Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Flip Side: How OCD Can Be a Good Thing

Last year, before I started this OCD blog, I attended a lecture about the disorder. Most of the discussion centered around Martin Luther and his struggles with scrupulosity, which, incidentally, is a fascinating (and for me, relatable) subject.*

The conversation returned to this century when someone asked about OCD and work ethic. The presenter, laughing, exclaimed, "My OCDers are some of the best workers ever!" I think I actually laughed, too.

It's true that OCD affects my work ethic, among other parts of my life. I thought it time to count my blessings.

One necessary, precursory caveat: Sure, OCD was nothing I chose, just as I didn't choose any of my innate characteristics. Therefore, I'm not going so far as to be proud of my condition, as if I've accomplished a great feat in having it. I'm merely pointing out that nothing, no matter how hard, is all bad. Here's why that's true for my life:

  • I apologize when I'm wrong. When obsessive compulsive disorder did what it's named for, i.e. throwing my life into chaos, I tried to get a hold of the intrusive thoughts that came with it. If I couldn't, I could at least feel guilt for them, which taught me what an apology really is, and when it's necessary. If I've hurt you or wronged you, you can be sure that I am comfortable humbling myself to ask for your forgiveness.
  • I DO have an excellent work ethic. My job requires me to check things, and make sure they're correct. Guess what? I'm really, really good at it! Even better, this kind of controlled checking teaches me to be mindful, giving me daily practice at understanding how much is reasonable and how much is unrealistic perfection. Beyond checking, though, I have an honest desire to be good at everything I do. Again, an exercise in limits, but still.
  • I think about things others don't. Whether it's tackling a problem or relating to another person, I do things a little differently. I posted before about my non-linear thinking, but there's more. Maybe it's akin to magical thinking, but I often make mental connections that aren't obvious to most other people.

If you and I have similar obsessions and compulsions, maybe these things are true for you, too. Do you care about people's feelings? Then love well. Show it, even to strangers. Are your thoughts a little off-kilter? Find a career that welcomes quirky creativity. If you haven't ever seen the other side of OCD, here's your challenge: In what ways has OCD made you who you are? How has it made you better?

Now, in the words of an old friend, I'll catch ya on the flip side.

*If you're interested in people in history who have OCD/scrupulosity, put John Bunyan on your list, too.

Monday, July 20, 2009

OCD and ADHD: I Don't Need to Know

I always say that my thoughts don't run in a straight line. I imagine that some people do have linear thought processes, and when they want to write something, deduce something, or do something they start at the beginning and follow a pre-determined set of steps to the end. It seems to me the rest of the world is made up of people who don't mind reading the directions when playing a board game for the first time.

But for me, arriving at a conclusion, solving a problem, or making a decision is more like a game of pick-up-sticks. Seems easy enough--just throw down the sticks and start playing from the middle.

If I'm really driven to find the conclusion, squash the problem, or exact the decision, that process works well. It's what makes me a creative, curious person. But sometimes my mind gets carried off in too many directions. Soon I'm finding sticks in every corner of the room.

Is there something more to this? Could this sometimes frustrating mental disorganization be the latent prints of ADD or ADHD?

A Question without an Answer
A few of my OCD friends have ADD. The therapist who leads my support group specializes in treating OCD and ADD. There are countless ocd bloggers out there who have both disorders, suggesting that they're sometimes comorbid. Do I have ADD, too? It might be a good question, but I don't need to know the answer. Whether or not I have ADD is one uncertainty I'm actually comfortable with.

Problems can be sticky. Calculated analysis doesn't always produce a conclusion. Decisions can go any which way. It helps to be the one person who does things a little differently.

And pick-up-sticks is no fun without the mess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three People Who Know I Have OCD

Everyone has their own opinion on this subject. Your obsessions differ from mine because the circumstances of your OCD are unique. You have harm obsessions, so you choose not to tell your child's friend's parents you have OCD. I have perfectionism obsessions, so I choose not to tell my boss. But this post is not about who I will keep in the dark about my OCD.

It's about who has helped me hold the light. (In another post, I compared my ability to conquer OCD to shining a flashlight on a monster). These people have helped me identify OCD for the ugliness it is, in light of rational reality.

  1. Medical professionals. I have been in the emergency room on account of obsessions. If I hadn't told the emergency room doctor that I had OCD, he, in his inexperience in dealing with patients like me, could have contradicted what I'm learning in ERP therapy by giving me the reassurance I sought to my detriment. Or what about when I have a baby? I plan to let my obstetrician know the full extent of my condition. That way she'll know how to help me weigh real vs. exaggerated risks.
  2. My spouse. My relationship with my husband is a healthy, loving one. He understands me, my weaknesses, and my OCD (to a workable degree). He helps me grow in dealing with the doldrums of my obsessions and compulsions, and praises me when I do well. My therapist helps us make sense of how OCD applies to married life, and she acts as a liaison between us.
  3. God. Fine. God isn't a person. But I have made my OCD a part of my relationship with him. I pray about it, and lately have been working on giving over my thoughts to him when I'm struggling with something. So much of OCD is about craving control, and faith is an exercise in admitting I have none. Funny, that's exactly what I need to work on.

So these are my the 3 people (entities?) with whom I've shared my truth: The monster of OCD can make life difficult. But together we wield a big ol' floodlight.

For now, the in-laws will remain in the dark. ; )

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't Ever Take a Break

I took a too-long break from blogging, throughout which occurred to me many ideas that were never written down! (Hiatus Rule #1: If you go on a hiatus, take a pencil with you.)

But I'm back and ready to pick up where I left off. (Hiatus Rule #2: Don't expect OCD to take a break with you.)

It was all for good, as some pretty big things were happening in my life during my break from my blog. Maybe I'll even tell you about some. But until then, there's plenty more OCD to talk about! (Hiatus Rule #3: Pray that people haven't stopped reading!)