OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain’s serotonin levels that causes the person to have, often irrational, obsessions. I have had OCD for more than ten years now. I wasn’t really sure what it was when I first started noticing my own obsessive-compulsive behaviors; I thought I was the only person who acted this way. And then one day, while in the library, I picked up a book about OCD and realized, “Wow, I do a lot of these things!”
OCD does have varying levels, and affects each sufferer differently. A lot of people may have a minor obsession or compulsion and think that it’s OCD. Are you obsessively neat? Everything on your desk, or your shelves, or in your drawers have to be in a certain order? Are you afraid of germs? These do not necessarily constitute a diagnosis of OCD.
Now, that’s not to say that people with OCD do not do nor feel these things, many do. It’s just that it goes to more of an extreme with those afflicted by OCD.
Let’s use the neat desk as an example. If you believe that the world will end if don’t keep three pens, lined up perfectly, to the right of your desk, the lamp turned at a ninety degree angle, and your computer perfectly aligned with the edge of your desk…then you may have OCD.
While this is somewhat of an exaggeration, I want to point out one of the things that cause the “odd” behaviors in the people afflicted with this disorder. We often feel, that if something isn’t done, or isn’t done correctly, than something bad will happen to us, or someone that we care about. While this is a usually irrational fear, and we often know this, it doesn’t help us or stop us from doing the things we do.
Another reason, especially for compulsive behaviors, is that we have to do it until it “feels right”. And I don’t know any better way to explain this. Being unable to participate in certain compulsive behaviors, will often fill us with a sense of discomfort, anxiety, and dread. OCD can take up a large portion of a person’s life. Some are so restrained by this disorder that they can barely function in the world. Some may refuse to leave their houses. Others may have a large portion of their life overtaken by OCD, but are not affected to the above extremes. I count myself in this category. I would say that ninety to ninety-five percent of my daily life is affected by OCD. And as I mentioned, OCD is a chemical imbalance in the brain, just as anxiety and depression are. Not every person with OCD suffers from one or both of these disorders as well, but a great majority do.
It’s easy for someone who doesn’t understand, to say something like, “Just stop doing that.” If it were that easy, we would. But it isn’t. And to those who don’t understand this disorder, or don’t know that a certain person is suffering from it, their compulsions, when done in public especially, seem weird, odd, strange. Possibly making some people believe that there is something wrong with person.
Howie Mandel is possibly one of the most well-known celebrities with OCD. He has openly talked about it. He doesn’t shake hands with people and he doesn’t like others touching him because part of his obsession is a fear of germs.
Howard Hughes also suffered from OCD, and would use a special fork to sort peas by their size. He would also notice small, even trivial, details while directing a movie, and write extensive reports on how to remedy the situation. Hughes would also observe any dust or stains on another person’s clothes, and demand that they take care of it. After a near-fatal airplane crash, he decided that he would screen movies at a studio near his home. He stayed in there for four months, eating only chicken and chocolate, drinking only milk, and surrounded by several Kleenex boxes that he constantly arranged and rearranged. Towards the end of his life, due to OCD and other mental illness problems, Hughes was a recluse, and rarely seen in public.
Science-fiction author, Orson Scott Card, who wrote the Ender’s Game series, focuses on this disorder in his some of his books. And he understands this from a first-hand perspective as well. I attended a two-day workshop taught by Card a few years back, and had the chance to briefly discuss OCD with him. I explained to him that I had it as well, and that I appreciated his portrayal of the disorder in his novels.
The science-fiction books by Orson Scott Card, where OCD plays a major part are, Speaker For the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. But be sure to read Ender’s Game first and then go in the above order for the other books, otherwise you won’t know what’s going on.
I have a major thing with numbers. This is to the point where I hate to have to even read or write anything with numbers because I know that it will take me a long time to get through it. And it doesn’t matter if the numbers are written numerically (3), or spelled out (three), nor does it matter if their Roman numerals or not (III), my compulsion with numbers haunts me on a daily basis. And it’s a few different things with numbers.
