My OCD Story: The Emotional Costs and Benefits of Being Obsessive

My brain has a tendency to exaggerate. Sometimes, my mind idealizes and makes me believe that some goal I’m working toward is going to drastically improve my life. Other times, it convinces me that some illness has a strong probability of being fatal. Fortunately and unfortunately, that means I obsess. I obsess over minor inconveniences that I think will lead to catastrophes and over my perceived lack of professional progress. And then, come the compulsions, the behaviors intended to soothe me. Whether I’m furiously attempting to promote our podcast or repetitively checking some bodily area, I do the thing over and over and over again until calm. However, the calmness is usually short-lived.

What bothers me the most about having some version of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is the irrationality. Most of my pride and self-image are tied up with being a thinker, capable of reasoning himself out of any absurd mental trap. Thus, most of that pride is founded on a delusion. I tell my patients that the most they can hope for is the increased ability to manage their anxiety most of the time. When we call anxiety treatable, we mean that it can become manageable, for the most part. The anxious among us will always be the anxious among us, meaning that they’ll have higher than normal anxiety levels – on average. And this is so difficult for me to accept.

Because on top of the OCD hides my OCPD, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, which can be summed up as the need to be perfect and the belief that one can be. Rigidity is the hallmark of OCPD, and its captive truly believes that he just has to try – follow these simple rules and you’re perfect. OCPD entails a struggle with empathy, and with respect to OCD, implies minimal self-empathy. (Sometimes, the individual can only empathize with others.) So when the rules tell you that you’re supposed to be rational and seemingly uncontrollable terror takes over, guess who’s to blame, who isn’t trying hard enough?

Obsessiveness will always be a part of my character, so I try my best to harness it for good. I use it to propel myself to take risks by reminding myself that I need to succeed (because my time is so limited), even if, rationally, I know I don’t. I use it to check on people even when I know they’re likely okay. And I use it to sharpen my logic, to really examine why my arguments aren’t quelling my fear. Over time, thankfully, the fear subsides to some extent, especially when the thing I’m afraid of doesn’t foster catastrophe. But, I’ll always be generally terrified of failure and, more importantly, my own mortality.

OCD and OCPD are all about control and the delusion that you have it. If I just do these things, bad things won’t happen. Like a kid who believes that bad things don’t happen to good people, I act as though I can preclude the worst. On the one end, I disavow superstition and anything resembling absurdity. On the other, I think and act like a child. And history tells us that the most rational among us were also the most preposterous. Where one extreme is found, another awaits.

In hindsight, my terror repetitiously taught me to enjoy life and stop taking it for granted. After an illness, I begin to miss the day to day world and even my family. The experiences that usually bore me to death bring me back into life. After it’s over, an OCD episode related to existential dread exponentially increases my gratitude. And all of the things that drive me crazy and piss me off, at least for some time and in my mind, cease to exist.

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