I’m calling it. I’ve cured my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). What a legend!
Not the super cool celebrity strain. You know the one – ‘now that I’m famous I’m like so obsessed with appearing perfect – I like totally have OCD now’. Erm, no you don’t, that’s just vanity.
Nor the other kind, often confused with being anal or just a regular jerk. None of that. I had the regular, old-school ‘you’re weird’ variety. The proper stuff.
Planting the seed
When I was 9 or 10 I started experiencing bizarre discomfort with the most stupid things. For example, discovering my television or shirt didn’t have an even number of buttons.
I would search for something on the television to pair the lonely button with, for example, the brand logo. This ‘pairing’ all happened in my mind. I didn’t physically do anything, however, if I didn’t ‘pair’, I wouldn’t be able to tear my concentration away and carry on with my life.
So I paired my days away, trees, shop displays, facial features. I broke the nose up into sections, grateful for the whole two nostril thing.
Over the next 4 years or so, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with a greater variety of things such as stepping on grates, walking under signs, not having my house keys clipped to the belt loop of my pants. The list is enormous and amusing.
By the time I was 14, my discomfort over this nonsense had grown into full-blown fear. I would indulge in a tsunami-sized meltdown if I didn’t complete the 1,572 ritualised tasks of utter crap I fooled myself into believing I had to do before I even left the house for school.
This all resulted in having to get up earlier and earlier just to make school on time – creating a buffer just in case my crazy didn’t go according to plan.
The whole thing had grown completely out of hand and into as secret a shame as I could keep it.
I was sitting with friends at school as they were trying to solve the mystery of what made a particular teacher a total weirdo. One of them suggested that he had OCD, everyone concurred and the conversation drew to a close.
“What’s OCD,” I asked after a long silence. They proceeded to explain that it is where people fear germs and need to wash their hands until they bleed or need to arrange things just so or they lose the plot.
One told a tale of a man in her neighbourhood who violently rocks his body back and forth the entire time he waits for the green man at road crossings. Then there was another story of a gent’ who had to touch his doorknob 60 times before he could leave for work.
Now, although this is not the formal medical definition of OCD, it was more than enough for my teenage brain to notice the similarities. So much so that I grew suspicious the topic had been raised on the sly, for my benefit.
Shortly after, I booked a consultation with a psychologist at a free community medical clinic. “Yep, you’re definitely crazai”, the psychologist said. Not really, disappointingly, but he did confirm I had OCD and booked me in for a batch of free psych sessions.
I was incredibly relieved, happy even, at this diagnosis. The only reason being that I wasn’t the only person who was crazy in this very specific way. There had been many many before me. An amusing crowd for me to blend into nicely.
An act carried out via OCD is carried out in a desperate attempt to prevent or delay a ‘bad thing’ from happening. Often the ‘bad thing’ is not identifiable. For example, if I don’t consume an entire glass of water from a specific yellow glass, whilst standing in the doorway of the garage, at precisely 3:05 pm each day, harm will befall my family.
Now I just made that compulsion up as an example, but the whole ‘preventing harm’ to one’s family is common with OCD – and is very vague. More commonly the fear is far more general.
Very my like luck. Bad luck, dialled up to devastation. Expecting some unspecified bad thing will occur as the direct result of doing some entirely unrelated, the ‘unlucky’ act. For example, opening an umbrella indoors (alleged unlucky act) only to walk outside, get hit by a car, and live out your remaining life with a brand new disability (entirely unrelated bad thing directly resulting from the alleged unlucky act).
The essential element that drives OCD is a fear that the harm which may crystalise will cause more emotional/mental pain than the person can endure.
A majority of the time, a person with OCD knows and understand how ludicrous this is. They get it. Tapping a door handle 60 times is not going to prevent your child from being kidnapped, getting fired, or your dog getting hit by a car…but what if it does? Better tap it just in case!
If fear inside of you is screaming to tap that bloody doorknob or your mum is going to die, you’re going to tap the shite out of it.
When reward or punishment (reinforcement) is not experienced every time a particular behaviour is performed, it increased the likelihood that that behaviour will be repeated.
Intermittent reinforcement is far more effective in bringing about persistent behaviour than continuous reinforcement, for example, Gambling. If you were rewarded each time you placed a bet, you would quickly lose interest in the behaviour.
The intermittence reinforcement of OCD works in precisely the same way except it is usually reinforced through punishment rather than reward. Little difference to Skinner’s pigeons.
So I attended the free psych sessions. Each as uneventful as the next. About as exciting as it got was standing on a grate throughout an entire session. Which was uncomfortable in an entirely unexpected way. Partly because the only grate we could find was at the entrance of the clinic and I was, annoyingly, in everyone’s way. ‘What kind of crazy are you’ glares were set to rapid fire. An exposure therapy salad.
The psychologist listened very little and watched on, hoping to witness an audacious meltdown, for what I suspect was his own amusement. Which is fair. So far his daily grind seemed like a yawn fest. It would no doubt be amusing to watch a meltdown over something as petty as standing on a grate.
It’s over between us
I eventually grew exhausted and drained of patience for the OCD and decided this crap cannot go on. It was over between me and OCD. Over!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t pack all of its belonging into a garbage bag, half filled with cat poo, and hoik it onto the pavement. No explosive drama fuelled decoupling here. This breakup was more like those stalker, clingy, hangeronerer deals.
I Don’t Suffer From OCD, OCD Suffers From Me – Part two coming soon, stay tuned.