The thing about OCD, it seems to me, in the popular imagination, is that it's funny. For example, that TV show Monk, which starred my new Celebrity Hall Pass, Tony Shalhoub. I never really watched it; but I was aware that the character of Monk had OCD. And that it was kind of played for laughs. And was really just about the "C" part of the disorder. LIke, Monk liked his ducks all in a row and it was humorous. But did we ever learn what his obsessions were? The "O" that leads to the "C"?
Here's a little OCD 101 so we're all on the same page...
"...GIMME AN 'O'...!!!"
The "O" is for "obsessive" as in obsession; which is really just a sort of overly dramatic word for "thought." Yeah, a simple thought, like we all have, all the time, 24-7-365 ad infinitum. Except, with OCD, the thought is unwanted. The person with OCD doesn't want to have the thought because the thought is disturbing. It's called an intrusive thought. And we've all had intrusive thoughts from time to time. Here's a common one: You're in church or at a play and you have the thought, "What would happen if I stood up and screamed? Or shouted "Fuck!" or fill in the blank..." Most people shuffle off the thought with a giggle and don't have the thought again for a long time. Well an obsessive person has a thought like that and it gets stuck on a loop. And the more they try and dismiss the thought, the more the thought keeps coming. And when the thought keeps coming, the person thinks they're going insane because why would anyone think this? Why am I thinking this? I'm not really afraid of germs that much...I've had colds...I know touching that doorknob is not going to make me sick...BUT WHAT IF IT DOES? Something along those lines. And I used germaphobia here because it's often cited as one of the major obsessions of OCD. And maybe it is. But the intrusive thoughts can be a lot darker. A LOT darker. Being plagued with thoughts of catching germs is a little on the benign side (although it's still torture for the OCDian); which I think is why it's the go to "obsession." But obsessive, intrusive thoughts can be extremely violent and reach extremes of obscenity. Perhaps the sickest, most twisted things you could imagine. Here's another common one: "I am certain I just ran over a bunch of school kids with my car! But I know I didn't! BUT WHAT IF I DID...?" And that might lead to...
"...GIMME A 'C'...!!!"
And that OCDian in the car might say to themselves(?): "I have to know for sure! I've got to turn around and drive by the school and make sure it didn't happen!!! But that's insane! I know it is!!! But I've got to do it for my own peace of mind!"
And turning the car around to go back and check, even though you know you didn't run over a bunch of school kids, that is what is known as a compulsion. It's a kind of ritualistic act that OCDian uses to try and quell the power of the intrusive thought and the agonizing anxiety it creates. The most famous example is the compulsion to wash the hands off of germs (in the germophobia scenario). But it can really be anything, like, say, "I've got to spin this pen on the desk exactly the same way, five times in a row, so that I won't have a brain aneurism, which I'm convinced I will have if I don't spin the pen..." Or whatever. I myself do not have the compulsion part of the disorder. So I am what is called a "pure obsessive." I do not have any ritual to try and rid myself of my unwanted thoughts. Why? I don't know.
So, you're having these thoughts you don't want. You can't make them go away. You're fear is doubled that you might actually carry out the bizarre thoughts you don't want. You know you would never do any of the things that are coming in to your brain, right? So what's the logical conclusion? I'm insane. Right, that's the only thing it could be. So, a major element of OCD is ANXIETY. The anxiety comes from the fear of having the thoughts and the futility of trying to banish them. Anxiety has its own set of side effects. Cold sweat. Shallow breathing. Brain fog. A general feeling of dread. Feeling shaky or trembling. Rapid heart beat. Inability to relax. Irritability. And so on. Maybe even panic attacks. This is called a comorbidity.
That's a real fun word, huh?
I looked up "characters from popular culture who have OCD" and a list of mostly comedic characters came up. Our friend Mr. Monk, natch. The character from As Good As It Gets that Jack Nicholson played (however I don't remember much from that movie, particularly the particulars of Jack's character's OCD). Felix Unger from The Odd Couple; and if that's not playing the disorder for laughs I don't know what is.
So, the OCDian is having these thoughts about, oh, let's say, driving onto a sidewalk filled with pedestrians and mowing everyone down. The OCDian thinks, "Gee, I don't want to do that. I don't want to kill random strangers via vehicular homicide. For certain, I don't want to kill and for certain I would go to jail or at the very least lose my driver's liscense. BUT WHAT IF I DID??? (ECHO, ECHO, ECHO...). So the OCDian starts to avoid driving anywhere, to the point where maybe they never get behind the wheel again. Imagine if you were having intrusive thoughts about whatever horrible thing your brain could conjure and it happens when you're around your best friend. You might have to avoid being around someone you love; because: WHAT IF I DID?
Are you starting to see how horrific this malady is? How not sitcom funny and how not movie cute?
The bad news is that it can get really bad: to the point of crippling anxiety. Morph into agoraphobia. Worse news is that it is incurable.
The good news is, is that it can be controlled to a certain extent. It seems to go into remission on its own; but it can come roaring back. Medications can help. I use Zoloft for my demons. Yeah, let's just call them demons. Various psychological procedures like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help many. I have never officially been diagnosed or sought therapy...which maybe is/was a mistake. I sometimes worry that Zoloft has permanently altered my brain chemistry; I suppose for the better, since it helps control the OCD. But am I gonna have to take it for the rest of my life? Probably. Now that marijuana is considered a medicine, I wonder if I should try that. But pot has that paranoia problem, which probably would not be a good thing for a malady that already has paranoia built in. Maybe some edibles? I don't know...
So, that's the basics. Now as for my own personal anecdotes on this, I'm not sure I want to disclose that personal pain. But I probably will in another blog. It's therapeutic. So let's leave it here for now. Esta aqui.
I will ask though: Do you know how hard it is to do a fucking play when you're in the midst of an OCD spiral? It's fucking hard. Actually though, it gets your mind off it for a couple of hours.
Thanks for reading!