Background Noise

On Wednesday, July 5th, I was I diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Most people are familiar with this illness due to some exposure on TV shows. Repetitive motions, obsessions with germs, and extreme organization are the traits that most people are exposed to. However, OCD is far more diverse than that. I want to help people understand how much depth there is in an “OCD” diagnosis because I am frankly tired of people hearing about my diagnosis and saying something like “Oh, that’s why you’re so organized.” Hopefully this video can shed some light and then below I will break down some examples before returning back to my personal story.

How long did I sleep for? I’m feeling lightheaded and my heart feels weird. Do I feel like taking my meds today? Why is my pulse like this?  My _____ hurts, I must have _____. Calm down. No I have _____. I’m going to freak out. I need to calm down but I’m dying. This is the end. My heart is racing and I can’t breathe. I need to leave. I need to go somewhere safe.” – Thoughts I have similar to what’s displayed in this video.

 

Obsessions

Defined as “unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.”

  • Fear of contamination
  • Having “forbidden” thoughts involving sexual or harmful ideas.
  • Feeling that you will be aggressive towards yourself or others.
  • Making sure things are symmetrical or in perfect order.

Compulsions

Defined as “behaviors and individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and decrease their distress.”

  • Excessive Cleaning and/or Handwashing
  • Making sure things are ordered in a particular and precise manner
  • Repeatedly checking on things to make sure nothing bad happens, like repetitive phone calls to family or friends to check if they’re “okay” or repeatedly checking your alarm clock.
  • Counting things.

Now, reading these examples you might think “Sure. I do that. Everyone does!” There is a difference with OCD, because those with OCD cannot control these thoughts or behaviors. Sufferers can clearly identify that the thoughts and behaviors are excessive, but regardless of that, they still happen. These repetitive mental rituals and calming behaviors are done in an attempt to relieve the anxiety from the obsessive thoughts, but the relief is often short lived, thus requiring more repetition of them.

For years, I had no idea what these powerful thoughts were in my head. I remember being as young as 4 years old becoming absolutely terrified that my parents were going to die if they left the house, so I would repeatedly ask them if they were okay. In high school, I remember writing my notes down every day in class and mentally checking that they were all written in the same format, with the same ink and same pen, that my binders were organized, and if one mistake happened to them, whether it be a grease stain or a misspelling, I wouldn’t just rip the page out and start over. No – because that would mean the book is uneven and there are paper shreds in the spiral. This book was now uneven and broken so I would throw it away and use a brand new notebook, resulting in me having to rewrite all of my notes.

These obsessive ideas bled out into my entertainment activities. If I was going to read a book series, I needed to make sure I read every single page in every single book in the series because if I didn’t, I felt like I was dishonoring the author and something was “off”. The same thing would happen with video games – if I could not own every game in the series and make sure I completed it to 100%, this made me feel very uncomfortable. The best way I can describe this feeling is that feeling of guilt you get when you do something that offends someone and your whole body gets warm, you start to sweat, and you feel dread in your mind and your heart. 

After my father passed away in 2008, I began obsessing over heart conditions and despite being in decent shape from watching what I ate and running 3-4 times a week, I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die by my heart suddenly exploding. This resulted in me checking my pulse constantly no matter where I was and being unable to sleep some nights because I could feel my pulse beating too hard and thought that was unnatural. This became so bad that my mom took me to our primary care doctor to get my heart checked out via electrocardiogram. Even with everything coming back fine for someone my age, I struggled with this for a few more months.

Moving on to college, I started dating and started having obsessive ideas then as well. I would exhaustively ask “do you love me?” and despite the answer always being yes, it was never enough. I would go crazy over stuff like this and launch into arguments trying to find a crack in that answer, despite knowing that I was happy with them loving me. Another big issue was changing plans. My illness still being unknown, any time someone would suddenly change plans on me or ask me to do something out of the current activity I was already in basically broke my brain, causing me to get snappy and frustrated. A lot of very simple things like “Do you want to run to the store with me?” became heated arguments because my brain was so stuck in this cycle. I also noticed at this time that I do a lot of things in 3s.

