Eat Write and Exorcise

a blog by Scott Powell

I’m OCD and You’re Not (Probably)

For those of you who don’t know me well enough to figure it out after reading this entry, the title is intentionally ironic.

The acronym “OCD” has become a way for someone to express that they are meticulous, possibly even in only one aspect of their life. As in “I’m so OCD about keeping my books in alphabetical order” or “I’m OCD about my desk being tidy.” First, one can not be OCD – remember, the “D” stands for disorder. Someone with cancer doesn’t say “I am cancer,” and one with a broken arm doesn’t say “I am a broken arm.” One HAS OCD, or they don’t. You may be O, C, or both about certain things, but if it doesn’t rise to the level of a diagnosed condition interfering with your life, then you do not have this D, and should be thankful you don’t.

As one diagnosed and treated for OCD, this trend for people to say they are OCD about something bothers me. The reason is probably not the one you suspect; it’s not that I care that it minimizes OCD, it’s that they are using it incorrectly. It is very similar to the way it bothers me when someone says “irregardless” or “a” preceding a word starting with a vowel, such as “a envelope.” In other words, it is a manifestation of my OCD that causes it to bother me. Clearly, the manifestations of my OCD include correct word usage, grammar, spelling, and the Oxford comma. That is not to say that my grammar and spelling are always perfect, but it does bother me immensely when I learn that I have made a grammar, punctuation, or spelling error. By the way, this is also why I concluded the title of this entry with “(Probably).” I’m fairly certain at least one person with OCD will read this, which makes the “(Probably)” necessary.

The primary manifestations of my OCD, and the reasons I require treatment, are hand-washing, stepping on certain things that I might track into my vehicle or house, and extending thoughts to an extent that becomes almost paralyzing. The hand-washing would sometimes result in spending ten or fifteen minutes washing my hands because I obviously missed a spot or bumped the faucet after rinsing my hands. Of course I had to use a hand towel to turn off the water and open the door. I couldn’t, and still can’t, use the first one up, because that one was exposed and might have gotten something on it. This would present difficulties as well, because naturally, I had to remove the offensive first paper towel before washing my hands and hope no one else used the next one up before I got to it. I know that many people aren’t comfortable with touching things in public restrooms. But, how many of you consider that the person who didn’t wash their hands before opening the bathroom door to exit then went on to touch, well, everything? They touched the next doorknob they came to, publicly shared pens, countertops, shook hands, etc. Transfer. The thought of transfer of particles to everything we touch left me almost unable to function. When I spoke with my doctor about it, it didn’t help that he agreed that such transfer actually occurs, but reminded me that I’d lived my life for over 40 years without it causing any great harm to me or those around me. Being aware of such transfer does not constitute OCD, but when the thought interferes with your ability to function in society, it does.

My rational mind is aware that my hand washing rituals and concerns about transfer are irrational, but without treatment the irrational won out every time. For example, I know that the hand towels in the dispensers in public restrooms are put there by someone’s hands, probably those of the same person who cleans the restrooms and I doubt he or she washes his or her hands before performing the task. Hence I use the word irrational.

Some of my manifestations are humorous, even to me. One is an obsession with the number 8. There are times when I try to rearrange sentences in my head so that they contain a number of syllables evenly divisible by 8 or a number of letters divisible by 8. If I’m manipulating the number of letters, my rules are a bit lax; I will include or exclude punctuation if it will render the desired result or I will count “w” as either one or three, since it has three syllables. Fortunately, I only do this at times when I am not working, writing, in a conversation, or it doesn’t otherwise interfere with my ability to communicate or perform a task. For example, I will do this is if I’m waiting for an appointment and forgot to bring reading material. In these same circumstances, I will sometimes make figure eights with my eyes. To finish with the number 8, if I am walking and there is nothing on my mind and no one to talk to, I will count my steps and will sometimes shorten or lengthen my stride so that the number of steps is evenly divisible by eight.

Another manifestation that is amusing to me is that I find myself performing other number-related behaviors when I’m trying to fall asleep. I will double numbers in my head as long as I can without making a mistake (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) or calculate the Fibonacci sequence as far as I can (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.). There are several other number related activities, but I think you get the picture.

Lastly, I sometimes think in haiku, verse, or in word play, such as double meanings or puns. I’m not sure why, and I will find myself doing it without realizing it. If I am communicating with someone, it doesn’t happen, other than noticing double meanings and puns. It seems that interacting with others suppresses the haiku and verse.

I’m fortunate that very simple treatment has minimized the manifestations that interfered with daily life to the point that I can function and only seem fastidious. The behaviors that remain, such as playing with words and numbers and thinking in haiku or verse, don’t affect my ability to function, and I actually enjoy them.

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