OCD

OCD Alphabet

Most of my writing about mental health has been quite serious lately, so I thought I’d take a break and do something more lighthearted. I often think in metaphors, especially as it concerns OCD, so I’ve challenged myself to use every letter of the alphabet to describe what this condition is like. I’m pretty sure I’ve tweeted some of these too.

A

OCD is an ass. Come on, I have to say it.

B

If you’re not into swearing, this one’s for you: OCD is a bully. Now I’m gonna swear again. OCD is a bullshit artist. Lies! Don’t listen to the lies!

C

OCD is like an evil cartoon. You can see the contours of your world, but they’re exaggerated and made nightmarish.

D

OCD is a donkey.*

*See letter A

E

Toxic earworm. Enough said.

F

When my OCD is manageable, it’s like a low-grade fever. I can function well, but I sense its presence, if only lightly.

G

When my OCD is annoying, I think of my thoughts as a cloud of gnats.

H

A helix. It just keeps twisting. Or maybe a double helix? It’s in my DNA.

I

The inevitable will happen if I don’t ritualize.

J

OCD is a jackass.*

*See letter A

K

OCD is like a never-ending knock knock joke. You know your rituals are ridiculous, but you can’t help but ask “Who’s there?”

Every

Single

Time

L

Can a leopard change its spots?*

*See letter A

M

OCD as Mobius strip. Or perhaps a Mobius strip club. You keep going in, but it just makes you feel bad.

N

Noooooooo! That’s not exactly a metaphor, but it’s often what I say when I’m in the throes of ritual hell.

O

People with OCD are said to have sticky thoughts. That’s because the disorder is like an oil slick that has drenched our neurons, making it difficult to move from one thought to the next.

P

OCD is a puzzle with a missing piece. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been searching for that piece forever. Let’s face it; I’m never gonna find that piece. Also, sometimes the entire puzzle changes. Alkjweorufkljsadf!!!

Q

?????? They don’t call it the doubting disease for nothing.

R

My convoluted rituals and thinking patterns put me in mind of a Rube Goldberg machine.

S

One must imagine Sisyphus happy. Or not?

T

OCD is a turncoat. Now I need to write a short story with a war theme and all the soldiers represent different obsessions and compulsions, and I’ll lose track of every single one, and the casualties will be many, and now I have a lot of work to do.

U

Staying with the war theme – OCD is a usurper, a usurper of rational thought.

V

When my symptoms were severe, I was often pulled into the OCD vortex.

W

When my symptoms are mild, my OCD is a persistent whisper.

X

Let’s go with a broken xylophone here. If I only hit it just right, the notes will sound perfect.

Y

Yuck

Z

Zonkey, zebrass, zedonk – take your pick. Think of the stripes as the convoluted nature of OCD, and the assery is, well, the asssery.*

*See letter A

 

Your turn.

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Coming Out, Depression

It’s about time I start taking my own advice

I love books, and like most bibliophiles, I’ve amassed a collection I can’t possibly read in a lifetime. Short of becoming the world’s fastest speed reader, these books will likely remain unfinished. With such self-awareness one would think I’d stop buying books. Alas.

I’m a bit stubborn, so it takes just short of an eon to make changes in my life. (It also takes me several years to write a blog post. Mea culpa.) Back on April 15, 2016, I posted about needing therapy. I was in a bad way, and I knew it. Once again, however, that self-awareness didn’t propel me forward. Imagine me instead sitting on my futon-that-strives-to-be-a-couch contemplating therapy and then deciding life sucks anyway and then seeing what’s on Netflix while chastising myself for not cleaning my apartment.

That is, until now.

Drum roll please.

I started seeing a therapist, who confirmed that I was indeed in a bad way. Not only do I have OCD (which, thankfully, has been manageable), but I also have depression. Apparently, I’m also in the business of collecting mental illnesses. Unlike my book collection, however, I plan to deal with my disorders effectively. To that end, I’ve started taking antidepressants, which have been a life-saver. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ll devote more time to discussing my meds later. (Perhaps when the current ice age ends?) For now, I’ll just say that the medication has been working and therapy has been good.

Taking the step to get help is hard even if, as I have, you’ve done so before. I mean, I even advocate on therapy’s behalf. I go door to door passing out flyers. I write therapy fan fiction. All this to say, I’m an imperfect advocate, but that’s ok. (My therapist says I should be less hard on myself.) So I’ve gone and done it; I’ve gotten help. I think I’ll celebrate by buying myself a book.

