April 12, 2010


A Look Inside

I've been doing a lot of reflection about life, and about what it means to really accept having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, something that isn't exactly easy for me to do. This post is a more personal follow up to the previous post about living with OCD.

In that last blog I intentionally left out a lot of the specifics of how OCD has affected my life because by its very nature its necessary to avoid certain thoughts or patterns of thoughts. It's taken me some time to just allow myself to acknowledge that it is real, even though I've known it all along. I've recently decided to reexamine my life, and how I'm dealing with this. I discovered an online version of an OCD test and I wasn't surprised to find that I fell right between severely and extremely affected. With meditation and reflection I've really examined and accept this part of who I am. And yet, when life and its responsibilities intervene, its so incredibly easy to fall back into the routines that make up the invisible walls that define the prison that is OCD. So even though I am so well aware of this, it remains difficult for me to believe that every nuance of every moment of every day of my life is in some way affected.

One thing I can do is to try to look back at how it started for me. I remember being terrified of death as a young child, terrified of family and friends dying. The idea of a permanent loss of love was and is a terrible thought. The only comforting thought I've ever found to confront that fear is considering that possibly love extends beyond the bounds of time and space. But how could something as epic and grand as time and space be trumped by something as vulnerable as the love in one's heart? Maybe the epic scale of the universe is just not relevant against the importance of love.

I was very obsessive about washing my hands as a child. High School was particularly difficult for me. It was a time when OCD for me came to a breaching point and I felt my life spiraling out of control. I nearly failed out of school. I couldn't focus on actually learning or studying when all of my mental energy was devoted to just surviving the routines of every day, all the while trying to appear normal. It was exhausting to say the least. At that time nearly every detail of my life became under the influence of OCD thoughts and behaviors – just a few examples I can remember: taking showers (which tiles I could stand on), taking notes in class (a math teacher noticed that drew a square around certain numbers), the way I walked up and down the stairs (there were certain steps I had to miss), the way I walked on tiled floors. It all seems ridiculous now, but it was painfully real then. I needed to leave the same way from a place as I entered. So if I was in a department store shopping for shoes with my dad for instance, and wondered around several fixtures, I needed to go back through those same fixtures in the reverse order before leaving. This was very frustrating for my father, but he was incredibly patient with me. My High School had only a couple doors that opened into the building, the others being locked from the outside, including the ones on the side of the building closest to my home. So in situations like this, I often ended up repeating patterns on a daily basis, going in the same door each morning, and out the same door each afternoon. Some stairwells were ok, others impossible, this obviously making getting to every class on time all the more challenging. Over time those compulsive behaviors evolved to be more subtle but still just as nuanced. As my life changed, so too did my OCD. I have forgotten many of the odd things that I did then.

I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist after I was discovered by the police walking back and forth up and down streets trying to walk between the exact “right” set of cracks in the asphalt, and between just the “right” sets of oil spots. The police officer noticed that my eyes were fully dilated which he interpreted to likely be symptomatic of narcotics abuse. But it was in fact because of the immense amount of anxiety I was experiencing at that particular moment. He took me to the emergency room to be examined. That trip to the emergency room led to a trip to see a neurologist which led to an EEG brain scan (where they attached lots of goo covered electrodes to my head, and I wasn't allowed to sleep for the night beforehand, I stayed up watching Robin Hood Men In Tights), which led to several visits to see a psychiatrist and going on SSRI medication, which I hated because I always felt half asleep. I eventually opted to forgo medication without the permission of my parents or the doctor which led to my dismissal as a patient.

The affects of OCD on me have sense changed as I have adapted to conceal it as best as I can. In college I was able to deny to myself having this problem, even convincing my family. But underneath my exterior it was always there although mostly invisible to the casual observer. It is still part of who I am and I suspect always will be.

I still can't tell you what is behind these paralyzing thoughts. There is a sense of loosing of self, of being completely lost, and the fear of that possibly lies at the root of OCD. Its impossible to avoid all anxiety inducing circumstances. And the foreknowledge of anxiety can itself generate a full scale anxiety attack, however I have found meditation has helped me a lot. Not in any particular posture or way (obviously, trading one ritual for another makes little sense). But taking time to relax, collect my thoughts, allowing myself to just breath and be. I believe now that I must really accept OCD for what it is to be able to move past its influence on my life.

On a related topic: I have always enjoyed movies that deal with psychological issues, and there are some great ones. But when it comes to the matter of OCD I've generally avoided them just because of my own denial. I recently worked up the nerve to watch As Good As It Gets, which was great. And next on my list is The Aviator. Some other OCD movies I've already seen include What About Bob (which was good but really more about the Psychiatrist dealing with an OCD patient) and Matchstick Men. The show Monk was pretty good, and as I mentioned in the recent post, there was a certain relief that came from watching the show and considering that maybe I could finally accept this part of who I am.