Thursday, April 12, 2012


Taking a break from the relationship stuff let’s move on to an entirely different disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, to be precise.
One of the {many} fun things about having a psychology Master for a Roommate is she watches some really interesting shows and documentaries. Last night we sat down and watched many, many episodes of a show called Obsessed. This show takes a look at people with very obvious clinical OCD and over the course of 12 weeks of therapy helps them manage their symptoms and live a more normal life. One of the things I quickly loved about this show was that it’s very real, and that you clearly see the impact that progressive therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – which in our world is pretty standard stuff) and dedication to healing can achieve in just a few months.
I find it fascinating how people compulse and HAVE to do certain things, certain ways and seeing how deviating from these compulsions can create almost unmanageable anxiety. Almost. Because ultimately, they are able to manage it. It does take work, and time, but it’s doable.

The message is: Despite the all consuming nature of this disorder, there is hope, and people can heal.
It reminds me of the compulsions I’ve had in the past and still have now. Every time I see something like this I compare my own life to it. I’m not OCD but I certainly have OCD tendencies and some compulsions. When I was younger I may actually have been clinical. I had dozens of different compulsions.
When I was younger I HAD to have a cigarette when I got to a certain point in my drive. I HAD to have one ice cube in every beverage I drank. Just one. Not none, not two, not many; just one. If I had a certain kind of soup I had to eat the vegetables in it in a particular order. The way I styled my hair at the time… if it wasn’t perfect, every single hair in the place that I wanted it, I would have a full on panic attack, tears, shortness of breath, and break down in nasty bouts of anger that have led to holes being punched in walls (subsequently I learned to spackle very well). I had to eat many foods a very specific way. I had to use certain utensils. I absolutely had to be on time. If I deviated from any of these things I would absolutely, and utterly feel like my world was ending. I couldn’t breathe, the sky would come crashing down, crushing the air from my lungs, I wouldn’t be able to see through the tears. I couldn’t function if these things went wrong. Anxiety. Debilitating anxiety.
At the time I knew this wasn’t a normal way to live. I hated most of it. It was absolutely a response to my need for some kind of stability and control in a life where I felt I had none. However I was also at a point where I refused therapy or to even admit to other people that there was anything wrong with me. I had to fix this stuff myself. It took years to tackle some things, and moving to a different city to stop others. My smoking? Yeah, I couldn’t quit until I went of to college. I was able to cut down to just 4 cigarettes a day when I would hit the 4 places in my routes that I had to light up. But I couldn’t quit until I no longer had those places to pass every day.  When I started smoking again briefly last year I definitely felt these compulsions coming back. Same place on the way to work, same place leaving work, those were the two hardest places to give it up. But I managed.
I wish I could say I was at a point where all of these things were washed away from my psyche. But I can’t. The magnitude has diminished though. The anxiety isn’t the earth ending thing it used to be.
I mean, people are creatures of habit, and we like to do things the same way time after time. In the morning I get up, play with my cat, turn on my curling iron, wash my face, put lotion on my face, brush my teeth while the lotion dries, do my eyeliner, then mascara, do my hair, take my meds, etc. But if I deviate my world won’t end. Don’t even get me started on the number of times I’ve been so rushed I’ve forgotten to take my meds. Anyways.
But ask me to be late for an appointment? Forget it. I’ve talked about my obsession with time and the anxiety it creates for me. When I was younger this, again, was an apocalyptic nightmare if I was not “on time”, which meant being at least 15 minutes early. I would get to work, to class, to appointments 15, 20, 30 minutes early just to make sure I wasn’t late. Now? I can be “on time” by actually being at a 2:30p meeting at 2:30p… without having a nervous breakdown! I won’t be late, but I won’t be panicked if I’m not there 15 minutes early. If it’s just a social gathering like say, meeting at a friends for a big group gather… I can totally show up at 9:15p instead of 9p (though really it’ll probably be like 9:05p but I COULD show at 9:15p if I wanted to) and be totally fine, because the environment is casual and I realize that other people don’t run on this rigid schedule that I do and *gasp* most people don’t care! If it’s something important, I’m still absolutely going to be on time, but I can go about it in a way that doesn’t make me break down.
Other people making me late for things is still pretty triggering though and it is a struggle to not say something or get people to move faster to keep myself on time.  I can still feel that tension welling up inside me as I bite my lips to keep my tongue from hurrying them along.
Arrange words properly + fully justify paragraphs
What else? Hm. I still can only use certain flatware and utensils, but this only applies when I’m in my own apartment. I can totally eat at restaurants like a normal person. Which is something I couldn’t do when I was younger. In fact I couldn’t eat in front of people (other than family) at all. At my place I have one specific fork I use, 3 spoons that are ok, small plates, a latte cup, and bowls that are fine. And chopsticks. What’s silly about this? None of these utensils are from the very nice, very expensive set of flatware that my parents bought me for Christmas. Roommate, friends, company, they can use that stuff, but in my mind it’s bad and I won’t use it. I’ll search my entire apartment looking for my fork before I decide to eat with my hands. I don’t actually look like a raving loon when I’m searching for things, I swear. I simply will wait a little longer as I do dishes, empty the dishwasher, or search my room. Then eat. Roommate knows my quirks when it comes to this stuff and she’ll let me know if “my fork is in the dishwasher” because she’s done dishes, which honestly, I think is really kind because she doesn’t ever seem to judge me for it. I got to explain this to Tech Boy the other night too because he had pulled out other silverware for dinner and I attempted to be casual in my declaration of needing a certain fork. He actually asked me, “Is that a textural design thing or an OCD thing?” An OCD thing. He just laughed it off and didn’t seem to care. I still can’t eat using the big dinner plates either, I must use a small side plate or a bowl.
It makes me uncomfortable to think about using those. 
Food? I’m much better at. I still have to eat apples a very specific way. I cannot bite them. I must cut them in a particular fashion. Any fruit really. But that soup thing from when I was younger? Nope, gone. I can eat soup like a normal person.
I don’t know how to describe it. But of course I’m going to try. I can look at these things and cognitively I know that my compulsions are silly. To act in another way though, is, foreign. Like trying to wear a glove as a sock. Sure I probably could, but it’s not going to fit on my skin right.
Looking back, I have clearly made an enormous amount of progress, on my own. I don’t have the all-out panic attacks anymore. I pull all of this stuff off as normal enough to the outside observer. Deviating from some of these rituals or ways of doing things seems wrong to me, uncomfortable, but it’s not an anxiety induced terror.  I’m worlds better, and that anxiety is truly, truly diminished to the point where for some things it no longer exists. That is an amazing feeling. To not have anxiety about things that at one point controlled your life? Relief. Massive, massive relief.
I wonder what the prevalence of comorbid Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with Borderline Personality Disorder is. How about you? Do you have any compulsions?