Magical Thinking, OCD

Poking the OCD Monster

lesson

I just read that book. I read a lot, so this shouldn’t be a big deal. But this book has magical powers. If you read it, someone you love might die. You can’t be 100% certain that will happen, so you shouldn’t read the book at all. Or so my OCD said.

I bought this collection of stories the day my friend died in a car accident. His sudden death was a painful reminder that life truly is uncertain. That event triggered my worst bout of OCD symptoms, which ultimately led to my seeking help. That was six years ago, and while I’ve certainly gotten much better, I couldn’t shake the connection between that book and that terrible day. I remember reading the timestamp on the receipt and concluding that my friend was dying while I was purchasing the book. There’s likely no truth to this, but I imbued the book with dark magic anyway. The title, I thought, was especially portentous. Here Comes Another (Painful) Lesson.

So I didn’t read the book, and even looking at it made me nervous. Over the years the book remained on my shelf, and then I moved and didn’t bother putting all my books back in their bookcases. I lost track of the book or deliberately forgot about it. More to the point, I purposely didn’t read it.

I don’t know what happened to make me finally do it. I’ve certainly been inspired by the people I interact with on social media. I’ve seen so many people overcome struggles, which made me feel less alone. Also, I believe that the act of posting something publicly is a way for me to hold myself accountable. That’s how I’ve managed to continue meditating for 200 plus days and counting, so I took this approach with the book.

I posted that I was reading the book and then started posting fun quotations from the book and then realized I wasn’t nervous while reading. In fact, I felt a strange sort of calm. I don’t know that doctors recommend this sort of public reckoning, but the approach worked for me. I’m just describing my experience.

While posting these messages, I had moments of feeling too brazen. I’d defiantly type “suck it OCD.” This, of course, made me scared. Don’t poke the OCD monster. Then I realized this was more of the same OCD thinking, so I kept poking the monster. Suck it OCD. Suck it so hard.

And then it happened; I finished the book. It took me about a week, and I made it through with minimal pain. When I was done, though, I cried. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s the truth. I had invested so much emotion in the book, and I could finally let it go.

The cover still makes me a little nervous, so I keep it out in the open. The title doesn’t seem so portentous now. I’ve learned a lesson, and it was a good one.

Mental Health, OCD

Meditation is awful; meditation is wonderful

192 days ago I openly declared on Twitter that I would meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. I didn’t have an end date in mind. I simply declared my purpose and started counting. I figured the act of tweeting a number daily would hold me accountable. So far so good. I plan to continue into the future, but I still don’t have an end date. In fact, I don’t want one. I just want to make this a habit. I’m told this stuff is good for you.

I don’t know what kind of meditation I practice, though it might be something close to mindfulness. I only know that’s it really freaking awful. I have OCD, so simply letting my horrifying thoughts pass without trying to ritualize is, ahem, difficult. FFS is it difficult. Plus, my thoughts generally wander. In mere seconds, they shift from coconuts to zebras to dolphins on a bicycle doing the hula. I saw that once on YouTube.

But, you know, this stuff is supposed to be good for me. It’s supposed to be hard, but once you get in a groove the benefits are fantastic. So I’m told. And, well, I have to reluctantly agree. Ok, not so reluctantly. I like meditating. There, I’ve said it. Meditation is helping me. I’m not sure if my neural connections have been affected, but that’s what the scientific literature says will happen. (I’m the odd American who believes in science. Gasp.)

When I was on meds for my OCD, I hit a sweet spot. I knew it wouldn’t last, but it felt good. During that magical and oftentimes insufferable titration period, I was able to briefly enjoy moments without intrusive thoughts and exhausting rituals. Sure, my body was buzzing and shaky, but my mind felt, if not clear, at least free of oppressive thoughts. It’s like the waves stopped building. With meditation, I can get there again. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but when it does: wow. That’s really all I can say. (Remember, I’m only masquerading as a cynic.) When meditation works, it is wonderful.

To be fair, it’s not a cure-all. I still believe we have to take a holistic approach to wellness. That might mean seeing a therapist, taking meds, and eating and sleeping well. Whatever combination works for you is the approach you should take. I personally need to work on so many aspects of my self-care. But as far as meditation goes, I’m a believer. Did I really just say that? Why yes I did.

