One of my biggest pet peeves is people who claim they have OCD because they really like to have things organized, check things multiple times, or don't like germs. They say something like "I'm OCD" (which, by the way, doesn't make sense. That's saying "I'm obsessive compulsive disorder" --what??) while laughing. I've witnessed this happen a lot lately.
Here's a public service announcement: If you can say something like that and laugh at the same time, you clearly don't have OCD, so stop claiming it. If you had this disorder, I promise you wouldn't be laughing about it. It's debilitating and brings a person nothing but anxiety.
I have severe OCD.
I have for as long as I can remember (at least since I was 4) and it's always been something I've been embarrassed about.
On a recent trip to Phoenix I went out for ice cream with some girlfriends of mine. One of the topics led me to admit to having OCD, which I almost never tell people. They started asking me questions.
Q: What do you do?
A: I count.
Q: What do you count?
A: Everything. Stairs, patterns on the wall, the number of times I chew things or even the number of bites I take, and how many times in a row I scratch my itching arm. But it doesn't stop there. I count the seconds it takes for our fan to oscillate. I count the number of lines on a page in a book. I count the letters in a word, whether it's written out or someone's saying it. I count the syllables in a phrase or a sentence.
I had a really hard time at BYU because I'd be taking notes on a lecture the professor was giving and start counting syllables or letters and completely miss what he would say next. I've also always been a speed reader because if I read things word for word, I can't focus on what I'm reading since I'm too busy counting. Oh, and I always have to end with the number 13. I count to 13 over and over again until I'm done counting whatever it is.
Q: So how often do you count?
A: I never stop counting except in my sleep. This picture sums up how cluttered my mind always is with numbers, even when I'm relaxing:
Then my friend asked
Q: So what are you counting right now?
A: I'm counting the syllables in what you just asked me.
Q: So you're always multitasking? Even while you're talking or listening, you're counting?
A: Yes. Always.
Here's the part where I can't answer anyone's questions.
Q: What's it like to never be able to shut your mind off?
A: I can't say. What's it like to be ABLE to shut your mind off? I've never experienced that in my life
so that concept is mindblowing to me.
I remember not being able to sleep at night as a kid and it frustrated me so much I'd come tell my mom I couldn't sleep. She'd have me lie down on the couch and try to help me shut my mind off by imagining things like being at a beach. While she'd describe the beach - the sound of the waves, the beautiful blue sky, the wind on my face - I couldn't stop counting everything she said. It's just not something that I'm capable of turning off. I honestly think it's partly/mostly to blame for why my insomnia is so bad.
And what happens if I don't count? If I try to stop myself from counting, I get so anxious I can't handle anything. My heart races, I feel flushed, I feel dizzy and/or faint, I feel out of control, and the only thought that goes through my head is I NEED TO COUNT. It's like something bad will happen if I don't. I don't think that, but my brain seems to. It's a chemical imbalance in a person's brain that causes OCD and it's the most difficult thing I've ever tried to control. In fact, I can't control it. I have to take medication for it just so I can have some control over my life.
I've always felt really dumb because I have amazingly intelligent siblings, and I'm smart, but not like them. Teachers expected me to be as smart as my brothers and sister and get as good of grades, and I never did. I fell short of everyone's expectations, and everyone let me know that quite often. I always had really low self esteem, and I can attribute most of it to that. It wasn't until 12th grade that my AP Psychology teacher, when she found out I had severe OCD, told me that if I didn't have OCD, I would be able to make much better grades. She told me that was hindering me. It was a real eye-opener for me. Maybe I really wasn't dumb. That was the first time I'd been able to see that maybe I'm smarter than everyone thought - maybe it really was something beyond my control that made me "dumber" than my siblings.
It's funny. I always feel like people must be able to tell I have OCD just by talking to me, and it amazes me that no one's ever noticed. Even my husband says he can't tell. It's all going on in my brain, and to me it's so obvious that it feels like I'm wearing it for the world to see. Like I said, I've always been embarrassed and not told people about it. But after hearing so many people joke about having OCD lately, I had to write this blog.
Orderliness, extreme organization, hatred of germs, and ritual-like behaviors exist in people who don't have OCD. There's also something called OCPD - Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. The difference is that people with OCPD don't see their habits as a bad thing. It doesn't bring them anxiety, and their lives aren't controlled by it. And they feel good afterwards. Basically, it's a choice.
But for me, it's not a choice, nor do I feel better after counting. So please, the next time you're about to say jokingly that you have OCD, please think to not say it. It makes people like me feel really bitter that other people see it as funny when it's anything but that for us.