What the Voice of My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Sounds Like
I am flooded with thoughts. Sometimes they can be ignored; sometimes they are so “loud” I have to listen. When it comes to my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I struggle the most with intrusive, unwanted, and debilitating, irrational thoughts.
OCD is different for everyone. You may not know this from just seeing shows about OCD on TV or reading stories about OCD on the internet. You may think people with OCD wash their hands a lot, have to be very organized, clean fanatically, etc. But those are just the ways some people are battling with their OCD and those are the most visible. In my experience, OCD is very quiet from the outside looking in, because — and especially for me — it’s about the thoughts I know are irrational but won’t go away.
These thoughts are so frequent I decided to give them a name. I landed on “Frank.” I’m not sure why, and another part of my OCD is perfectionism. Without straying too far away from the topic of my irrational thoughts just to explain my struggle with perfectionism (I’ll save that for post #3), let’s just say I spent way too much time Googling “most annoying cartoon characters,” trying to come up with the perfect name. The search actually didn’t lead me to Frank — I came up with him on my own — but in my mind, I picture Will Ferrell’s Frank “The Tank” Ricard from “Old School.” I think this character fits best because Frank was at his core a kind person always trying to please everyone, fit in, but usually just got in his own way. My irrational thoughts are Frank.
OK, well, that was a lot of build up. The best way I can describe how these irrational thoughts really work (the perfectionism actually comes into play too) is to give you an ongoing personal example — I literally am struggling with this, probably as you read this story. It can become debilitating by being both mentally and physically exhausting.
So, here is a story of a car ride — exciting, I know. Just hang in there. I have been asked to drive a girl to her gymnastics school this summer, and pick her back up at the end of the day. It’s about a 30-minute drive each way — no big deal, right? For most people, right, no big deal, but not when Frank is involved. Here is our drive to the gym the other day. I have changed the name of the girl, because I am pretty sure that’s what you’re supposed to do. I didn’t change Frank’s name because that would make no sense.
Before getting to the house, I queue up the station “2017 Hits” on Pandora because I have no idea what kids listen to. I have my wireless hotspot set up, water, etc. These are all things I actually keep handy while I Uber and Lyft as well, but I did add a fidget spinner because kids like those, right?
As I pull up to the house, Frank begins to chime in.
Frank: “Make sure the music isn’t too loud and you pull up slow, smile, and wave!”
Samantha enters the car.
Me: “Hi, Samantha.”
After four hours of silence (OK, five minutes).
Frank: “Oh no, this is getting awkward fast. We need to think of something to say. Hmm… what can we say? What can we ask?”
Me: “How are you doing? Ready for your workout?”
Samantha: “Good, yeah.”
Frank: “Wow, what a wordsmith you are. OK, let’s think here, what can spark conversation. This is the third day we are driving, I got it, ask her about the music. This way, we can make sure we have the right stuff on. I mean she’s got to like this stuff anyway, the channel is called ‘hits.’”
Me: “Who’s your favorite singer or band?”
Samantha: “I really don’t listen to music.”
Me: “Oh, OK. Not a big Taylor Swift fan?”
Frank: “Dear God…”
Samantha: “No. Not really.”
Frank: “Change of plans, let’s just go back to awkward silence, it’s safer that way.”
I think you can get the gist of it. But this is what most social interactions are like for me, even among friends. Most of the time is spent by “Frank” trying to come up with the perfect things to say at the perfect moments, which is not how conversations work.
Now put me in front of a crowd and ask me to deliver a speech or give a presentation, and I am as good as gold because there’s no room for Frank. It’s in the quiet moments, the car rides, the alone time, the driving to meet a friend, the walking to a meeting, the “Dear God I have to make a phone call” moments where Frank becomes impossibly loud.
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Thinkstock photo via stevanovicigor