What kinds of things work to keep your mind calm?

 

OCD

This is OCD

I live with OCD, which means my brain is often a cauldron of worry. Most people don’t truly know what living with OCD means, so they say ignorant things or make stupid jokes. Here’s how I see OCD, but keep in mind that every person experiences the disorder in their own unique way.

Having OCD means a person is hounded by intrusive thoughts and lots of them. Intrusive = we don’t want them. So we engage in compulsions or rituals as a way of blocking out the thoughts. This only brings a modicum of relief until the thought returns, so we have to engage in the ritual again and again ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The thoughts might run the gamut from harming your loved ones to doubting your faith to believing you’ll throw yourself in front of a train. People with OCD might worry that their house is on fire. Still others might be bothered by thoughts of stabbing or strangling someone. Now before you go judging, keep in mind that most people experience intrusive thoughts of some kind. More than 90% of people have experienced such thoughts in their lifetime. Over 90%. That’s a lot. Having these thoughts is essentially a part of life. If you have OCD, however, you take these thoughts seriously. Really seriously. After all, the thought came from inside your head, so it must have value.

Of course, such thoughts don’t have value. They’re just thoughts, but don’t flippantly tell someone with OCD that. We give these thoughts a lot of weight, and we can’t believe we’re having them. They are, in fact, contrary to who we are. That’s where the pain comes in. WE DO NOT WANT TO HURT ANYONE. We do not want to hurt ourselves. We do not want to be infected by disease. If we’re believers, we don’t want to be blasphemers. If we’re faithful, we don’t want to be cheaters. We do not want our actions or inaction to make the world tumble into chaos.

So we ritualize.

Here’s the caveat: we know ritualizing won’t stop the pain. So why don’t we just stop ritualizing? BECAUSE WE CAN’T. Okay, we believe we can’t. The pain is too real. That’s what needs to be understood. The pain is real. Imagine that time you were so frightened you could puke. Imagine that time you were so enveloped by dread it’s the only thing you felt. Now imagine feeling that constantly. This is OCD.

Pure, unadulterated dread. Crystallized fear. Doom.

I write this with urgency because I believe our pleas to stop using our disorder as a synonym for fastidiousness are being unheard. The seriousness of our condition is not understood. The pain is real. I just want that to resonate.

OCD

Here’s how to laugh about OCD

It appears I have been neglecting my blog again. But I’m back! Well…….I’m here to talk about how I’ve been cheating on my blog again by writing for another venue. I have another piece up at The Mighty called “How to Joke About OCD.” This isn’t so much a how-to guide as it is a meditation on when it’s appropriate to make jokes about the disorder.

Forgive me, blog. I will come back to you, if you’ll take me.

Mental Health

The Reluctant Sentimentalist

I’m trying to figure out how I’ve gotten so much cornier as I get older. Shouldn’t the cynicism be firmly entrenched by now? I’ve long said that I’m only masquerading as a cynic, which is true. I know life can be incredibly difficult, and I’ve faced some dark days myself. If running away from my brain ever became an option, I’d likely do so for an hour or two, maybe even a weekend. That aside, I hold onto hope for reasons I can’t understand, and that scares the crap out of me.

But now things have gotten out of hand. I may or may not cry when I see a sentimental story. I also look at dogs and kittens and maybe even miniature humans and think, “How cute.” And I’m blaming all this on my niece. She’s six, so she can handle the responsibility.

The fact that I become a big weepy mess when she invites me to school functions is all her fault. That I say “I love you” more often to other humans, including that little one, is all her fault. That I want to do better by her is all her fault. And I’m no stranger to temper tantrums, bouts of screaming, and nose-picking. We have that in common. But here’s the thing: it’s amidst all this that I still find love. Damn her.

The world has not prepared me for this. I am completely caught off-guard by my love for her. (If you’re interested in how this all started, I wrote this story about it.) And it’s made me so so saccharine. But – big sigh – I think it’s good for my mental health. You need a cause bigger than yourself to feel fulfilled, and while I’m still working on that in terms of my career and my passions, I have my niece to thank for showing me who I’m working for. The world is hers now, and – forgive my corniness, for I have sinned – I want to make it just a little better.