I’m slightly OCD. Yes, I know it and they say knowing something is half the battle. (I stole that “knowing is half the battle” line from the old G.I. Joe cartoons I used to watch with my brothers back in the ‘80s…)
My OCD Started With Counting
Something I started doing many moons ago (before I knew what OCD is) was counting characters. Letters, numbers, whatever. If they’re there, I count ‘em.
- Billboards: I count all the words and then all the lines. If the message is short enough, I count all the letters too. And then I add them all up.
- License plates: I memorize them…at least until the next license plate comes along.
- Typos: I’ve been perusing others’ writings for grammatical errors since I was a kid…may be one reason I’m such a good editor – I have more than 30 years’ experience 😉
Just in case there’s any question about what OCD IS, here’s how Merriam-Webster defines it: an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent obsessions or compulsions or both that cause significant distress, are time-consuming or interfere with normal daily functioning, and are recognized by the individual affected as excessive or unreasonable; a chronic illness characterized by recurrent intrusive and disabling thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive stereotypical behavior (compulsions) that a person feels driven to perform.
Once I identified and self-diagnosed myself with OCD, forget finding humor in it, I was weirded out about it. At that time, I barely acknowledged mental/behavioral health issues, never mind admitting that I suffered from any of them. It was unreasonable to me, and I couldn’t understand WHY I did these things. (Pretty sure I understand WHY now.) Yet, I couldn’t seem to help myself.
When I Discovered The Symptoms of OCD, I Could Relate
When I found the symptoms associated with OCD that fit me, I rolled my eyes (I really don’t like to be pigeon-holed):
- Specific counting systems — e.g., counting in groups of four, arranging objects in groups of three, grouping objects in odd/even numbered groups, etc. (I do this)
- Perfectly aligning objects at complete, absolute right angles, or aligning objects perfectly parallel etc. (I used to do this a lot at work)
- Feeling overly responsible for the safety of others (I used to feel as if my family members were in danger every minute they were away from me – even my parents. Because, obviously, they were all morons who didn’t know how to take care of themselves without me around.)
- Strange and chronic worries about certain events such as sleeping, eating, leaving home, etc. without proper items. (I used to need two pillows and wear warm, fluffy socks to fall asleep, and panic if I left home without my cell phone! Sometimes I still need the warm, fluffy socks…but only if my feet are cold. Still panic if I leave home without my cell phone.)
- A need for both sides of the body to feel even. Such as when walking down a sidewalk, step on a crack with the ball of their left foot, then feel the need to step on another crack with the ball of their right foot. If one hand gets wet, the sufferer may feel very uncomfortable if the other is not. If the sufferer is walking and bumps into something, he/she may hit the object or person back to feel a sense of evenness. (Yeah…especially the bumping into things…I’ve had the bruises as proof. This used to happen to me when brushing my teeth. I would brush until my gums began to bleed. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened in a long time.)
- An obsession with numbers (be it in math class, watching TV, or in a room). (This probably goes along with the counting numbers thing. I still have this.)
Apparently, there is immense stress (you don’t say!) associated with these symptoms, called “Thought Avoidance Paradox,” a fancy term for being unable to, for instance, avoid thinking of pink elephants, even when someone tells you NOT to think about pink elephants.
How appropriate that “obsessive-compulsive disorder” is the name for something that is obsessive and compulsive. In my early 30s during a therapy session, my then-counselor said, “You know you’re a bit OCD, don’t you?” (It’s always fun when medical/mental health professionals validate your self-diagnoses. She also told me that I’m “conflicted” about sex…but that’s another story for another day.)
Treatment for OCD
Soon after, my doctor prescribed Lexapro (escitalopram). That’s when a lot of the OCD symptoms became not so important anymore. I could resist the compulsion to do some things and some of the obsessive thoughts. My dosage has only had to be increased once since I began taking it, for which I count myself fortunate. Also fortunate that the first med my doctor prescribed for me worked (and still works) well enough that we didn’t need to guinea pig me through multiple drugs to find the right one.
Another way OCD used to intrude was when I wrote poetry. As good as my poetry is today (at least, people tell me so), it’s a far cry from what it used to be. I wrote some pretty bad poetry when I was younger. Have been “writing poetry” since I was 12. My first piece was inspired by the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy in January 1986. In fact, that’s the first time I remember ever feeling a compulsion to write. I had homework to finish that night, but the words of a poem wouldn’t stop coming; I HAD to get them on paper.
Back then, I was also obsessed with rhyming couplets and stanzas. Until I realized how crazy it made me and how forced my pieces looked. That’s when I discovered free verse. (The best thing EVER.) I still rhyme sometimes, but now I don’t force it; if a poem is supposed to rhyme, it will.
Finding Humor in my OCD
I’ve managed over the years to make peace with my OCD and find the humor in it. I realize that not everyone who suffers a specific mental health issue such as OCD is fortunate enough to find with the first try a treatment that works or even to find the humor in their disorder. But I do encourage trying to find the humor in your problems. Your life will be a lot less stressful that way.
How about you? Do you have a mental health – or physical/medical issue – that you’re able to approach with humor? If yes, do you find humor to be healing and freeing? If no, why not?
Wendy is an over-educated editor and writer who holds multiple degrees from several universities (that’s what happens when you want to do everything!), including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.
Her debut novel, SERPENT ON A CROSS, originally published October 30, 2012, by Northampton House Press as an ebook, was re-released by Booktrope, in August 2014. She’s authored numerous poems and is currently juggling several Shiny Things (AKA, Works in Progress). Her work has appeared in the OCH Literary Society and Feminine Collective, as well as numerous guest posts on colleagues’ blogs.
Wendy is an avid reader and traveler, who loves caffeine, storms and dark chocolate. She works in law enforcement and lives in South Florida with her teenage son.
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