Out of the Closet with OCD
I came out of the closet about my OCD shortly after the release of the film, As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson in 1997. I figured if a cool (but mean) character played by Nicholson could be afflicted, why not a nice guy like me? I hasten to admit that I don’t usually confess my predicament to just anyone; on the other hand, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s pure hell, of course, but it’s nothing to hide.
I have read that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder often starts between 18 and 25, but my mine predates that period and, as I recall, was particularly exacerbated by Scarlet Fever (when I was seven) and reared its uglier thorns during my protracted bout with puberty.
As OCD goes, my assorted checklist of symptoms isn’t anything to write home about. I would diagnose mine as mild to moderate, with ebbs and flows along the way, as well as occasionally difficult fluctuations. Some of my rituals have changed over the years, only to be replaced by newer ones. It’s an interesting fact that even so-called normal people may flirt with OCD when under stress, such as preparing for an important business flight — packing and repacking a suitcase to be sure the essentials weigh under 50 pounds.
I like to think of my dilemma as a “blockage” between knowledge and emotion. For example, I KNOW that I have turned off the stove, for I have turned the dial to OFF. I also SEE the marker positioned under the word. I can FEEL that the dial cannot be turned any further.
And yet, and yet…
It’s a crisis of uncertainty! Would you leave the house if your gas burner were on? Neither would I. It’s not a matter of exaggerated fear. It’s a matter of doubt, of not connecting what you feel… with what you know.
I KNOW that my gas burner is off; I just turned it OFF. However, I can’t leave the house, as long as I can’t FEEL that fact. So I repeat the action. Grip the dial harder. Stare closer at the OFF marker. Turn and align the knob. Rinse and repeat.
There’s something about needless repetition, as senseless as it seems, that reinforces a sense of conviction. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding closure, of seeking reassurance in the fact that — what was done — was done. For me and for most OCD sufferers, repetition seems to be a major player in this illness. On the other hand, it’s not always about repetition, alone. During other situations, it can be about forging a sense of order. For example, I like to arrange certain objects equidistant from one another. The objects must not touch or be crooked. Nice parallel placements.
Perhaps it’s a form of emotional superstition. Like a ritualistic rain dance while chanting. If I can establish a semblance of order, perhaps bad things won’t happen. Perhaps the carefully placed objects will be less inclined to fall. Perhaps they’ll be easier to sort through. Perhaps their organized arrangement will produce in me an ordered peace of mind. Harmony and tranquility will reign.
The paradox of such stringent attempts at relief is that often they only lead to more frustration and pathos.
What is the nature of this nemesis? Exploration into its possible causes persists. Perhaps a “fault line” between Conviction and Uncertainty lies in the anterior cingulate cortex, as well as other brain structures implicated in this disorder.
Here’s a typical “highlight” from earlier today: I woke up and went to my bathroom, took some pills from my medicine cabinet. Returned the pill dispenser to its rightful place on the shelf. Studied its position on the shelf. Straightened out its position in minute detail. Adjusted its position again and again. Finally, closed the medicine cabinet door and sighed. Ah, done with that.
For some reason, drawers and doors pose a special problem for me. When I close something, I need to know that the interior contents are safe. I must leave nothing to fate. Nothing must be disturbed.
Life with OCD can be complicated; perhaps I compromise too often as a result. Unlike a hoarder, I find that the fewer things that are left hanging around the house, the less I have to worry about them. There’s less chance for disarray. I am a minimalist for that reason.
At what age does OCD usually begin? (2014, January 10). Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety-disorders/experts-what-age-does-ocd-begin.aspx
PANDAS-Questions and Answers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/pandas/index.shtml
Bostan, S.N. (2018, January 13). Brain signatures of obsessive-compulsive disorder. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/greater-the-sum-its-parts/201801/brain-signatures-obsessive-compulsive-disorder
What is hoarding disorder? (2017). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/hoarding-disorder/what-is-hoarding-disorder
DiPrete, J. (2018). Out of the Closet with OCD. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/out-of-the-closet-with-ocd/