I have OCD. It's not a quirk. It's a legitimate disorder that has nothing to do with finding pleasure in items being lined up perfectly. It has nothing to do with enjoying a neat and tidy home.Walk with me. I'll show you what it's actually about.
When it comes to OCD, I've done my homework. I've read OCD workbooks, perused online articles, chatted with professionals, worked on exposure and response prevention therapy, attended two OCD conferences hosted by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) and I’m still learning the nuances of what it means to have OCD and how to treat it.
This makes the IOCDF's new OCDvocate initiative all the more dear to my heart. No, that's not a typo. We just commandeered the word advocate.
And we needed to.
If I'm still stumbling as I navigate this illness, how can I expect others to know that OCD is not an affinity for having things in order?
Maybe we can start with kiboshing the phrase "I'm so OCD." OCD is an illness. Would you say, "I'm socancer" or "I'm sohypothyroidism"?
OCD involves obsessions, which are intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that happen over and over against the person's will. Maybe it's the obsession of feeling responsible for any potentially hazardous items on the sidewalk while you're out for a walk.
Compulsions are repetitive thoughts or behaviours in an attempt to reduce the distress. Maybe the compulsion is picking up those potentially hazardous items from that sidewalk. A rusty nail, shards of glass, you name it.
Yet you often hear people proclaiming that they are soOCD.
When I'm driving and think I accidentally hit a pedestrian (known as hit-and-run OCD), I don't stroll into the office and chuckle to my coworkers saying, "Morning guys. Man my ride here was so OCD."
There was a time where I didn't leave my city for a full year because I thought I was the magical force keeping my place from catching fire and my cats from burning to a crisp. If someone were to ask, "so why didn't you go out of town with your husband for Christmas?" I wouldn't respond with, "I'm just so OCD!"
I'm not so OCD. I have a diagnosis that at times can feel devastating.
But I'll cut the public some slack. It's not like OCDvocate programs are running rampant. But this one has started and I'm christening it with this blog.
Beyond the Doubt, a Facebook page, recently posted quite the gem of an article which you can find by clicking here
But I've summarized the meat and potatoes:
The Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale was created back in the nineties by a Canadian psychologist who refers to a higher score as a "cognitive vulnerability."
This, more specifically, was my favourite quote from the article:
[The psychologist] compares extreme intolerance of uncertainty to an allergic reaction. "If you’re allergic to nuts, and you have a piece of birthday cake that has a drop of almonds in it, you have a violent physical reaction to it,” he says. “A small amount of a substance that’s not harmful to most people provokes a violent reaction in you. It’s like a psychological allergy.
What a find! Like mining for metaphors!
I recently had allergy testing and watched as hives transpired across my forearms (please excuse the veins.)
Side note: I posted this photo on my Instagram account and, without having read the caption, my friend thought I was proudly displaying my new tattoo.
My emotional experience is like the picture. Different pen marks to represent different vulnerabilities. I don't burst into psychological hives when opening a gift. The uncertainty of what's inside is exciting. But throw in some pen marks for my future state of health, my loved ones future states of health, and I'm swollen.
This is why I don't watch the news. There are too many stories of what could happen, what has happened. The tragedies become imprinted in my mind and the world becomes a dangerous place. For all I know, there's also a "Good News Only" station that reports on births of babies, job promotions and thriving vegetable gardens. But the good doesn't matter when it comes to OCD. The fact that something bad happened once is terrifying.
Show me the stats, the data, whatever you've got to demonstrate how rare something may be. Rationally, I can appreciate what you're trying to do. But my allergy to uncertainty has me breaking out.
Valid point, Voltaire. Feel the fear and do it anyway, right? But these hives, the itching, the scratching, the swelling. Uncomfortable is an understatement.
I first tried meditation when I was around 8. My mom brought me to a meditation guru who assigned me a mantra. What's a mantra, you ask? He advised it was a word to focus on while meditating. It was meant just for me but in the spirit of challenging magical thinking, I'll let you in on the secret: eng. The sound "eng" said in a slow and ceremonial way.
I didn't like meditating. But I did it for my mom. I was a responsible child. My mom tells me stories of how I'd unpack my backpack upon returning from school to get started on my assignments. Never once did she have to ask whether my homework was completed. It was done before dinner.
I meditated as the responsible 8-year-old I was but I hated when she meditated. When she meditated when I had friends over, that is. If my friends and I had to maneuver through our home, it often involved walking by my meditating mother. I felt mortified that they would get a glimpse of her in an upright, stoic position, eyes closed.
