking thoughts, and I often daydream about it rather than actually engage with life.
I deal with OCD by acknowledging it to myself and to close family, but try to hide it as much as possible from my son (there is some evidence that OCD may be genetic, but it could also be learned behaviour and I want to minimise the risks of “infecting” him) and acquaintances. Through counselling, I have learnt ways to minimise the impact on my life – I use checklists now (and blame a poor memory) and turn things into games with my son so he doesn’t become worried.
However, it does make my life more difficult when I need to change things. I need to exercise more, but my default setting is not to do anything as my OCD will make me believe that people will laugh at me – because that’s what has happened before. The reality is that no one will actually give a hoot what I’m doing, but still, the thought is there and I can’t get rid of that worry.
What’s the phrase? Feel the fear and do it anyway? Sometimes it’s not as easy as all that.