The demons in my head a.k.a. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’ve debated for a while on whether or not to write this post. OCD is, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses around. I suppose I feel compelled to write this post today because this week has been especially difficult for me. Maybe I can help somebody else dealing with this garbage. Maybe it will help me if talk about it.

First of all, let’s talk about what OCD isn’t. The term OCD has become a common phrase, flung around carelessly when people are perfectionistic, meticulous, fixated on doing certain things a certain way or the like. I have to say it’s a pet peeve of mine to hear people casually say things like, “Oh, I am so OCD” as if it’s something quirky or funny. Certainly perfectionism and meticulousness may be present in a person with OCD but I doubt a person truly dealing with this vicious disease would be able to so easily make light of these tendencies. Edited to add - I’m of course not angry at anyone who has used the term lightly, just frustrated because it gives a false impression about what OCD really is.

Now, let’s talk about what OCD is. Wikipedia defines it as …”a chronic mental disorder most commonly characterized by intrusive, repetitive thoughts resulting in compulsive behaviors and mental acts that the person feels driven to perform…aimed at preventing some imagined dreaded event. Also, the psychological self-awareness of the irrationality of the disorder can be painful.”

When a person has OCD the brains “alarm system” so called, overreacts. Irrational fears that may come and go in an instant for normal people will take seed in the thought of a person with OCD and play out over and over causing severe anxiety and distress. Thus, the obsession part of OCD. Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that the person with OCD can’t control this. They know these fears are irrational, they know (or hope) that these scary thoughts are not of their own making or will, yet they can’t get rid of the thoughts. In my case it’s often more than just thoughts. Images will flash in my mind over and over that I can’t shake. It’s like someone has my eyes peeled open in front of a horror movie. Or like someone shouting in my head ceaselessly. (Run away now if you’d like).

So what does a person do when they are hounded by scary thoughts? What do you do when a disease takes hold of your inner fears and taunts you with the idea of acting on them, of being victim to them? You try to beat the thing out of your head that’s what. Thus the compulsion comes into play.

Somehow you think that if you act a certain way or do a certain something that it will lessen the severity of the intrusive thoughts. So maybe you decide you have to count to 7 three times in a row, or lock the door 3 times in a row to prevent that terrible thought from playing out. Or maybe you have to say a prayer every single time a disturbing image hits. Not that prayer isn’t good, but when it becomes a part of the compulsion, it’s not.

It’s a disease I wouldn’t be surprised if the devil himself created. Why? Because acting out the compulsions only make it worse. As a kind psychologist once told me, it’s an invincible dragon. The more you try to slay it, the more it feeds off your distress and the worse it gets. I could hardly swallow it when he told me I had to stop trying to kill it. I had to learn to live with it. How do you learn to live with something you hate with such a passion? Knowing what your dealing with is only 1/4 of the battle. It did help when I was finally diagnosed and knew that these disturbing thoughts weren’t me. But after that I had to yield. I had to hear the stupid disease shout at me and not do anything about it. I had to learn to agree with my adversary while it was in the way with me. I had to see that intrusive image, think “Yeah, that would suck” and try to focus on something else. The trick is finding balance, distracting yourself a little when needed without allowing that distraction to become a compulsion.

Many people I know always seem to be in wonder at how much I accomplish in a day, at how much I teach myself. Well now you know why. I don’t like to let my mind idle. I love to learn new things anyway and while doing so there is less opportunity for me to focus on disturbing thoughts. But sometimes no matter how I try to get along with this disease it will still rear up and beat me into exhaustion. Sometimes I can’t resist the urge to shout back at it. Sometimes I can’t wait for the day to end so I can find release in sleep. But I keep trying to live with it, keep trying to believe that who I really am inside is independent of it and that when I pass into the next life I will finally be free of it.

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Comments (18)

Becky NewsonDecember 3rd, 2008 at 11:19 am

I’ve understood it as never being a casual thing, but I’ve also never heard it explained quite this way. It does sound like a heavy thing to live with, and I’m sorry that it’s on such a consistent basis. The dragon analogy is especially frightening… to think there is something so overwhelming and powerful threatening you so regularly, and you can’t retaliate or try to defeat it in any manner. That alone would probably drive me to madness, eventually. I can only imagine the inner strength it takes to find other methods of coping.

Wishing you peace and blessings this Christmas season. :heart:
Becky Newsons last blog post..Achievements

AnnetteDecember 3rd, 2008 at 11:32 am

That’s the clearest, best explanation of OCD I’ve ever seen. I thought I understood it (at least on some level) before, but you opened my eyes.

Annettes last blog post..Word Nerd Wednesday: Go for Launch!

MaggieDecember 3rd, 2008 at 11:40 am

Summer, you are so brave to talk about this. Good for you! My ex husband was diagnosed with OCD when he had just finished up high school. So, I feel for you and completely understand some of what you have explained. It’s not funny. It’s not something to joke about. I, too, have heard the term thrown around lightly in my lifetime. I’m sorry; I know that must be hurtful to you. Hang in there; you are strong. I can hear so much determination in your writing and I can see that you are very educated about the disease. I hope that brings some form of comfort to you. Hugs from me!!

