There are multiple purposes for this blog. First, I'd like to share with you how mental illness can interfere with or enhance the writer's life. Second, I want to explore a more disciplined approach to the writing life. This blog will hold me accountable as I navigate story throughout my battle with mental illness.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

OCD and me

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness which manifests itself in many ways. There are almost as many ways as there are people who have it. Okay, I may have exaggerated a little. But there are many types of “burdens” in which the OCD sufferer is stricken with.  Some sufferers have thoughts of a negative nature that seem to come out of nowhere and for some reason the thoughts recycle in the persons mind. To overcome the guilt of those thoughts, they may act out a compulsory behavior such as praying for forgiveness or trying to take back the thoughts by repeating certain rituals. 

Other sufferers may feel that they are contaminated to such a degree that they must constantly wash their hands or whole body, sometimes bleeding in the process. Still others may keep stopping their vehicle and check to make sure that they have not run anyone over. 

The constant theme amongst OCD sufferers is a sort of doubt; doubt about their faith, cleanliness, safety. You name it. If you can think it, an OCD’er will come up with a way to doubt it. OCD is often known as the “doubting disease”.

I began to exhibit symptoms of OCD at a very young age, in the form of religious blasphemy. I had inappropriate thoughts about God, etc. I thought I may have been the anti-christ. How could I know I wasn’t? So, I prayed, and prayed… and prayed. I never did this in public because I was so ashamed of the thoughts that would not go away. 

When I was a teenager, I had counting rituals. I would say phrases and the last syllable would have to end with a tap with my left foot, and it almost always had to be an odd number. In a classroom, I had the repetitive thought that I couldn’t learn because everybody else’s “brainwaves” were interfering with my own. I knew the thought was illogical and for the most part, I didn’t believe it. But it did cause me to feel like I wasn’t learning to the best of my capabilities.

In the last twenty years, I have been plagued with existential questioning (who am I, what’s my purpose, am I real, how do I know others can see me, etc.). I would ruminate on these questions which eventually at the age of 17 led to a mental crisis (onset of depersonalization, which I’ll describe in a later post). In the past year, I have been obsessing over traffic patterns, occupations, you name it. I also get thoughts like “Why don’t I know everything? Why aren’t I omniscient? Why can’t I be every occupation ever thought of? Inside, I know these questions are ludicrous, but that element of doubt, of not knowing, just burns in my brain. This form of OCD is called "Pure Obsessional OCD" because there are usually no rituals or compulsions involved, just the thoughts.

Tomorrow, I will say a bit about how Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) affects me, and then on Saturday I’ll explain how writing can help ease the suffering in both of those disorders. And hopefully, by blogging about it, I’ll have to hold myself accountable and actually practice what I preach. 

Do you know somebody with OCD? How does it affect their lives?


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. To be honest, I’ve only read about OCD and the symptoms; in particular, I read about the counting and/or cleanliness obsessions and compulsions similar to what you describe above.

    I find the existential questioning fascinating, to be honest. Has a psychiatrist stated that the obsessions with those questions are true OCD symptoms?

    I’d like to pose another question to you. Do you think that there or potentially could be a benefit associated with OCD?

    For example, Kay Jamison, a psychiatrist and individual who is also diagnosed with bipolar, has posed the hypothesis that bipolar may lead to bursts of activity associated with creativity and energy, and that there may be artists such as Van Gogh whose art work may be a result of the manic episodes of his bipolar disorder. Just curious.

  2. Hi Susan. It's normal for people to have existential issues, but when it ruminates in your mind in extreme form, I've been told it is definitely OCD.
    As far as the creativity goes, on Saturday I'm going to talk about how having OCD could actually help my writing. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Salman Rushdie and other writers are appearing on a CSpan2 Book TV panel right now, until 11:00 am ESDT, discussing writer's imagination and how countries can use it to promote positive change.