Nine years ago, reeling from having the rug pulled out from under me, I entered a therapist’s office and asked, “what is wrong with me?”
The same question everyone around me has been asking for decades.
After years of sorting through my life, there was a diagnosis: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The symptoms were there—fear of contamination, handwashing, checking things over and over again—but every time I tried to challenge those compulsions, my head filled not with fear, but rage.
Recently, I discovered the reason why treatment wasn’t working. I don’t have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have the rarer and difficult to diagnose Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.
You know you hit the right disorder…when you read the description and are flooded with memories that completely match the symptoms. It’s a relief to finally, finally have the right name for all this discomfort.
Then you realize you have a personality disorder. Like, my personality is so far from normal that it’s “disordered.” Time to resurrect that exceptional people book club, huh?
Less than a week earlier, in response to a birthday text where a friend asked me how I was doing, I replied, “stuck on hamster wheels and lost down rabbit holes.” Ironically, it’s a great description of what living with OCPD is like.
I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, working so very hard to get things accomplished and checked off the list, but by the end of the day, having little to show for my efforts. Even in these times, when the minutes drag by like hours, the days like weeks, and the months like years….the to do list seems to be growing instead of shrinking. (Don’t ask about the bank account. Spoiler alert: it’s not growing nearly as fast.)
With OCPD, the organization and procedure for each task is detailed and precise. Every step in the process has to be carefully thought out and planned. If my brain even has one molecule of anxiety, I have to walk away and calm myself down. And if the task isn’t done perfectly, I have to start from the beginning and redo it until it is perfect.
I probably look just like that hamster, expending all that energy with no forward progression.
Pretty much my entire life....via GIPHY
Probably because I’m constantly getting stuck in rabbit holes I dug for myself. You know when you put one thing away in the junk drawer, which leads you to organize the junk drawer, where you find that button that popped off a shirt a couple weeks ago, which leads you to find the shirt to sew the button, which leads to doing a load of laundry? Rabbit hole.
Well, I tend to dig a lot of them, and then proceed to get lost wandering around the resulting maze of tunnels. It starts innocently enough with one task, like putting an item away in a drawer, but then I notice that the drawer needs to be cleaned. As I’m taking out one item from the drawer to clean it, I notice it belongs in another room, but that space needs to be decontaminated before anything can go into there. I start making a list of how to clean that space, and well, now that first item won’t get put away until I get that list completed.
Of course, life is what gets in the way of plans, and before I can finish that list, I have to sort the mail for an important document or clean out the car or get the laundry room ready for the possibility of something breaking and needing repair….
As I’m trying to fill up one rabbit hole, another dozen or so appear.
For years, I believed the issue was that I was lazy or disorganized or, dare I say it, stupid, to figure out how to function like a normal person. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fight my brain, which always wins, but now it’s time to figure out a life that works for how I’m wired.
It’s time to step off the hamster wheels and come out of the rabbit holes….and start writing the first chapter of the rest of my life.