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.


  1. Interesting topic. My OCD is definitely related to a sense of compassion for others (although it shows itself as a too-strong sense of responsibility for them a lot of the time). I work with numbers, and yes, I know my spreadsheets are more accurate than my colleagues' the vast majority of the time.
    Thanks for the reminder to accentuate the positive!

  2. My friend, what a compelling post. I shouldn't be surprised by it. :) For me, those are some questions I have to digest for awhile.

    I just wanted to tell you I got your comment, and I am so thankful for the way you have encouraged me in my life through my blog. Your comments, even though it's not like there have been tons of them, have touched me at soul-level. There is something about you that is very special. I thought you should know that. And that you have made a difference to me. Love, Jena xo

  3. I so identify with your post completely. I always felt like someone outside myself looking in. Unrealistic perfection.

    No matter what job or what needed fixing I pay extra attention to detail. Ever since I was 6. I had empathy beyond normal.

    Your non-linear thinking hits home for me, I have always been "different". I care to much as people say now, and they said it growing up.

    And I believe it is a direct result of my OCD.

    Excellent post.

  4. Thank you all for your posts.

    Crazybeanrider, how did you find my blog?

    I, too, have always cared too much.

  5. Well the necessary prerequisite to have OCD is to have a complex pattern of thoughts and fast communication happening in brain..it is often alleged that people with OCD are above average intelligence. Well I think OCD is the side effect of having a higher brain capacity...capacity so high that it can think millions of thoughts in a split second..now its upto people like us who can choose to use this ability for benefit while suffering what come attached with such fast processing brains ...!!!

    1. I agree completely, I've been living with this since 1976, regards