  1. My friend definitely fits this description, he has a lot of similar compulsions, like locking the door four times when he enters/leaves, among other things... :\

  2. I have to eat nutella and peanut butter on a spoon every day or it drive me insane. It is not optional for me. My day will not go forward without it.

  3. Time, Time, tell me what Time it is!!! Hahaha This is a big one for me too. Compound my "need" to be on time (early) with the fact that I'm a husband and the father of 3 teenage boys that wouldn't hurry if their hair was on fire. Teenagers! (they're good kids). The destination doesn't matter. I feel like a homing pigeon that has to get THERE on time, regardless of where THERE is. Pacing, leg bouncing, re-checking everything as I wait for the crew to be ready. Hell, my leg is bouncing as I type just thinking about it. I recently recongized it and am trying to modify my behavior. At least being less verbal about MY frustration. I realize it's just me. Not an easy task, but doable in time. On Time = responsible. Therefore, being late = irresponsible. Consequently, On Time = Me. Responsible = Me.

  4. I so totally relate to this post! I too have some weirdness with food. For example, I love children's breakfast cereal, but I MUST eat the marshmallows one color at a time, in a particular order. I positively have to eat certain foods in my own special OCD way, or I won't eat at all.

  5. I have to fold my Taco Bell taco wrappers into triangles. Any other fast food joint I crumble them up or fold into squares and toss, but Taco Bell...triangles. I have these Japanese candies that I snack on and those wrappers are always folded into rectangles, very methodically. I managed to break myself of needing to step on sidewalk cracks. When I microwave things I have to stop the microwave at 3 seconds.

  6. I think compulsion is a big part of most disorders where people are trying to find some control in their life. Same is true I suppose about the co morbidity of eating disorders too.

    LOL @ talking to yourself!! I found great solace when I was at my Borderline peak in blogging about my life. Helped me work through my feelings long before I was finally diagnosed and helped. In some ways I think going through psychodynamic therapy was the best thing I ever did for myself because insight is a great help but still it leaves also a sense of being marked and broken. I'm 47 now and my BPD is mild but still there - but I couldn't imagine surviving now as I did when my life was so disordered. Blog on...

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  8. The human mind is truly fascinating, and often times amusing. Thanks for sharing your OCD's guys! :)


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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