OCD Is More Than What You See

You always hear about those people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who flip the lights on and off exactly 16 times, who don’t step on cracks on the sidewalk, who pick up the phone and put it down eight times before they make a call, who need to open and shut a door three times, who blink 50 times before they close their eyes to sleep at night. Those are more obvious signs.

You don’t always hear about the people who can hide it. The people like me. When I was younger, I used to have a problem with touching things. If I touched something with my left hand, like a tabletop, then my right hand would be jealous. It’s the only way I can describe it. I’d get the overwhelming urge to also touch it with my right hand, and if I didn’t, then this horrible feeling would start to grow, like an itch, until I was nearly powerless against the need to reach out and touch it with my right hand.

Yet, it didn’t stop there. Now, I knew that my left hand had touched it first. It was superior. So to make it fair, I’d touch the table with my right hand and then my left. Now, the right hand had touched it first. That’s not fair either, because out of that whole ordeal, the left hand was still first.

So I’d repeat it in opposite order: right, left, left, right. It’s still not fair. My left hand was still first overall. So my pattern would be repeated again, again and again, and it wouldn’t stop until I was so deep in the pattern that I’d lose track. It usually took me a long while. I’m pretty good with patterns.

I don’t know how people never noticed me doing it. Looking back, I’m almost certain they did. However, I was pretty fast. Sometimes, I wonder if people just thought I was tapping out a musical rhythm or something.

I have no idea how I did it, but I managed to break that pattern-touching habit. Maybe recognizing it in myself helped me grasp control of my body or maybe the sheer force of will made a difference. All I know is I’m over it.

Yet, I didn’t break my OCD. It continues to slink back into my life, subtly at first, but then I notice it. I’ve seen it in the way my closet is organized by color. On its own, that’s just great organization. It only takes a few extra seconds to hang up shirts.

I’ve seen it in the way I write everything on index cards and start a new card when I have to cross something off. On its own, that’s just keeping things tidy and clean. It only takes a few minutes to rewrite a card.

I’ve seen it in the way I over explain myself when I have an opinion because I get the real fear that someone won’t understand what I’m trying to say and will believe I have an opinion differing from what my actual opinion is. Does that even count? Better question, why does it even matter what other people think? On its own, I just talk too much, but it only takes a few minutes to express myself.

I saw it today in the way I reread my own posts and comments. When did I start doing that so often? I triple check everything and then I triple check it again. On its own, I’m just self-absorbed. It takes more than a few minutes of my day, multiple times a day, to read through the drawn-out posts and comments I’ve left.

OCD isn’t just about what everyone else sees. It’s also about what goes on in someone’s head, over and over and over. It’s the driving force that tells them they have to do something a certain way, the burning desire, the compulsion to have everything just so. The overwhelming fear and panic if you don’t.

They’re being noticed, my habits, and I think what helps me find some semblance of self-control is coming out of my color-coded closet, recognizing my problems and showing the world what my OCD does to me. How a few extra minutes here and there add up to hours lost. How it’s distracting and hindering my ability to socialize properly in our social world.

If it’s doing this to my life, to me as a person, then what is it doing to my writing? What obsessive compulsions are being woven into my prose? And the more terrifying thought, is it hindering or helping? What if my ability to tell great stories as an author hinges on my habitual weakness? If I break my current OCD trends, then will it hurt my writing? Do I have to struggle for my art to succeed? I have so many questions and not enough answers.

You don’t always hear about the people who think they’re hiding it. The people like me. I don’t want to hide it any more. I want to face it head on, knock it down and move past it. It saddens me to know that, even if I manage that, it will come back. OCD is never truly defeated. It’s an ongoing battle, an oncoming storm, an on-again-off-again switch in our minds that begs to be flipped. Until someone figures out a way to rewire that switch, coming out is the only method I have of taking the upper hand.

By turning my inside habit out, by letting everyone see what it is I hide, I shame the obsession. My embarrassment is the only force strong enough so far to stop an OCD habit. How sad it is that I need to rely on the opinions of others to fix my mental problems.

We do what we have to do. I have to be able to post this without reading it eight times in the next hour. If sharing this helps me, then it’s what I’ll do. At least now you know about the people like me. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe we’re not alone.

If you are like me, then maybe one day we’ll find ourselves in the same closet. We’ll remember this, and we’ll come out again. And again. And again. Until it becomes habit. And then we’ll find something else.

This post originally appeared on Crystal MM Burton.

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