OCD Redux

Since writing about OCD a few weeks ago, I’ve had time to think more about some issues that I maybe should have addressed in that original post and others that have come up since then. Cue oversharing.

Without getting into too many details, many of my OCD behaviours involve numbers; I have, for example, three–four useless tallies going on in my head at all times. It’s easy, and probably healthy, to make bad jokes about (“I would have made a good accountant,” etc. etc.), and I’m usually the first to make fun of myself. It’s pretty damn effortless, after all.

But the distress and actions I take if I lose count? The oh-wow-I’m-really-messed-up moments of clarity that I have once in a while when I stop to reflect on what my OCD might mean about me? Not so funny. I get so, so frustrated at my inability to just stop. The rational part of my brain, which, though recently in hibernation, does exist, knows that rather than benefitting me, these circling numbers are not only a source of anxiety, but also clog up a significant amount of headspace. If I didn’t, say, feel the need to keep track of how many books are in our apartment, maybe I could remember to pick up milk from the grocery store. So why isn’t there an off switch?

So far as seizures are concerned, I often push myself to do what I want to be able to do, what I used to be able to do, disregarding my limits in order to prove something to myself and inevitably paying the price later. OCD has a more subtle effect on the day-to-day, and being given a diagnosis hasn’t changed how I live my life much, since I’ve likely had it since childhood and since, unlike epilepsy, it doesn’t present physical challenges. Interestingly, though, I’m more aware of behaviours that I used to consider normal: thoughts that were background noise are now more prominent in my consciousness.

During periods in which I am for whatever reason(s) particularly entrenched in chronic illness(es), I find it difficult to separate the different threads of my identity. I don’t want to be “sick,” but I can’t pretend to be entirely “healthy,” either. With this leave of absence and new diagnosis, my sense of self has taken an especially hard hit over the last while. Feeling like one identity—that of a PhD candidate—has been taken away, even if only temporarily, leaves more space for other, less desirable ones to move in.

And maybe that’s part of why although I wrote in that first post that I didn’t really care about the label, this whole OCD thing has started to bother me more in recent days: because there’s little to diffuse it.


14 thoughts on “OCD Redux

  1. I totally agree, behaviors you lived with and that you grew up with, suddenly are on your mind because you have a diagnosis that says “Hey! That is a medical diagnosis of ‘not normal’ – take a medication to stop it!” Then it is constantly on your mind cause you tend to focus on when it is actually going on. That is how it is for me. I don’t have OCD, but I have obsessive tendencies, and my psychiatrist pointed it out to me – and after that I started noticing it all the time.

    1. I’m sorry you experience this too, but I’m also glad I’m not alone! I’m usually pretty good at trying not to pathologize myself, but once a medical professional gives me a reason to focus on whatever the “problem” may be, of it’s hard not to… I guess it makes sense that it’d be especially difficult not to obsess when the issue in question involves obsessions! (That didn’t occur to me until just now.)

  2. Reading this made me think of how we as individuals identify ourselves. PhD candidate, epilepsy patient(?) / person with epilepsy, unemployed (me), expatriate (also me) and how these terms make us feel. Collectively and separately, these thoughts are all just negative and can have a negative impact on the individual. I think. And as difficult as it may be, maybe something else can be focused on, to distract ourselves! (but not to obsess over haha) But something that doesn’t involve us being defined as something in relation to it. Wait – is that possible? I don’t know…. sometimes I read inspirational quotes, or reassuring ones on Pinterest. Kind of lame but it’s my own way of ‘spirituality’ now that I reflect on it. Some people turn to religion during times of unsettling doubts, not that there are any ‘settling’ ones…. or yoga, as I also do. I used to also as a kid, turn on/off the light switch three times before bed, and I thought (even as a child) that I had certain behaviours, but then growing up and the physical and mental changes that came along with this biological development, also lead to changes in my behaviour. I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m saying here hahah… 🙂 I guess I’m trying to say, you’re more than OCD and epilepsy, you’re also more than PhD!! You’re the sum of all parts!! And maybe it’s the acceptance of it all that should be what you should look it, the holistic view…. after all, through generations and generations, and atoms and chance and DNA mixing and all…. here you are. In this millions of years old universe… that’s something to be appreciated and acknowledged. You are alive.

  3. Maybe its like a spot on a white shirt. You don’t realize its there but it is and its a part of the shirt. You wear it and its just your normal…until someone points out the spot on the shirt and then you are aware of it and its more pronounced and suddenly its hard to see the shirt and not see that spot. Its the same shirt it was 2 minutes before the spot was pointed out but yet somehow at the same time its a completely different shirt.

  4. I really like how you expressed what you are going through and am thankful for an opportunity to peer a bit more into OCD. I’ve called myself “OCD light”. Since I was a kid, I count syllables on my fingers, and of course have my rules. If I’m not doing that, I’m typing words and phrases. My mind will latch onto something and I’ll repeat it over and over. In the past year or so I’ve worked to notice when I do it and physically make myself stop. It occurs when I am nervous, when I pressure myself to be or do something that I feel others want me to be (and that’s not me), and when I have gotten into too many commitments for my own good and feel I have to power my way through them before I can be me again. I think it’s a way to handle my anxiety when I feel out of control and needing to control something, even if it’s pitter-patters with my fingertips. Maybe I’m not so “light” after all. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment! I notice myself latching onto things; it’s so hard to stop. I totally agree that it’s a way of handling anxiety, of controlling something when other things are beyond my/our control. It sounds like you’re really working on it—good for you!! Keep me posted on your progress 🙂

  5. I understand completely. I was diagnosed with OCD 8 years ago, although it is believed I have struggled with it since I was a small child. In a way, I wish I didn’t have the label, because I feel as though it’s so intrinsically linked to my personality that I don’t know where the illness ends and where I begin. I am a perfectionist. I have always been described that way. However, being diagnosed with OCD made me wonder how much of it was me and how much of it was my illness. It’s an awful disease, making you completely doubt yourself and everything around you. It’s terrifying and I understand the anxiety and fear and self-hatred all too well.

    I find that there are times when I become particularly entrenched in my illnesses too. My lupus flares or my T1 Diabetes becomes more difficult to manage for whatever reason or my OCD consumes me, and I find it hard to think I am anyone else other than my illnesses. It is during these times that we need to actively remind ourselves that we are NOT our illnesses. Sure, we have them, but they do not define us. It is something I still struggle with, as I am sure many other people with chronic illnesses do too. It is probably something that will remain an ongoing struggle.


    1. It’s funny what an effect labels have, isn’t it? Having multiple chronic illnesses only complicates things further. I keep reminding myself that I’m still the same person I was before I was diagnosed, but it’s not always easy to believe myself, if that makes any sense.

      1. Definitely makes sense! It’s tough and I think there’s always a bit of an adjustment period when you get another label/diagnosis, especially when it’s on top of other diagnoses.

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