OCD: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The following are bits of writing from many sources such as personal correspondence, posts to on-line discussion groups, notes, and occasionally even some journaling. All of this is informal in nature, but contains some interesting and/or useful information.

The Aviator and OCD
I liked "The Aviator," but I didn't think it did a good job of explaining his OCD. It put it on display, but fell short of a deeper explanation. Admittedly, there was a lot of other ground to cover.
A better show, even though it is admittedly somewhat two-dimensional in many other respects, is the detective series "Monk." They give him a bit too many symptoms for him to be anything but a caricature, but they present each realistically, at least in the first season (that's all I've seen so far).
For example, there have been several vignettes that pointedly address various features of the disorder, including lesser-known ones like the deficit in pre-pulse inhibition (described earlier in another post by me). This is characterized by a sensitivity to seemingly innocuous stimuli. In one scene Monk is speaking with his therapist, and he (Monk) apologizes as he takes off his shoe. He explains that he has a "huge rock" in it. He shakes it out, and a tiny stone rolls across the carpet. After Monk's description of it, the therapist asks, "Where's the rest of it?" Monk is slightly embarrassed when he acknowledges, "That it."
It's a vanishingly subtle point, but it goes a long way to clarifying how people with OCD have problems with sensory input. I wish there were more shows like this to raise awareness of conditions that are poorly understood except by suffers.

OCD and productivity
Occasionally I can turn some obsessions into something worthwhile. I worked on my resume/vita for several months, adding things to it, formatting it, and so on until I had a really incredible document. I need to figure out a job in which I can apply these obsessions. No. I need a job that depends on these obsessions. What really sucks in that my brain has two competing types of obsessions: 1) repetitive tasks and 2) novel tasks. If I could do both at the same time and make money at them, I would be set.

I saw a show on MSNBC the other night that followed several cases on a show about OCD people, hoarders, specifically. It was really enlightening, since I could see other manifestations of some of my problems. There was a girl who could not stop thinking about things like Beanie Babies (I’m sure this was an old show; I saw it at 3AM). I have had the same feeling about certain guitars and almost constantly waiting for the next Star Wars to show up on the shelves. I still check this one site almost every day for news about the next batch of figures to come out, even though they won’t be available for at 3 to 6 months from the time I hear about them. In the meantime there are several other figures which I already know about which I have not seen in the stores. This cycle of information/product availability is constant and will continue for several more years since there is another Episode still to come.
Occasionally I can turn some obsessions into something worthwhile. I worked on my resume/vita for several months, adding things to it, formatting it, and so on until I had a really incredible document. I did the same thing for C. I do something like this a lot with the preliminary work on a project. I write up the title page and table of contents for proposals, papers, etc. long before I ever get any substantial amounts of text together.

OCD and candy
I eat candy in even numbers though. Whenever my girlfriend offers me a Junior Mint or whatever, I sit there and wait until she hands me a second one before I eat it. I do that a lot with Skittles. In fact, since I was a kid I used to sort candy by color. Ever see the movie “Pink Floyd The Wall”? There’s a scene where he has all the debris in his smashed-up hotel room arranged into little piles and rows on the floor. Halloween night, every year, that’s what my living room looked like with all the candy from my haul.
The funny thing was that I never ate candy when I was a kid. The Halloween stuff sat around until the next summer. In the end my mom threw it away a lot of the time. A few years ago I started eating it like crazy. I used to buy those Sam’s Club 5 pound bags of Skittles, Sour Gummi Worms, Shock Tarts, or something else, and tear through them at an inhuman pace. This is a common pre-(and post-)alcoholism/drug addiction trait. Eric Clapton admitted he was a candy junky before he ever got drunk the first time. A lot of the time they put of bowls of candy at AA meetings. A friend who attended them told me it was fun to watch people lunge at them when they are refilled.

I used to be more into collecting physical things (e.g, cds, guitars, comic books, Star Wars toys, etc.), but I have shifted over to data now (e.g., mp3s, midi files, short films, programs, sound effects for synthesizers (none of which I have ever used, btw), and information about electronics (especially regarding guitars), shareware, etc. Much of this stuff I have never done anything with except burn it to a cd when I get enough.

More symptoms
I tend to do little things like counting, clipping my nails, twisting my hair (which is why it's always cut really short), etc. My more persistent obsessions are behaviors like collecting things. I'll obsess endlessly over guitars or other material things (none of which would actually impress anyone except perhaps another collector), but I will also download data endlessly. For example, I'll download tons of mp3s by a particular artist... and never even listen to them except perhaps once or twice. I just want to *have* them. On the other hand, revisiting things? No, I don't really go for that. I'm not much for sticking to schedules either.