One big issue for me is video games. Looking at my website or just knowing me in person, you would easily be able to tell that I love video games. But just because I love them does not mean they do not affect my disorder. There have been many, many nights I have forced myself to stay up late because I had to finish a task. Now, you might think that this is just a way of me justifying enjoying the game, but I assure you at this point it has crossed enjoyment and now become stressful. Seeing a growing list of games shown as incomplete or knowing that I never finished that game from back in 1994 would be thoughts that go through my head regularly. Just the other night I went to bed at my normal time, felt fine, and suddenly at 3:00 AM I jumped up wide awake and thought “I absolutely have to play this game and try to beat it before work because if I don’t something bad is going to happen.” The sad part is I have no idea what this “bad thing” is, but to me it’s very real and very scary…so I got up and played the game, missing out on sleep and impacting my performance at work the next day.

Trying to play online games with friends is a nightmare, because if given the chance, my brain will go into this cycle of trying to figure out what the perfect combination of characters is, how to maximize their synergy, planning out what I will need to do to be the perfect player, seeing other people’s control settings and having the urge to tell them they are wrong because there is only one way to set it up and if they don’t follow that, it’s wrong. I constantly change the type of character I’m playing because I can’t trust other people to do their jobs and without perfect cooperation I won’t make the progress I need to make. Also, if there is an option to do additional specialties like potion crafting or armor making, even if I don’t want to, I feel a need to do that because my character has to be perfect and maximized. If it is not, “someone” will horrifically judge me and do something bad to me.

Imagine sitting in front of your bookshelf, game shelf, or movie collection and thinking “I want to do something tonight.” You begin browsing and after about 10 minutes your brain switches from entertainment mode to thinking “I need to pick the perfect movie to watch because I know I am going to die tonight watching this movie and I want to make sure I die happy instead of dissatisfied. So I can watch movie A that I haven’t seen because it will be a new adventure, but I don’t know if it will be good so maybe I should watch movie B instead, since I’ve seen it so many times. But leaving movie A unseen means that you would go to hell when you die because you wasted money on it by not watching it and didn’t honor the production crew’s work put into the movie, so you should force yourself to watch movie A instead of B.” Then 4-5 hours later you just get up and go to bed exhausted and not having done anything with your evening because you were caught in this loop of continuous disaster thoughts.

This is my life. This is what I go through on a near daily basis. So in order to not have to deal with some of this stuff, I avoid it. I avoid reading books because they stress me out. I avoid watching movies unless I can muster the courage and willpower to sit down and force myself to watch it. With video games, I have to actively and repeatedly tell myself “It is okay not to finish this 100%. You don’t have to push yourself that hard.” I don’t drink often or try drugs because I’m convinced I will die. I even have silly thoughts like driving home from the game store I’ll continuously think “I’m going to die before I get home and not get the chance to play this game.” and that thought can even evolve into “What if I just veered into this pole and smashed my car for the hell of it?”

Now, my point in writing this post is not to make a “boo hoo, woe is me the world is so hard.” attention seeking display. My intent is to educate people. I want the people closest to me to know what I go through on a regular basis. I want people to understand that if I cancel plans or repeatedly ask the same questions over and over, I’m not trying to be annoying or flakey – my brain is literally not making sense and I don’t know what to do about it. I get concerned over tiny details and try to make sure everything is planned and followed, I have an absolute shit sleep schedule and I am usually tired all the time from trying to keep myself calm and “complete” things. I’m indecisive and depending on the day, I just feel like existing is difficult.

On top of allllllll of this, I was also diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is another mental illness all on it’s own. Fatigue and loss of energy, feeling worthless or guilty, impaired concentration, insomnia, restlessness, and thoughts of self harm are all things that I experience regularly. But I’m trying. Every day I try to give myself credit for the things I accomplish. I try to keep a regular line of communication open with my closest friends, my mom, my boss, and my therapist so they know where I’m at. I’m taking my medicines every day, I’m trying to practice mindfulness and really be present in the things that I do, and recently I’ve been really trying to focus on things that bring me joy.

In conclusion, I’d like to remind anyone reading this that not all illnesses are visible. Be kind to people and try to understand their point of view. For me, I’m doing the best I can. I don’t want to call in sick or cancel plans, I don’t want to sound like I’m always whining, and I’m not looking for sympathy. I want a distraction from this lingering pain and anxiety, and I just want to be understood and supported.

Thanks for reading.