OCD and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Part 2

Super strange being in this “new normal” with OCD. I’ve noticed what was considered “abnormal behavior” before is now just being careful.


We got a grocery delivery today. I maintained my distance and wiped down the groceries. Wiped down things I touched during the process of putting them away. Washed my hands. I thought “this is what it would be like constantly if my OCD was unchecked”. I’ve been close to this level before there was a pandemic. But now it’s considered cautious behavior.

And I wonder where the lines blur, or when they can blur. Were they always blurred?

OCD and the COVID-19 Pandemic

I read that some people are being triggered relentlessly during these times, and I can’t imagine what that must be like.

I think I’m in the “other group”. The ones that are just sailing on as usual. Ironically, I haven’t had any major changes in my behavior. Just taking the usual precautions as everyone else is. Washing my hands, disinfecting, and staying indoors as often as possible. Although, I’ve always had a tendency to stay indoors most of the time. So this paranoid way of life is nothing new to me.

And that’s the funny thing about it all. It’s like looking out on everyone and seeing them acting at your worst moments of OCD. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I would take the entire burden of it if I had to, because that was once my life and I’m used to it. I hope all of this passes soon, because I prefer a life without a pandemic.

Overthinking

Lately I’ve been wondering how interesting it is that we tend to overthink in general. One can say I’ve been overthinking about overthinking.

In some cases, it’s helpful to overthink. We can make logical decisions based on the thoughts we sifted through. In other cases, we can get trapped in a never ending cycle of dwelling.

This is how my obsessions form most of the time. I always get caught in that cycle of overthinking, somehow tricking myself into the habit that I can think my way out of anything. But the problem is (and I’ve mentioned this comparison before), those with OCD tend to get their cars stuck in the mud. The car is our brain trying to think it’s way out, and sometimes we need help to unstick it.

And then I wonder about how awesome we all are at problem solving. Since we tend to overthink about a lot of things. We tend to excel at getting unstuck when it comes to things that don’t trigger our OCD.

It’s really about how much discomfort and stress is caused by the overthinking. I try to catch myself when a stressful thought passes through my mind more than 3 times. How addicting it can be, ruminating. It can be a safe space and a terrible thing at the same time. I’m aware of what happens when I let myself dwell.

Social Media Ads Align with Obsessions

I tend to google a lot of stuff when in full obsession mode.


This can be anything from statistics on theft and fires to prevention of those things. Like for instance security objects like cameras and devices for the front door. I put myself in a position where I sit and obsess for long periods of time. This carries over to intrusive thoughts and fears that I know are not worth worrying about beyond basic preparation.


So that whole thing where Facebook and Instagram shows you products aligned with your searches REALLY sucks when it comes to this. Ironically it makes me search it less so I don’t see it again and get triggered to do more internet searching. It’s like social media ads show me when I’m overthinking. So thanks for calling me out at least.

Magical Thinking

This is an interesting topic for me. Magical thinking seems to have different meanings depending on the context. It can be repetitiveness in OCD, feeling like you have to do something ‘x’ amount of times or ‘y’ won’t happen. It can be thinking that ‘x’ will happen, so you have to do ‘y’ over and over again to prevent it. When in reality, it’s irrational to stress over these actions. Unfortunately, the brain of someone with OCD makes it difficult, if not impossible to stop these thoughts and actions.

I do have a lot of magical thinking. I’m aware of those thoughts, even as they cruise through my head on a regular basis. Just being aware of how my brain behaves has helped this a lot. I view my magical thinking as woven within many of my obsessions.

Before I had knowledge of what was happening, and how it was happening, magical thinking was a big part of my daily life. From checking to more checking. Usually revolving around my safety. The difference between then and now, is that I don’t let those thoughts control me.

Over ten years ago, I had a lot of obsessions about religion, which I personally classify as magical thinking for myself. I’m not religious, yet I fell into this magical way of thinking about demons.

I became fascinated by demons, and that fascination fell right into the OCD trap. I obsessed over them being around me, being controlled by them. I bought books, studied them, getting prepared for something that never happened. “What if they do exist? I better read up on them.” The difference between this behavior being OCD and not schizophrenia, is that I was aware even then that those thoughts were not rational. They just fell into my head and since I didn’t know I had OCD, I just let them run around saying whatever they wanted. It was like knowing I was thinking about it too much, but being unable to stop it.