For one thing, I used the number three in my examples above, and I have an obsession with that number and its variables. Take the volume on a radio or TV for example. As you turn the volume up or down, the numbers go up and down accordingly. I have to, have to, leave the volume on 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 and so on, or any combination of numbers that equal those numbers: 21, 33, 45, etc.
Now, (and I’m going to have fun writing this part; I already know that my OCD will do its best to hinder me here), my most aggravating number obsession, and the one that makes me dread having to read or write anything with numbers in it. In this case, ones and zeroes, have to equal two. What this means, and I will do my best to explain it, is that if I’m reading something, out loud or silently, and I come across a zero, I have to say to myself, “Plus two.” Because 0+2=2. If I come across a one, I have to say, “Plus one.” Because 1+1=2. Even if these numbers are part of another number. Let’s say I’m reading the year 2010. I have to read it this way, “Two-thousand (plus two), ten (plus one, plus two.)” And this if I’m reading these numbers, writing or typing these numbers, or speaking these numbers, zeroes and ones, in my obsessive-compulsive mind, have to equal two. It doesn’t matter if I say the plus twos and plus ones out loud or not, as long as I say it or think it. Even Roman numerals, as I mentioned above. For example, I like history, and I often read or write about WWI and WWII. I have to read it as WWI (plus one) and WWII (plus one, plus one). It’s irritating, it’s inconvenient, and if I don’t do it, it will eat away at my brain until I do.
As many people with OCD, I do have the fear of germs. I will shake people’s hands and such, but I always have Purell with me, I actively avoid or move away from people if I know their sick with something contagious, and I have a compulsive hand-washing ritual.
Now, many people without OCD will avoid sick people if they can, and a lot of people who don’t have OCD use Purell, but these behaviors in me come with obsessive, negative thoughts that I can’t get out of my mind. And the hand-washing ritual, it takes a lot of time, and again, I have to do this every time I wash my hands, which tends to be a lot. And if I’m interrupted during this ritual, I have to start over again from the beginning.
I will, on occasion, do the classic light switch thing that many OCD sufferers do. Where I turn the lights off, then on, then off, then on, off again, on again, until it “feels right”. There are certain words that, some for no apparent reason, invoke a negative image or feeling in me. And if I’m writing and hear one of these words while I’m writing, I have to erase the last part up to the point where I heard the word, and then rewrite it.
When I’m reading, and someone interrupts me, I have to finish the paragraph that I am currently on before I can respond to them. Otherwise I will have to start reading that paragraph again from the very beginning. Sometimes, I get stuck on a part of a sentence when I’m reading, and when I’m reading out loud, this can cause me to stutter a bit, as I try to get through the sentence. And I got stuck on it, either because it didn’t “feel right”, or I have this obsessive thought in my head that if I don’t read the sentence, or certain word or part of the sentence just right, then there will be negative consequences.
Things have to be perfectly straight and/or perfectly aligned with something else. If it’s even a little crooked, I must fix it. This will even happen to me in grocery stores, bookstores, and other establishments, where items may not be even, and I have to do my best to stop myself from fixing it. I will oftentimes just start straightening things, and I have to stop myself: an even harder feat than preventing myself from beginning in the first place.
There are times when I will have negative, obsessive images and/or thoughts that I can’t shake. Particularly when I, or someone I know is going through a difficult, trying time, my mind tries to show me and make me think about the worst possible outcome, making it difficult to remain optimistic, which is what I am trying to do during times like that.
And yes, it’s irrational, but many OCD behaviors are. I have the occasional bouts of anxiety and depression as well.
I wanted to write about OCD in general, as well as my own struggle with this affliction, to help spread awareness about something that affects thousands of people on a daily basis. It’s a disorder that you do not truly understand unless you are afflicted with it yourself, or you know someone who is. I also want to silence those who say that OCD isn’t real, that it’s a joke, that our compulsive behaviors are actually under our control and we’re only doing it for attention, and those who think that we’re strange or weird because we have this condition and we can’t always keep our obsessions and compulsions under control. We try to, and sometimes we do, but it isn’t always possible.
For more information about this disorder, or to seek assistance with it, please visit the website for the International OCD Foundation at: https://iocdf.org