Saturday, July 3, 2010

OCD and Eating Disorders...

I realize that I have already written far too many times today, but I have also been productive in other ways, so I suppose I will allow myself excess in this area (as long as I move on to a few other things I need to do after this).

So I was reading a blog about eating disorders. When in high school I had my own stint of excessive dieting and exercise that eventually landed me at my doctor's office and then in therapy...the latter of which I considered pretty useless. Now had that therapist recognized my co-existing OCD, she probably would have been of much greater help. I know eating disorders and OCD are considered separate disorders, but I feel like the way I went about my anorexic behaviors was very OCD in nature, and simply encouraging me to return to normal eating habits did nothing to address the debilitating perfectionism in other aspects of my life.

One of the triggers for eating disorder behaviors that this blogger mentioned caught my attention as I could relate to it both in that context and in a similar way with my OCD. She mentioned that seeing other people relapse into disordered eating could trigger her own desire to return to such ways. I can definitely understand that in terms of what I experienced. If I knew of or saw someone else who appeared to have an eating disorder and I thought they looked skinnier or ate less than I did, then self-loathing was triggered and all I wanted to do was eat less, exercise more, and achieve the same level of thinness.

It is very similar with my OCD. I am getting better. I can't deny it. But when I see or read about people whose contamination issues are now worse than mine, I freak out a little. Usually the freaking out manifests itself in one of two ways (or both at the same time):

1. "Oh no! Maybe I should be more cautious about that! Maybe I'm a hypocrite for not worrying about touching that, too! How could I have overlooked that! I have to be more vigilant, wash more, and live up to my own claim to have contamination issues!"

2. "Oh no! Maybe I don't have OCD anymore! Maybe I have forgotten what it's like. Maybe I need to go wash my hands for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to remember what that sort of torture feels like. I don't want to forget what I went through! I don't want to forget how that was! Or maybe I should force myself to wash in my old ways just to see if I still have the self-control to do it. I should just see if I can still take 2 hour long showers and do 30 minutes hand-washes a couple more times...just to see if I still can. To make sure I'm not getting soft!"

Those are the things my OCD says to me, the reasons why I should ritualize. Of course this is complete OCD nonsense. I do not need to prove to myself that I can still take 2 hours showers. What's the point of that? OCD is telling me I won't feel right unless I know that I am still capable of that, but I just have to take that chance. Is taking a 2 hour shower and risking falling back into old habits really worth it? Probably not. As much as OCD seems to be daring me to try and telling me that I won't feel right if I don't, I think I have gotten to a point where I can take feeling "not right" over enduring a washing binge.

As for needing to be more vigilant and to avoid the same things that others with contamination issues avoid, well, that's just an endless, bottomless pit of a trap. I can never, ever succeed in avoiding all that others avoid because one person with contamination problems will avoid this but not that and another person will avoid that but not this. Everyone is different, and though OCD tells me that I need to acquire others' avoidance patterns if I am not a fake and if I really have contamination issues, I think I am just fine with my own triggers, thanks. No need to add on. I can never be the best at being OCD.

Anyways, reading that ED blog just brought these thoughts to mind. The dangers of comparing yourself to others are apparent for both disorders, and I think recovery from either probably involves a certain degree of being able to accept that there will always be someone that is "more (add your own adjective here)" and that you just have to focus on what's best for your own health, both physical and mental.

5 comments:

  1. I've noticed the connections with OCD and eating disorders in my own life--I had a year of trying to eat "perfectly"--vegan, no sugar, organic; because I was haunted by thoughts of factory farming and worker exploitation. It wasn't good for my body the way I went about it, but that seemed irrelevant to the OCD goal of being perfect. I hear you on the fear of being a "fake"--I went through a long obsession about whether I really had OCD.

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  2. Ugh...I feel like I could have gone done the "eating perfectly" path, too, but somehow barred myself from going down that road despite the temptation and the guilt I felt for not trying to do the "right" thing. I didn't know, at the time that it was probably, at least in part, OCD-related. Knowing now that I have OCD helps me get through the guilt that I sometimes feel for not "eating perfectly," failing to avoid any and all stores and companies that may or may not have the best employee and manufacturer standards, not giving more of my spare money to charity, or even for not giving money to each and every homeless person I come by. As much as I feel like I should be better at doing all these things, I have to remind myself that sometimes there are certain roads that, as a person with OCD, I should be careful about going down. Just as someone with diabetes has to watch their sugar intake, I have to watch the behaviors I choose and regulate them to ensure that they do not become too rigid or extreme.

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  3. Yes, I agree that some paths are dangerous to go down! Some actions may be entirely appropriate for someone without my OCD history, but for me it's unhealthy. My OCD likes to jump all over this squawking, "You are a bad person. It's all a delusion that OCD has anything to do with this" and then my exposure is to accept I might be making a mistake.

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  4. Heh. My mother has OCPD (OCD without the hatred of OCD, basically) and she adopts the fears and compulsions of others. I don't think she is alone in that.

    I struggled with eating disorders so severe that I remain amazed to this day that I survived them. Like you, I think the OCD and ED are highly related, and I am not convinced that (in my case) they were separate at all. Both come when I feel I have lost control in other aspects of my life, and ironically (cruelly) they steal away even more control.

    While I regret that you have to suffer through that nightmare, it is interesting to find someone who shares my perspective.

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