As some themes with OCD tend to do, it ran its course. I probably became hyper focused on something else and the demons just took a backseat. I look back on this time of my life and think it was all ironic, like my head was trying to tell me something was wrong.

When I realized I had OCD, my actual demons were put in the spotlight. The demons called obsessions and compulsions. The thoughts that caused so much grief. I started focusing on those instead, and it made a world of difference.

OCD and Other Things

I’m a flighty person. I have trouble making decisions from future plans to where to eat. I’m starting to tie this together with my OCD.

It’s usually obsession based, these decisions that bounce around in my head. A twenty second conversation of “well maybe this, or maybe this, or maybe this instead” has a TON of obsessive thoughts fueling these words, and tends to annoy anyone who is on the receiving end of it. Pretty much any obsessive thought that seems to be a theme with me (fear of stuff I’ve posted about before), added with pricing, convenience, and cravings are blended together, equaling me changing my mind 5 different times in less than 5 minutes.

On another note, I had trouble concentrating in school growing up. I’d like to think I was fully ready to take on learning at 28 years old. When I went back to college at 29 I was prepared for it, and was often on the Dean’s List. This was with OCD, along with it’s annoyances and distractions. On top of my notes often being a confused train wreck and words that I hand wrote spelled weird. The second and first letter often being switched.

When I took two college classes at 18 I did really bad. I barely graduated high school because I was involved with a lot of theater, but also because I flat out didn’t understand how to learn in a classroom. Someone could show me how to write a paper and it was beyond me. Math was a nightmare. It’s like my brain took longer to get to the point where it could learn successfully.

I heard that OCD can be confused for ADHD/ADD. I can see this. And some people do have both. Even with all of this, I don’t think I have ADD as I can now ride through my distractions and be okay most of the time, completing tasks with everything going on in my head. It took a lot of time to learn how to do this. OCD itself can have enough power to make it seem like several disorders. It’s wild as hell.

Interpersonal Relationships and OCD

My boyfriend is one of the most understanding and patient people that I’ve ever known. I always feel unbelievably lucky to be with him. And because of his amazing ways, I always feel like the ball on the “ball and chain”. I know that most of this thinking is all in my head. These thoughts tend to sneak into my mind when I’m anxious.

It’s not feeling like a burden but not feeling like you are offering all that you could. Reality is that I am doing fine, and doing my best.

I always get confused as to which part is my OCD telling me things and which part might be a normal train of thought. I think any thought that is cast into the future is probably my OCD. “What if he gets tired of you and leaves you?” Just seems to have OCD written all over it when it goes on repeat like a record skipping.

I can’t tell if some of my friendships and relationships ended in the past because I didn’t have a grasp on my OCD. How much of my paranoia was a gut feeling and how much was my OCD?

Although, I think everything happens for a reason. If someone wants to be with you, they will be with you and vice versa. I learned to not force something that simply isn’t working, even in friendships.

When I was younger, I thought disclosing my OCD once in the beginning was enough to excuse my possible future weirdness. What I know now, is that it never hurts to bring it up again. Communication is extremely important, especially during bad spells.

“My brain won’t let this thought go, and I know it’s irrational.” This leads to my boyfriend talking me out of the thought. My best friend does something similar, I don’t even think she notices how much she helps me because it feels so natural.

This is an example of a good social support system working well for those with mental illness. It really helps a lot.

OCD Latches onto Comorbid Disorders

Fear of hurting others is a very common obsession with OCD. I’ve been seeing people coming out and talking about this more, so I figured I should tell my story of how this fear manifested in my OCD.

It feels like the more you try to be a good person, OCD tries to fight against that and send you unwanted worst case scenarios.

I talked about having setbacks in an earlier post. I had one of these in my mid-twenties. I was social, working, happy, and just living life day by day. It had been about three years since my diagnosis and I was recovering successfully. My OCD was manageable, and I was using the tools I had to squash most of it.

And then I watched Dexter. 

I never finished the show because the OCD part of my brain resurfaced, dramatically, and decided to throw intrusive thoughts rapid fire right at me. 

“You’re going to become him one day.”

Over and over and over and over.

This is stemming from my childhood. 

I had a nasty few years of conduct disorder existing with my OCD. (I will write more about this as this blog continues.)