Maggies last blog post..Sweet Boys

MelissaDecember 3rd, 2008 at 12:23 pm

I’m afraid I am one who has thrown the term about loosely before. I apologize. I had no idea. Thank you for explaining it so well. I’m sure it was a very hard thing for you to write. ((hugs))

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MotherboardDecember 3rd, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I understand what you are speaking of. I fight anxiety/depression and OCD. I have found a crazy lady picture that I printed off the internet and put in a frame on my kitchen counter. I call her Ethel… She’s the Crazylady that lives in my brain and convinces me to do or think crazy thoughts. I tell her every morning that she will not control me. Some days I win. Some days she does.

I have to treat it this way, with humor, or else I can’t function. Its a long, lonely hill to climb. But, I do understand.

I just wish people would get rid of the stereo-types they have and just be accepting and loving.

Motherboards last blog post..Who’s the dork wad now??

LoriDecember 3rd, 2008 at 12:38 pm

I’m sorry it’s so difficult for you. It must be awful. I think I have a very mild form or maybe just a huge form of the meitculous, perfectionist thing. Because I seriously can’t settle my brain when things are out of place, or dirty, or crooked, or … I just can’t relax at all. My husband is constantly telling me to just sit down, but immediately I’ll see something that needs to be moved or put away or folded better. It drives me crazy that I’m like that!

Loris last blog post..Take That Martha!

SummerDecember 3rd, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Motherboard, it is true that sometimes you need humor just to survive. I haven’t found I’m able to joke about this one yet though. :)

Lori, there is something called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder which encompasses meticulousness, perfectionism and the like. It’s similar to OCD but involves a very different mind set. Wikipedia has a good definition on that as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive-compulsive_personality_disorder

Summers last blog post..The demons in my head a.k.a. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Memarie LaneDecember 3rd, 2008 at 2:06 pm

you should send this to shannon at rocks in my dryer for her “what i’d like for you to know” series.

Memarie Lanes last blog post..Make Hair Clips Stay

PamDecember 3rd, 2008 at 4:49 pm

My aunt has OCD. It was undiagnosed for many years. Thank you for sharing.

feenerDecember 3rd, 2008 at 5:16 pm

thank you for sharing. i am concerned that my 4 year old might have it, she sees an OT for sensory stuff and she has anxiety. there are many little things that go on, she has a fit if you don’t finish a song, book or tv show. she needs to hold on to 4 things. she has to do things 4 times. i try hard to understand her needs but some days are just so daunting.

feeners last blog post..Keeping Kids Out of the Middle - A Book Review

NikkiDecember 3rd, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I’m glad you shared this, Summer. I also get very annoyed when people make light of serious disorders and illnesses and throw the terms around in joking. I think you’re right, it’s because most people don’t understand how truly awful the real disorders are.

KimberlyDecember 3rd, 2008 at 8:37 pm

I really want to see this post spread around the bloggosphere. More people need to know and understand this. ~hugs~

Kimberlys last blog post..An Addiction

LaurelDecember 3rd, 2008 at 11:56 pm

I know you must’ve cringed when I told you “I am so OCD” back in August! Sorry. But actually, I think I am. And possibly a few other things that have not yet been diagnosed…. I worry about what I’m passing on to my kids. But seriously, I still think you accomplish an impossible amount, as in, do you really sleep?? My mental disorders certainly don’t make me as productive as yours. No fair. Call me ANY time you need to talk about it.

Laurels last blog post..Perspective

An Ordinary MomDecember 4th, 2008 at 12:57 am

I am impressed with all you have accomplished while battling this. Wow.

An Ordinary Moms last blog post..Favorite Christmas Books For Children

cherylDecember 4th, 2008 at 1:11 pm

I love this post, Summer. Count me as one of the ignorant who uses OCD flippantly –thank you for describing what it’s really like! I can’t imagine what it would be like to deal with OCD, but I’m proud of you for doing it. You’re stronger than you know, and you are amazing!
Love you.

cheryls last blog post..How’d You Find Your Therapist?

JaniceNWDecember 6th, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Summer my friend,

OCD is much more common than people realize. This was a courageous post for you to write. Bravo. Many of us suffer from some mental illness(depression w/anxiety for me) and I appreciate those who try and make the world understand we’re not crazy just quirky.

Love and hugs.

JaniceNWs last blog post..Order - I can almost taste it

Mrs. OrganicJanuary 1st, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I’ve been meaning to comment here and apologize for my casual use of the term OCD. I guess I tend to be more perfectionistic and feel like I must finish things (not that I always do), but there is no feeling that something horrible will happen - only that people will think less of me. I can’t imagine feeling and overcoming what you do on a daily basis. This would be great for the “What I’d like you to Know” series at Rocks in my Dryer.

AmyJuly 2nd, 2009 at 7:01 pm

:s Oh my gosh, puts a few things into perspective for me. So… counting to 3 over and over while my head shouts at me doesn’t mean I’m truly mad. Thank you for sharing.

I think I will send a link to my husband… I only struggle with OCD on a minor basis I think. Driven from anxiety, or is anxiety driven from the voices in my head. Who knows.

Reading your story has helped me to keep on functioning today :)

God bless :)

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