Thursday, March 17, 2011

Little Compulsions and the Big Role They've Played

Sometimes I think I have a hard time seeing just how much OCD I have and have always had.  Today I was reading an article from my Winter 2011 IOCDF newsletter.  There was a personal account from a parent whose son had suddenly starting exhibiting OCD symptoms after apparently acquiring a strep infection (I still find the whole concept of PANDAS intriguing - in college, I did a fairly in depth project on a related neurological issue also caused by strep, Sydenham's chorea).  Anyways, when she mentions the things her son suddenly "convinced" himself he had to do, like twirl past his sister's room to prevent something bad from happening, the degree to which OCD has been part of my life for YEARS, since I was also a kid, becomes more apparent.

I'm caught off guard by accounts like this one, thinking, "Wait!  But doesn't everyone do that?"  My day is probably filled with all sorts of these little compulsions that hardly even register anymore because I am just so used to doing them.  Fidget with that until it feels just "right," do and redo this or that motion with the "right" thought, do this or that again just because you happened to have the thought that something might go wrong if you don't, and so on and so forth.  These sort of things have permeated my life over the years, and I am so used to just dealing with it, that I am always surprised when people point on these little intricacies.  Again, I think, "Wait, what?  You mean, everyone doesn't do that all the time?"

I actually do far fewer of these types of compulsions now that I have learned about my OCD and have been able to recognize many of these small compulsions for what they are.  Indeed, they have often been far easier for me to let go of than my major compulsions, because I largely did them just because I "felt" like I had to.  I had never really paused to consider what might ACTUALLY happen if I didn't.  I did what my OCD told me to, because I didn't know that, if I waited long enough, my mind would find its own equilibrium again.  I didn't have to force it there by performing compulsions.  So when I finally did learn about OCD and how it perpetuates itself, I was able to sit with the momentary discomfort and resist performing some of these smaller compulsions.

My larger compulsions have been much harder to fight, and I still have a ways to go.  And I think this is because, to a certain extent, I cling to the obsessions that drive these compulsions with excessive fervor.  I have a developed elaborate systems of thought, a maze of scaffolding, to justify the performance of my rituals.  And though we are deconstructing that framework piece by piece, I built it up strong and high and resist every step of the way, sometimes even building up a new type of compulsion to make up for those we are taking down.  It's a process.  It's a process that will probably always be in progress.

So, that said, I am always somewhat dumbfounded when I read observations and others' reports of OCD behaviors.  What stands out to me are the major flare-ups that have occurred off and on since I was a child, but when I pause to look at what was going on in between, I realize that my life was still rife with compulsive activity.  In fact, I think by the time I got to college, I had turned it into an elaborate art.  I had learned to adapt to a certain degree and despite my compulsions, so that no one, including myself, really knew any better.  I had learned to weave my compulsions into my daily routine so seamlessly that it was only when my last flare-up began that the long hidden monster suddenly became apparent to others and to myself.

Sometimes I get frustrated.  I think, "How did I manage to get better so fast before?  How did I manage to force myself to stop performing compulsions long enough to overcome my past flare-ups?"  And then I realize:  I never really fought my compulsions before.  All I did was push them around, slowing their assault in one area of my life by accommodating them in another area.  I was doing those "little" compulsions all the time, especially (ESPECIALLY!) when I was anxious about something.  (I still get twitchy when I'm super nervous.  When no one's around at times like this, I find myself jerking my head in a certain direction and in a certain way until it feels "right," or I find myself tensing this muscle or that in just the "right" way or the "right" number of times.  I probably look really funny, actually!)  Maybe it wasn't apparent to myself or to others that I was still feeding the OCD demon inside me, but I was.  I was constantly giving in to this compulsion or that, stoking the fire.

What I am attempting now is different from what I experienced when I "recovered" before.  This time I'm fighting it.  This time I'm not just trading one set of compulsions for another to appease this hungry disorder.  This time I'm depriving my OCD of the compulsions it needs to survive.  And it really, really doesn't like that.  It doesn't like that I've FINALLY discovered, after all these years, that I don't have to obey its every whim or justify my every move.  No, it doesn't like it at all.  And thus, I think this time around is harder because I am not just finding more covert ways to be compulsive; instead, I am outright trying to fight and eliminate my rituals.  And it may be more difficult, but hopefully, if I keep going, it will pay off in the end.

On a completely different (and completely geeky!!) note, the registration brochure for the 2011 IOCDF Annual Conference is out!!!  I am SO overly excited that I just had to mention it here.  I pretty much feel like a kid on Christmas morning right now.  So yeah, so nerdy, but SO cool!  For those who have never been to the IOCDF's Annual Conference, I would highly recommend it.  It's a bit pricey, but I had a sensational experience last year.  I not only attended several very informative lectures, but I also met other sufferers like myself, some of whom I have continued to keep in touch with.  Again, I would highly recommend it.

And now if you will excuse me, I will be starting the process of mapping out exactly which lectures and presentations I want to attend during each and every hour of the conference.  Not kidding - I wish I could attend them all!  So, yeah, excuse me while I plan out 3 days of my life that are still almost a half year away...


  1. OMG - I am SO EXCITED TOO about the conference! I wasn't aware that the program is out but I will be going there right after this to take a look!

    I feel the same as you re: TRUE recovery. I said something to my therapist last week about this - with regards to recognizing cognitive distortions: "I've been going to CBT therapists for years - why don't I have this by now???" In all truthfulnes though I have to recognize that my "so calledd CBT therapists weren't all that skilled at all" - I actually feel like I'm learning to apply cognitive distortions in a new way. And for me - I didn't as much "switch" compulstions - I just avoided new things.

    Glad to see you posting!!!

  2. I've done that shifting the compulsions thing too! It takes me by surprise as well when I discover not everyone does something. Someone recently cited a statistic that 90% of people only look at the first page of google results--I usually would go up to at least 20. . .I knew that was a lot but I didn't realize that it was way way lots!



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