The Disorder Within the Order


When one thinks about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), many times their first word association is perfection. Perfectly arranged workspace, perfectly ordered schedule set to the second, perfectly organized wardrobe, closet, home, and the like. If someone has OCD, then they must be perfect in every sense of the word or constantly striving for that perfection. This is simply not always the case. Sometimes it is not the entire picture.

Some who struggles with OCD may also struggle with perfection, and I am among them. I like order and cleanliness. My clothes are arranged by color and hue, my meals measured to the eighth of a teaspoon (yes, my OCD is comorbid with an eating disorder), my daily schedule structured and routine, and my apartment as clean as if, well, no one set foot in there. This is part of my struggle with OCD, but unfortunately, this is just the surface.

For starters, numbers bare an extreme burden on my daily thoughts. There is endless counting, constant timing, and extraneous meaning placed on arbitrary numbers. As a child, I counted how many times I washed my hands during the day. With my eating disorder, I calculated and accounted for every calorie placed in my mouth, using a scale to weigh the food, then measuring cups to check it. With running or doing any routine or activity, I had to finish faster than my last time (taking timed tests in school was an anxiety nightmare). If I looked at a clock, I would immediately associate a worry that something will happen, more often than not negative, with that number or time. These “tics,” if you will, have gotten better with therapy, but they still exist and live inside my head.

When I’m not counting, my thoughts are filled with worry, doubt, over-analysis, and “what if…” scenarios. These aren’t just your standard worries (e.g. “What if I don’t get to work on time?” or “What if I miss my flight?”). I have what I deem to be scary thoughts. What if I don’t wake up in the morning? What if something bad happens to my parents when they go to work? What if that food that came from a damaged packaged is poisoned and I eat it? I will reanalyze previous moments and interactions, my inner voice criticizing me for how awkward or weird I was or what I should have done differently to improve the outcome.

To remedy these thoughts and obsessions, I compulsively check, and recheck, and form random habits that somehow in my mind prevent these negative thoughts from coming to fruition. As a child, after I completed my nightly routine of ordering then reordering my stuffed animals, checking three times under the bed, closing the closet door twice, and checking five times that the house doors were locked, I said to my mom with a rising intonation, “See you in the morning?” to which she would reply, “See you in the morning!” I asked again: “See you in the morning?” “Yes, Brittany, see you in the morning.” If I didn’t ask her, and if I didn’t ask her twice, I wouldn’t see her in the morning. I wouldn’t wake up, or she would disappear, or something bad would just happen and it would be my fault because I didn’t ask if I would see her in the morning.

You see, it’s all about control. I ruminate, worry, and overthink things that are out of my power. This causes anxiety. To remedy the anxiety and give myself a false sense of control over the uncontrollable, I form these habits, routines, and tics. As I’ve grown up, my worries and thoughts have changed, thus triggering new habits and routines to form. But they are still there, at almost every second of the day. Once I started the recovery process from my eating disorder, running morphed from a way to burn calories into a way to quiet the din in my mind. I now run to cope with the thoughts and the exhaustion that comes from the tics. When I run, I don’t think, I just do, and it’s honestly the closest moment I feel to what it must be like to not have this condition.

What I have described to you is not the entire picture of my OCD, and by no means the complete scale of OCD. Some have it worse than I do, but our experiences are relevant, and this is mine. We all have our good days and our bad days, our days when we feel on top of the world and our days when the stress from the all-consuming thoughts and compulsions are overwhelming. The best we can do is take it day by day and focus on the present moment, the only moment that exists without the worries of the future or past. Maybe then we can even acknowledge the magnitude of our strength and that there is a beauty about the disorder within the order: it’s where we are.

Image via Thinkstock.


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