Dexter brought it all back to the front of my thoughts, thanks to some of his flashback scenes as a kid. My OCD latched onto it, like a magnet, and I didn’t even realize that this new obsession was my mind playing a mean trick on me. It completely blindsided me, and I didn’t know enough about OCD back then to catch it.

Weeks later, I eventually broke down crying and in full panic mode. I was freaking out, thinking I was going to kill someone. The thoughts wouldn’t stop and they were deafening. So I called the VA crisis line. They said there’s some hidden room I can go to in the hospital; check in at the desk and they’ll talk to me in that tiny room. I went in the same day.

I used to view this appointment as embarrassing. But there I was, OCD completely at the wheel. I told the lady about my thoughts and then blurted out the stuff about my conduct disorder as a kid. Everything my OCD was telling me was pouring out of my mouth, as I’m crying and shaking. She was quickly taking notes, paused, and looked me in the eyes and said, “if you are what you say you are, you wouldn’t be here right now.” It was like she hit the brakes.

Naturally, recommended to talk to a therapist. To sum it up, these sessions were focused on my OCD. It didn’t take many appointments to have me back on track again. We talked a bit about my childhood, and I was given an additional diagnosis of mild PTSD. It was like a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had more insight into my mind.

My friends and I did a fun Dexter themed photo shoot after that, and those thoughts disappeared for a long time.

Those intrusive thoughts pop up once in awhile. But now I catch them in their tracks, and smack them down to the ground.

15 years ago

Before I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t know what to make of my thoughts. I wasn’t able to see a therapist and even if I did, I wouldn’t have known what to tell them. I wasn’t feeling depressed but I wasn’t feeling okay either.

My thoughts were everywhere, scattered and focused at the same time. I didn’t feel like I found my identity because my mind was telling me all kinds of horrible things. I thought my mind was turning against me, and that’s how life was going to be from now on. So I started a journal.

I looked through it recently, and found that I was transcribing my intrusive thoughts. It’s like a different person wrote most of the entries.

Just scrawled with no context. Seems ironic.

I think if I would have had a name for it all, it would have been a lot easier. Labeling what mystery thing was in my brain made a huge difference when I was diagnosed. It formed a path for me.

I consider myself lucky that I caught it when I did. I hope that people suffering from some unknown find the strength to keep going and seek help.

Fears

Content warning: this might be something triggering for those with OCD who are still grappling with their fear-based obsessions and compulsions.

I realized I can’t write about my compulsions without first writing about my fears. While not all my compulsions are driven by fear, both the obsessions and compulsions driven by fear are hard to curb. Fear is a different beast than anxiety. Fear causes my obsessions, my obsessions cause anxiety, and the anxiety causes compulsions.

We all have fears. It’s normal to talk about your biggest fears. I have what I consider normal fears that I know won’t happen, like certain natural disasters that won’t hit where I live. I have my “other” fears. I classify them differently in my head because my OCD snatches them up like a hungry wolf. Some of these fears have the potential to happen and some I’m very aware will never happen. These fears cause anxiety and sometimes compulsions. Sometimes behaviors that can’t really be classified into compulsions (yet). 

My current fears:

House fire – losing everything I have and putting me, my boyfriend, and our cat in danger.

A break in – my stuff gets stolen while I’m gone and my cat gets out or gets hurt.

Things literally blowing up in my face – it’s a fear that pops in my head when I’m cooking or using an electronic.

Losing my mind – completely losing control of my actions and thoughts and being somewhat of a passenger in my head, watching myself do and say things that I can’t control.

Hurting people – kind of goes with losing my mind, just being a passenger while this is happening and not being able to stop it.

These fears do evolve into obsessions, because obsessions are personal. That’s why one person with OCD can have a completely different set of obsessions than another person. There are some obsessions that are common, because they have a chance of happening and they put us in harm’s way. A lot of it is based on our safety and the safety of those close to us.

How I approach this type of obsession:

I guess it can be called self-exposure therapy. I fight it head on and dive right in to the thought. I talk about it and write about it. I read about other peoples’ obsessions and get perspective. I look at things online that may have to do with the particular fear, I expose myself to it as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll imagine an over-the-top scenario in my head that is like a cartoon and unrealistic. This eventually leads to me not obsessing about it, and if this process buys me a couple months of not having it pop in my head, then I consider that progress. 

The important part is that I’m not hard on myself. If it takes a long time to get over these obsessions, then so be it. I try my best and that’s enough for me.