Inevitably, when I share that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) someone says, “I think we all have some OCD.” I imagine that most people are trying to normalize my experience – that is – make me feel like I’m not alone. Unfortunately, it can oftentimes come across to me (and other OCD sufferers) as a dismissal of our suffering (“Come on, get over it, we all have this…I’m living with it, why can’t you?”).
It is at this point that I explain that behavior occurs on a spectrum. I doubt there is anyone at either extreme end of the spectrum (completely without obsessive/compulsive thoughts/behaviors or completely and only with these thoughts/behaviors) – but we all fall somewhere on the spectrum…but that doesn’t mean we all have OCD.
One moves from personality quirk to mental disorder when the point on the spectrum you live at is regularly and significantly disrupting your life and/or the lives of those around you.
When my OCD gets really bad (aka, when I’m not on medications…but I have been for the last ten years or so) I experience complete and persistent disruption of my life and this oftentimes causes significant disruption in the lives of those around me.
Everything I do makes my anxiety increase, so I stop doing anything. If I don’t do anything I can’t do anything wrong. I know this is a fallacy in thinking (failure to act can sometimes be as/more significant than acting poorly) but during those times I’m not worried so much about what is absolutely true as what is true in my own little world…and right then and there the truth is that doing anything besides breathing induces intense anxiety – so it must be right to do nothing.
Now that I’m on medication people sometimes ask me, “What sort of OCD symptoms do you have?” I’m sometimes at a loss for words. I don’t keep a list of them in my mind (I’m notoriously absent-minded) and being an introvert (whose brain takes longer pathways to complete the same thought) it takes me a minute or two to come up with something.
When it is consuming my life I can spit out answers instantly – but when it has become just a moderate disruptor of my life – it becomes so tightly integrated with my normal behavior that it takes minutes to extract it from the tangle of who I really am.
So what does my OCD look like right now – medicated and stable?
Some people read aloud b/c they want to – I read aloud b/c I must. Something doesn’t feel right when I’m not reading aloud. I’ve read aloud my entire life – and before I could read aloud I walked around making a humming noise of sorts all of my waking hours.
One might not see this as a significant disruption in a person’s life – but when you are someone who reads massive amounts, it is…A book that will take someone else two hours to read will take me six – you simply can’t speak as fast as you can read in your head.
I comfort myself with the knowledge that a few centuries ago all you silent readers would be the abnormals – everyone read aloud…and I comfort myself by assuming that hearing, speaking, and seeing is better than just seeing.
What Should I Underline?
I underline my books. I have underlined lots of books. In many of these books the majority of the text is underlined. Why? Because I am unable to distinguish what is important from what is not.
This is extremely frustrating to me. I want to make an outline of what I am learning in a book – but I can’t – b/c I’ve underlined so much the major points fade in with the rest.
Kerry Young has at times worked for me entering my underlines and notes into Google Docs and has experienced first-hand the hours it takes to do so b/c of this inability on my part.
You Have Beautiful Eyelashes
People (especially women) are always complimenting my eyelashes, “You have such long eyelashes” and “Your eyelashes are so beautiful.”
I’d trade them for yours any day if I could. My fingers naturally glide up to my eyelashes and tug. I can feel every minute hair that scratches against my eyeball and can’t be satisfied until it has been removed…which it usually can’t be and so I eventually learn to live with it…till the intense desire for it to go away dominates me again.
Please Don’t Make Me Sit Still
I have a really hard time in meetings. I need to keep my hands busy…If they aren’t busy they find something to do…they begin tugging at my eyelashes or running across my scalp feeling for and scratching at any irregularity in my scalp.
In order to counter this I schedule meetings almost always over meals – this gives me something to do with my hands. I give myself permission to doodle during meetings – I know that some may consider it rude, but I know that I am paying better attention to them doodling than I would be obsessing.
Twitch and Grunt
Thoughts come into my brain and if they are the least unpleasant my head twitches…If I’m doing something that I in the least I feel uncertain about I feel the compulsion to go “hmmph” as if clearing my throat – and to continue doing so until my throat feels cleared (which it never does).
(You have probably never seen me do either of these…that is b/c, with great effort, someone with OCD can oftentimes control their obsessions/compulsions for a limited period of time…and I do)
Pray, Read, Serve
The biggest area that haunts me still with my OCD – which stands far ahead of all the above – is the uncertainty regarding spirituality. The constant nagging question, “Did I pray rightly?” “Did I pray enough?” “Did I mean what I prayed?” “Am I praying without ceasing?” “Do I need to do what this person asks me?” (even though I know they are being selfish/unreasonable) “Did I pay attention as I read this Scripture passage?” “Have I really meditated upon this passage?”
This one is the hardest b/c it is almost invisible. I know that pulling at my eyelashes, picking at my skin, underlining absolutely everything, and not being able to read in my head are all abnormal but it is difficult for me to remember that the way I feel about my spirituality is also abnormal.
Sometimes I forget and I have to come back to the truth again and again. In my life God does not take me on some huge progressive journey in which I learn new truths all the time – it is the repetition of the one truth – He is good, I can trust Him, I don’t need to trust myself – that I fight every day to learn and relearn.
But I’m Not Mad
There are a lot of times when I have been really angry or depressed about my OCD. I’m not these days…much…
The aspects related to spirituality are really difficult – especially being a pastor. I’m called to follow hard after God – and this call is constantly abused by my OCD to drive me into anxiety and perfectionism. So, I still get mad about these sometimes (and when I say mad, I mean mad at God).
I actually feel pretty good. While my OCD and Depression are annoying, they aren’t paralyzing me…and compared to what life has been at times for me – I feel like I’m flying high (though I think for those who haven’t experienced the really dark times, it might actually feel pretty dark…but when you’ve fallen so deep into the abyss, to have climbed up high enough to see the sunlight…you feel like you have already made it).
I really, really, really want to delete all of this and start over. I frequently write and rewrite things – emails, letters, blog posts, facebook messages…and I oftentimes never say anything b/c I can’t make it sound right…I resist the feeling that this post is incomplete…that I could say things better…I know I could say things better…but if I try I won’t say anything at all, so I give you my semi-best b/c if I give you my best, your hands will remain always empty.