One of my OCD things -especially when I was a kid- was to try to be balanced. I would do things a certain number of times with my left hand or left foot (e.g., stepping on a crack on the sidewalk), then the same with the other. If I walked and turned left, I had to turn right on the way back. I thought I was the only one who did things like that as a kid until I read some of David Sedaris' stuff.

There are a lot of behaviorist studies that look at the issue of salience of stimuli in reinforcement of behavior. For example, with autistic kids (known for their endless OCD rituals), they found that they could eliminate one component of the feedback from the ritual, and that would extinguish the behavior.
In one case, a kid used to spin plates on their side, the way you would with a coin. They covered the surfaces in the area with some carpet and found that it diminished the noise. This was the rewarding component of the ritual (as opposed to the feel/weight of the plates, the image of it spinning, etc.; all of which were interrupted or otherwise modified independently such as by turning out the lights when the ritual began).

OCD, cont'd
It's almost like OCD is a combination of chemical and psychological dependency. When you knock out one, the other will follow. I used to have a lot more O-C behaviors, but they disappeared while on the SSRIs (mainly Effexor, although I tried a couple others very briefly). That stops you from maintaining the behavior, although you will find that you initiate it in many cases. Eventually, you find that you haven't engaged in the behavior often enough for it to be reinforcing anymore, so that puts a stop to it.
In my case, one of the behaviors was counting backwards. I would do little "countdown" things while waiting at a red light or whatever, anything that was a predictable event. Once I started the medication, I found that I would start to count, but then would just stop it, whereas before the counting was like having a little song stuck in my head. Even if I tried to ignore it, the counting would continue. Like you, once I stopped the meds, those patterns were gone. Also, like I said, I've hit that "magic 30," so I think a lot of the "cure" was due to age-related maturation of my prefrontal cortex.

>I did have a problem for a year or two where I would pull out my eyelashes when I was frustrated.
This is an OCD thing. The fact that you did it under stress isn't surprising. Most OCD behaviors emerge as an anti-anxiety mechanism. I've forgotten the neurochemistry now, but the repetitive motion at the heart of so my OCD things soothes people. This is likely part of the reason why OCD is a co-morbidity factor in other disorders like schizophrenia and autism wherein the patients are constantly stressed by too much input (among other things, but sensory gating is a big problem in both these disorders).
Anything that is repetitive and relatively "easy" (in the sense you aren't required to concentrate on the procedure to do it) is a good stress reducer. One of the insights into OCD is that people (and animals) tend to exhibit OCD behaviors more when they are anxious, and are made disproportionately more anxious when prevented from engaging in these behaviors, thus it is likely that they serve some sort of stress reduction purpose. Further, you tend to find co-morbidity of OCD with a lot of other disorders like autism and schizophrenia where anxiety is a natural consequence (more than just a symptom) of the disorder, so patients tend to exhibit a lot of repetitive motion compulsions like rocking back and forth, pacing, hair twisting, etc.
Studies propose that exercise is stress-reducing, but I'm less certain that this is the result of a cardiovascular component and more the result of the fact that most exercises involve a series of repetitions. Just a thought.

Doesn't it feel so good when you get things in order?! I love it when I am able to bring a place back from the edge of insanity or brink of disaster or however you want to describe you mom's place. I remember talking to a girl in my M.Ed. program who was also ADD and OCD, and she remarked about how great it felt when she finally dumped off her recyclables at the community bin (this predates curbside for the area). I never noticed that feeling before, but she was right.

[Response to a friend]
>I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference between OCD or ADD, though.
Both disorders manifest themselves differently in different people, so there's a lot of variance within the population of each. Sometimes they can look a lot alike such as your mom jumping up to do something else all the time. The thing is, does she seem narrowly focused when she jumps up? Or is it more that she's just up wandering around the house and bouncing between tasks. The latter would be more of an ADHD thing. Those people tend to just get an impulse to do anything that pops into their head (e.g., Oh, I want a piece of candy; I think I'll put a load of laundry on; Where's that book I was reading earlier?). By contrast, OCD tends to be more specific, almost with a goal in mind, although the behavior isn't necessarily productive (e.g., I need to wash the dishes before they pile up, etc.).

Twisted up
David Sedaris has a few stories in which he goes into some of his weird OCD traits as a kid. He talks about weird noises that he used to make at the back of his throat. I was like, "I'm not the only one who did that?" I used to have a lot about things being balanced. Whatever I did on one side, I had to do on the other. It I turned to the left on my way somewhere, I had to turn to the right on the way back like I was unwinding a string that I had twisted up. If I stepped on a crack with one foot, I had to step on another crack with the other foot... and it had to be the same part of my foot.

Copyright Alexplorer.

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