"What is she doing?"
Clearly not napping. I could deal with napping.
And now, 20 years later, I'm choosing to meditate. I didn't check out Yelp for meditation gurus or whip out the old mantra. I was recommended the app, Headspace as a homework assignment for my OCD.
My inner 8-year-old still feels like it's a chore. That is until I'm about halfway into the experience. Sometimes I'm annoyed by the guy's voice. Yeah, yeah, let the annoyance be there and refocus on breathing. Sometimes I find myself in the moment and it's a welcomed change from being bound by the past and future. And if nothing else, I committed to the free, 10-day trial. This was homework, and homework needs to be done before dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I just finished eating spaghetti while pausing to blow my nose fifty-some times. Appetizing, I know.
I recently came down with a cold. This happened after a week of doing exposures for my contamination OCD: I touched public doorknobs, turned light switches on and off, shook hands and eliminated my use hand sanitizer. And that's just a sampling!
And now here I am with a cold, whether by coincidence or not, I'm not going to analyze. What I am going to do is recognize that it's an opportunity to continue with more contamination exposures. I'm not washing the bedding nightly; I'm not disinfecting my toothbrush; I'm not using Lysol wipes on everything I touch.
Part of me worries that this means I'm going to keep getting colds but I'm then reminded of what I would do while meditating.
I would let the thought be there; I would refocus on my breathing, or the feeling of my feet on the floor, or the hum of the fridge.
And so I sneeze, blow my nose, and put what I'm learning through meditation to practice.
Plus I got through the ten day trial! When it came time to choose which subscription (or prescription) I wanted to purchase, I checked out the price options outlined in the App Store:
The price blip is something that deserves to be sent to a late night talk show. But for now, in the spirit of homework, it's time to go classroom style with a discussion question:
I am lucky to have wonderful in-laws (yes, it's possible.)
They visited my husband and I this weekend. It's become their tradition-the Canadian Thanksgiving Trek (except this year they were rebellious and came a week early). The visits are always pleasant but also tough. No, not because of them. I assure you they've got the parent-in-law role down pat.
Why are they tough?
Take last year, for example:
When heading out, I'd wait for Brandon and his parents to be ready to open the front door while I did a frantic scan to make sure our cats were safe and not about to book it into outdoor turf.
Anytime they'd use the washroom, I'd try to casually saunter upstairs to make sure they closed the door afterwards so our cats wouldn't get into something and die.
Brandon's dad joked that I hid things. He'd place a half eaten chocolate bar down and I'd swoop by to store it in the cupboard to prevent feline death by chocolate.
You get the picture.
I've been in therapy since my trigger of thinking I was going deaf. That was my tipping point.
This year I realized their visit was an opportunity for an exposure, after an exposure, after an exposure. Normally I would panic about this in advance. Anticipatory anxiety and OCD are besties. This time, my meditation practice helped to start severing their friendship.
So did I succeed? You be the judge:
While we ate dinner, I left food on the counter (one of our cats, Clive, is a notorious counter surfer), sat facing away from the kitchen and let my panic of wondering if he was getting into the food just be.
Brandon's dad lined up his Pringles, magazine and glasses case on the counter. This to me felt like a death zone. I didn't play my usual role as the Easter Bunny.
I even allowed him to let Clive lick one of the BBQ Pringles.
"Is BBQ deadly to cats?"
No one else seemed concerned so I tried to allow myself to enjoy the moment.
Brandon and his dad set up our new washer and dryer while I had no idea where the cats were half the time. I worried that nuts and bolts were rolling on the floor just waiting to be swallowed. I let myself have faith that Brandon and his dad would keep an eye on them.
I slept in Saturday morning. It was quiet. Where was all the chatter? The echo of the television? I was convinced it was so quiet because the cats got outside, that Brandon and his parents were conducting a search party while I dozed. I didn't fly downstairs. I proceeded as I normally would for my morning routine.
I did all of this in a state of anxiety. But I chose to let the anxiety be there instead of attempting to relieve it with compulsions. I'm the first to admit I still do some neurotic things and implement certain safety measures but I'm trying not to let the compulsions overcome me. I'm trying to be self-compassionate. I can't change over one weekend. But I can make progress.
Vincent taught me that life is fragile, that death can be unexpected despite all the safety measures you take to get the upper hand. Vincent taught me that to fully enjoy my cats, I need to let them be cats.
My trigger of thinking I was going deaf may have been the catalyst for another shot at therapy but my choice to honour Vincent is my life vest as I swim in the deep end.