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  • Writer's pictureRoss Farley

Change the Conversation - OCD

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

Written January 20th, 2017:

I wanted to write this part of my #changetheconversation series because today, this very morning, for the first time in three years, I put my pants on before I put on my socks.

I hear often, folks refer to their proclivities towards cleanliness, or organization, or order as "my OCD" and often, in a way, as if to jest...i.e. "this (or that) makes my OCD happy" a phrase which I am also guilty of saying. However, obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental disorder that goes far beyond a penchant for tidiness...

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a crippling and mind-consuming disorder that creates the feeling of incredibly real consequences for seemingly insignificant deviations from a routine. OCD can manifest in a galaxy of different ways for different folks and primarily involves significant activity in the prefrontal cortex. And this would make sense as the brain is formulating potential distress, danger, and impactful negative situations that have yet to happen. These thoughts are so consuming, there is a spike in anxiety and a subsequent need to engage in something to quell these distressing situations.

My experience of OCD leans more towards what I refer to as a perseverating thought disorder and it has taken years to finally be able to challenge those thoughts and allow myself to turn to volume down. The thoughts that come to my mind used to be so invasive and loud, there was little I could do. Often times, I would seek refuge in my bathroom or some other small and contained space. I would sit in the tub (not in a bath, just the tub) with all the lights out and press myself into a ball until the thoughts became less loud. One thought, any thought had the potential of snowballing into an episode of sheer panic. It was debilitating, it was distracting, and it is something that almost crippled my relationships, my ability to continue with graduate school, my happiness, and my will.

I had operated like this for such a long time, I did not feel as though it was obsessive compulsive disorder. I thought I had an overactive brain. A brain that was constantly in fear of the terrible and the tragic. A brain that was constantly calculating the potential for disaster and what I would do and how I would feel if that disaster struck. And what I could do to protect myself.

I now refer to these streams of thoughts as my "movies". There are three types of my movies that used to play very loudly in my mind:

The first type of movie is the "something terrible happening to me" movie. In this movie, my brain would place me in a tragic situation, most often a car accident and my brain and I would painstakingly go through the entire scenario frame by frame. We (my brain and I) would put me in the situation and I would have to figure out who I would call or text to say my last goodbyes, what I would say, and what it would feel like in my body to slowly die of internal injuries. Sometimes it would be quick. Other times, the car would ignite and we would conceptualize what that would feel like. Sometimes the car would be upside down. And sometimes the car would slowly sink into a body of water. Each scenario needed a tactful and intricate plan so that it would go away.

The second type of movie is the "something terrible happening to someone I care about" movie. These scenarios are similar to the first type of movie, however, involve my brain and I preparing ourselves for tragedy striking those I love. We would have to run through each detail, from receiving the phone call to what I would say at the funeral, again, in such visceral detail it would often leave me in an exhausted puddle on the bathroom floor. I have had to weep and eulogize, grieve and cry for the loss of everyone important in my life. Many many times over.

The third type of movie is the "somebody I care about hurting me" movie. These movies involve everything from being abandoned to being cheated on. And again, in so much emotionally visceral detail, I would feel all of the stages of grief, anger, rage, pain, loss, heartache, deception, and mistrust that accompanied each scenario that I would have to disconnect myself from life and follow these terrible streams as far as they would take me.

Since this type of behavior and mental disconnect is not do-able everywhere in everyday life, I created routines and rituals to mitigate these thoughts. That is, until they built up so much mental momentum they would take me over at the end of the day. The routine I mentioned in the very beginning of this post, getting dressed in the same order every single day was one of those routines. Another routine I developed was very strict rigidity when it came to routes I would take while driving or behaviors I would engage in while driving (i.e. keeping the volume on an even number, counting to six and checking my mirrors over and over again, driving with my shoes off to have a better feel of the pedals, etc...). I had yet another ritual which involved touching all of the locks in my house in a certain order before going to bed and having to restart if, for even a nano-moment, a thought entered my brain that did not involve checking the locks or if I lost count. No matter how much I tried to counter these behaviors, I engaged in them out of fear and necessity. The fear being the one time I do not do any one of these routines would be the day one of my tragic movies manifests itself. The necessity being, if I go against these routines/rituals, I would be so consumed with perseverating thoughts that I would not be able to sleep, or eat, or concentrate on anything but the obsessions.

Until I chose to explain to someone exactly what was happening in my brain, I had come to terms with this affliction being permanent. Several things happened when I spoke these obsessions aloud. The first thing that happened is I learned that what I was experiencing was, in fact, obsessive compulsive disorder. The second, I learned that there were pharmacological interventions I could try. The third, and probably most important thing that happened, was that the people in my life I care about saw me. They saw all of me, not just the parts of myself I felt were safe to show.

In the summer of 2016, I sought help. This help was a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacological therapy. It took six difficult months to find the right medication and dosage for me, but when it finally started working...I couldn't believe the outcome. So much of my brain had been occupied with obsessions and was now free to concentrate, free to dive in to why these obsessions were created, and free to explore my relationships with far more ease and comfort.

In the therapeutic realm, as I continue to believe and use with my clients, this behavior/these behaviors were created out of necessity. My obsessions were a form of protection. My rituals, a necessity in order to function alongside the obsessions. How could something so crippling be protecting me, you ask? My fear drove me to a place of wanting, desiring, and NEEDING to know. My obsessions were a way to "prepare" me for tragedy...the thought being "If I can feel what it would be like to experience [insert tragedy] now...then it won't be as painful when it happens". Not if, but when it happens. I was attempting to live out a future that is infinitely uncertain, with certainty and causing myself an insurmountable amount of pain in the process.

The unknown can be a scary place. Possibilities are endless in the unknown. However, if I choose to attach fear and tragedy to the unknown, that is exactly how it will feel. If I choose to attach curiosity and possibility, it will change the very fabric of how I perceive, feel, and think about the unknown.

Thank you for reading.

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