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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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.

OCD

Sing with me!

So I ran across this article in The Atlantic: “Relieve Your Anxiety by Singing It.” Essentially, the author talks about how therapists are using Songify as a way to help patients cope with various anxiety disorders, including OCD. Songify basically turns your speaking voice into song, robotic, ridiculous song.

You have no idea how much this speaks to me. I am the queen of making up ludicrous songs. Also, I know that my OCD is ridiculous, but I just can’t stop ritualizing. That’s the power of OCD, right? Well, I thought I’d try it. I’ve long known about how recording your rituals can help ease the pain associated with them, but this is the first time I’ve actually done so. I think the idea of putting them to song is less scary for me. So here’s the result: This is My OCD. I sense a Grammy in my future – although a life with less anxiety would be a nice consolation prize.

What do you think of this idea? Would it work for you?

Anxiety, Depression, OCD

Ask for Help

The first time I needed help, I only asked for it when I hit a breaking point. I had known about my OCD for years, and only once did I try to speak up about it. It was a failed attempt that included me stumbling around for the right words to say. I forgive myself for that now, but I would love to go back and say, “You don’t have to wait to ask for assistance.”

For whatever reason, I set up my own self-fulfilling prophecy. I knew I wouldn’t get help for my OCD unless something devastating happened. I believed my OCD had to get so out of control that I’d have no choice but to seek assistance. Then the devastating thing happened. My friend died in a car accident, and I couldn’t handle it. I was teaching at the time, and I’m grateful for those hours I spent in front of the classroom. While up there, you’re forced to concentrate on the task at hand. There’s no time for lingering thoughts. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again because it’s so true: performance has much in common with mindfulness, and it’s one of the reasons I feel at home when I adopt a persona, be it as a teacher or a comedian. Don’t get me wrong; I am myself when I teach, but I’m also performing a bit. I’m the version of me that’s not an introvert.

During that terrible time after the accident, when I was home alone or just sitting still somewhere, I couldn’t escape the rituals. Unexpected accidents are a chief concern of my OCD-addled mind. Nearly every ritual I complete is a stopgap against this uncertainty. At this point, I was checking traffic reports every time my sister went to work to make sure she was safe. I called my parents every night to see if they were still alive. I could no longer sit quietly and watch TV or read a book. And still I didn’t get help.

My body pushed me in the right direction. I became so ill with the flu that I had to go to the ER. The nurse who took my information offered me a ride to the room in a wheelchair. I thought she was joking, even convinced myself I didn’t need no freakin’ wheels. The nurse knew better. She kindly, gently got me to sit down, and I was grateful for it.

I recovered from the flu, but my mind was still wary. It took me sobbing on the phone to my mom to finally say, “Hey, perhaps I should call a psychologist.” I had reached my breaking point. But here’s the thing: there shouldn’t have to be a breaking point. I wish we could all be free to say, “I need help.” Even now, I’ve hardly learned my lesson. I’m hurting deeply, and I know I need to make a phone call. I’ll do it, if only because I’ve said I will so very publicly. But those words are still hard to write.

Ultimately, I can’t be an advocate if I don’t take care of myself. I’m going to take care of myself.