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What It Feels Like To Be Obsessive Compulsive

Jul 16, 2008
This article is a shortened excerpt from the book "Tiger by the Tail" available at http://Lulu.com

Tiger by the Tail is the story of my personal recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is not a scholarly work; it is a memoir. I have no credentials as a health care professional, nor am I a layperson who has done exhaustive research.

So much for what I am not--what I am, is a survivor of OCD--who has recovered. I wrote this book for others who would also be survivors and who would find the tools that they need to do so. It is also for those who love, wish to help, or live with someone who is afflicted with this disorder.

The following is a partial list of activities in which I HAD to engage while in the trance of this disease. There was nothing optional about them.

1. I had to stare at each and every single electrical outlet, extension cord, and so on, that was in the house before leaving to make sure is was properly pushed in so that no metal showed. I was afraid it would catch fire because the metal had electricity in it and might be touched by a sheet, or chair cushion or even some floating dust bunny. After staring, while holding my breath so that no movement caused me to see something wrong, I would usually have to push on it anyway. After pushing, I had changed the setup and had to start all over staring. This would take a great deal of time. I came to dread leaving the house and never wanted to plug anything in. Once I touched an outlet, even if I was not leaving, I would have to stare at that outlet for a while to be sure it was safe.

2. I had to sniff each gas jet many times to make sure it was off. Each knob on the stove had to be turned just right to "off." I might check this many times, often in sets of 16 or more, before leaving.

3. No lights could be left on in the house when no one was home. What if they caused a fire somehow?

4. All devices or appliances requiring electrical power had to be turned off unless they were on a relatively fireproof surface, except for the alarm clock and that was still done with concern.

5. I would have to check all the faucets many times to be sure that they were not running. Just looking at them did not suffice. I had to put my hand under each faucet in silence and stare at the tip of the faucet. I didn't trust my eyes and ears combined without the additional feedback from my hands. This would still not be enough and I would often run in from the door, sometimes after finally getting it locked to my satisfaction, to check to see if they were really off. While there, I would usually check the gas and stove knobs again.

6. Counting was done in groups of eight. While checking the gas or the faucet I would usually count the seconds by eights.

7. Bar soap had to be rolled around in my hand in groups of eight. I had to rinse it properly. It had to be rolled out of my hand on the correct count, into the soap dish, in exactly the "right" position. It had to have whatever side I decided was the top, on top. If anything in this process was less than perfect, I had to do it again. If I lost count, I had to do it again as well.

8. I would not step on a crack in the sidewalk. More than once, I was almost injured by leaping at the last minute to avoid one. This has become a cliché. Especially since Jack Nicholson's performance in "As Good as it Gets." Nevertheless, it is very real. I was not as bad as that character and had no problem with tiled floors. Sidewalks however, took a great deal of attention.

9. It was my belief that if I walked on the left or right of an object in the street, like a lamppost or garbage can, it would affect a great deal. It was critical to walk on the correct side. I spent a lot of time sending my radar out to tell me how to walk.

10. If I felt that I had taken the wrong side, I had to go back and go to the correct side. This also was in effect while driving. I would pick exactly which white lines to let my tires go through while changing lanes.

11. I felt that I was leaving energy or picking up energy from my hands. The way that I touched things like banisters or elevator buttons, things that were handled by many people, was very important. I had many magical gestures to unload bad energy I felt I had picked up, or to reclaim good energy that I felt I had lost on such surfaces. These gestures were very graceful and looked perfectly natural. For years, I almost never placed my palm on publicly handled surfaces.

12. After the Tylenol poisoning in the 1970's, selecting groceries also became an energy issue. I would hold two or three perfectly good identical items in my hands trying to decide which one was clean and safe.

13. I had to get up many times at night and check the front door to make sure it was locked.

14. Dressing rituals such as which sock went on first or which leg I put in my pants first were major affairs each morning. This too came under the Energy Sensing category. I would sense which sock was meant to be on which foot. It was essential to pick the correct one. Sometimes I would have to switch socks.

Do you have any idea how much energy and time this disease takes? It can use you up. Everything is a decision. I would make a thousand decisions where someone not afflicted would make none. It is exhausting.

Fear. I lived in a state of constant fear. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is very much about fear. Fear of the millions of things you cannot really control and the life absorbing effort to try to control them. I felt that if I could just be perfect in all the rituals I would have a special level of protection against fate and the unknown that others did not have. What was worse, I had developed a fear of a special unknown that was out to get just me. An "unknown" that would happen, if I failed to do some of my oldest and most magical rituals. God only knew what would happen if I failed to do those acts.

Many of the rituals had to do with protecting my power. I believed that I had special powers, (well, actually I still do), and that I would lose them if I failed in the perfect execution of certain rituals. Now I know that I cannot lose them. What power I have is available to all beings. It is born of meditation, focus and a calm heart. Kundalini, Chi, and Ki, are all words used to describe the power that men and women can develop within themselves.

Ironically, my rituals were probably one of the strongest deterrents to this power's development. Now, with more clarity of mind and spirit, I seek to develop these "powers" in a healthy way and most importantly, in ways known to billions of people. They are not secret rituals. Shame and secrecy are facts of life to the sufferers of this disease. Lying to everyone as to why you do the things that they are able to see and hiding the rest. Friends tease you and strangers just look puzzled. Humiliation is common. It is very important to the OCD sufferer to hide what they are doing. No one wants to admit that they are compelled to do something so totally irrational. This makes it a dirty little secret. Something you live with and have no way to share. Even those who love you, who can see that something is wrong, are not taken into your confidence. If they are, they will probably be incapable of understanding that you cannot just stop. How often has the addict heard that they need to have more willpower? The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder sufferer is likely to hear similar things. Willpower is not only of little use, it is in many ways the actual cause of the problem. Will to control the uncontrollable and make "deals" with God, Fate, Destiny or whoever or whatever is in charge of the universe is the underlying event. The OCD sufferer is trying to control everything through the power of their will and their commitment to their rituals and other forms of acting out.

As I performed my rituals and put so much of my attention on trying to sense where to place my feet, or what I could touch, or which path to take, I was trying to control the universe. Nevertheless, a part of me knew how pitiful my attempts were. I could not, and cannot, say how such actions could protect me or anyone else. However, just the same, I would do them. I sacrificed my time, happiness and energy to some God or other who was supposed to provide me and my loved ones with protection. Moreover, all the while I was ashamed of myself.

Imagine the paradox. A hero, sacrificing so much for their loved ones and themselves and no one could even know about it. They could not know because they would think I was crazy. I did not want them to know because in my heart of hearts I felt that I really was crazy. I sacrificed my peace of mind in secret on my own hidden alter, all the while believing that I was doing it for nothing, but unwilling to take the chance that maybe I was right after all and it was necessary. Hell.

Fear, shame, lying and humiliation are normal for a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). "Tiger by the Tail" and the other edited excerpt articles I am distributing through these Internet channels are my attempt to help others recover from that suffering.
About the Author
B.Rockrunner is a pen name used by the author of "Tiger by the Tail" A personal story of recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These articles are edited excerpts from that work.
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