Well, perhaps it’s not just OCD. There’s a soupçon or two of anxiety in the mix. A smattering of depression. And yes, OCD. Lots of it.
Every waking moment of every single day is like slogging through a quagmire, the ooze clinging to your feet, sucking, strangling, pulling you down to suffocate in the slime. Sometimes the only escape is indulging our particular OCD. Scratching the itch. Plucking, picking, cleaning, counting, following our calming routines and rituals. That works and so does the distraction of sleep, telly, movies and a pint or two.
Surely there are better ways to cope with OCD!
But it’s the way I live and the way you live. We’ve lived this way for so long, it’s become natural. We cope beautifully. Yet, unless we’re very distracted, every moment is painful. Tense. Stressful. Guilt-ridden, OCD-plagued.
But we don’t talk about it because it’s our normal. Maybe we assume everyone lives this way. Perhaps we’re ashamed to admit it. But when you shove all the distractions away, this toxic mix of OCD, anxiety, depression and perfectionism is besmirching our lives, almost imperceptibly, one moment at a time.
Perhaps we second-guess everything we do, always feeling we should be doing something else. Perhaps we’re paralyzed to do anything at all unless we’ve followed our routines perfectly, unless we feel “okay” inside.
Maybe we spend hours in front of the mirror, squeezing every blackhead, whitehead and blocked pore we can find, savoring the moment the squiggly sebum and hard “clog” come wiggling or squirting out.
Possibly we only feel relaxed when we have a tweezer in our hand, puling and plucking our chins, our eyebrows, our head, our pubes.
Or perhaps we never feel better than when we’re cleaning, getting into all the corners and cubbies. Waging a lifelong battle with dust, dirt, grease and grime. (A battle, by-the-by, we can never win.)
Does everyone live like this, tortured by unbidden compulsions and torturing themselves with guilt about those hidden compulsions. Burdened by all the morals, the “thou shalts” and the “shoulds” piled on us by teachers, vicars, priests, nuns, mamau (mothers), tadau (fathers), neiniau a theidiau (grandparents), anrhydeddus (aunts) and ewythr (uncles). People who, like us, also may’ve silently and unknowingly suffered from OCD for decades? Ancestors who passed OCD down to us in their words and their genes. Who made the stress-relief of OCD necessary through their abuse.
I’ve found it comforting to learn that OCD is probably genetic. In 2014, Psych Central writer, Traci Pederson, wrote this:
A genetic marker linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been identified in a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers who published their findings in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“If this finding is confirmed, it could be useful,” said study leader Gerald Nestadt, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of Johns Hopkins Obsessive Disorder Program….
The scientists conducted what is known as a genome-wide association study, in which they scanned the genomes of more than 1,400 people with OCD and more than 1,000 close relatives of individuals with OCD. A strong link was identified in OCD patients near a gene called protein tyrosine phosphokinase (PTPRD).
Take comfort. It’s not us! It’s those pesky genes. Looking back, I can see how the women of my family going back three or more generations have struggled with OCD, turning it from a problem into a dogma. Not only were they extreme in cleaning their own homes, they showed, modeled and taught each new generation to be obsessive too. Genes weren’t enough. Oh no! They had to go and make it worse.
You’re not alone. I live in the OCD Swamp too. Staying busy not indulging in my particular obsessions helps. Sometimes I choose to shave, instead of plucking. Other days I give in to my OCD, making it my friend, fining solace in a good “pluck session.”
Some days I stoicly refuse to clean (even if the house needs it!) just to spit in OCD’s eye. Other days, when I’m upset about something, nothing is more satisfying than a good wash and scrub up with Dettol in one hand and scrubbing brush in the other.
But underlying everything is the constant low-grade anxiety that we are not okay, our lives are not okay, our careers are not okay, our boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t quite right, our choices are not okay…nothing is quite okay about us. Is this OCD too? Does our OCD stem from low self-esteem? Or does low self-esteem result from OCD? Where does one start and the other leave off?
We can’t help our genetics, but we can retrain our brains. Dig out the underlying wrong beliefs, extreme dogmas and stresses that feed and exacerbate our OCD. Cut ourselves some slack. Discard the dogmas and “shoulds”. Learn to love and comfort ourselves.
Envelop ourselves in things we love. Stay busy with things we enjoy. And learn to make our OCD friend, dumping all that useless guilt. When we humorously wink at OCD, it loses its power.
Photo by Christof Timmermann