Measure Magazine, Vol. VII

techniques. “People with OCD do not stay with the things they fear long enough to learn the truth–that is, that their fears are unjustified and that the anxiety would have gone away anyway on its own, without a compulsion or neutralizing activity,” Penzel said. This shows that if people were given the right treatment to cope with these unwanted and intrusive thoughts, they would be able to determine what is real and what is not. The objective of CBT is to have the patient remain with whatever makes them anxious so that they develop a tolerance for the thought or the situation. This gives them the power to ride through the wave of emotion and experience tolerance for the feeling, learning that nothing negative will occur as a result. From personal experiences with CBT, I have had to sit with situations that make me uneasy to teach myself to question my compulsions. I have spent countless hours sitting in a room where the books on the bookshelf are not aligned and things are out of place. Being that it was not my office, I could not rearrange the books despite my deepest urges. Sitting through uncomfortable situations that seem impossible is to challenge the underlying logic, which often tends to be irrational. One main practice I follow is to focus on my five senses when I realize I am overwhelmed in thoughts, especially when I am kept up at night. I start by identifying five things I can see, four things I can feel, three things I can hear, two things I can smell and one thing I can taste. This countdown is not only a distraction, but it allows me to feel grounded and back in reality again. I think of it as a reset button. For those nights when I am up for hours wired with thoughts of everything I have done that day and what I have left to do the next, this becomes the only way for me to sleep.

Despite the challenges of this complex mind game, OCD does have some powerful benefits, like having an eye for detail, and the ability to maintain a level of attentiveness that is otherwise hard to achieve. People strive to be detail oriented in order to succeed in their daily lives- but I’ve got that covered. I also have the ability to think about concepts that would never occur to others. The second guessing and the repetitive thoughts can be what makes someone create the best circumstances for themselves and everyone around them. There is a hidden beauty in OCD. Allow people with OCD to show this part of themselves on their own, not when they’re told to. Reflecting on my own experience with OCD, I think back to Jack Nicolson’s character. After CBT and a collection of personal practices, I can say most of those compulsions I saw in that character at 11 years old are no longer relevant. With time and effort, my OCD has matured from predominantly physical actions into more mental compulsions. Although I no longer tap walls or color code my food, I still have OCD. But this is not my quirk- it’s my strength.

Apparently, everyone has OCD. Often used as an adjective to describe being a neat freak or a perfectionist, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has become a catch-all term people use to describe themselves and others based on their organizational habits. In reality, the

type. Obsessive compulsive is a term that is often overused in a joking manner, which has led to many myths surrounding the reality of the disorder, and also eliminates meaning from the diagnosis itself. To look at characteristics of OCD as being part of a personality type takes away from the people who face more paralyzing side effects. “With OCD, there are obsessions (unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that repeat in a person’s mind) and compulsions (acts that a person repeats in order to ‘get rid’ of these obsessions). These compulsions are often done in a desperate attempt to protect oneself from the wave of anxiety the obsessions bring, not because the person actually wants to engage in the compulsion,” Tipu explained. Compulsive behavior is a means of self-protection from overwhelming thoughts and emotions. There are different levels of OCD based on the severity of the symptoms. When diagnosing this disorder, there is a checklist of symptoms people most commonly encounter. These symptoms include having unwanted ideas, worrying something bad will

obsessive compulsions that come from OCD have very little to do with cleaning. As a little girl, I would look out the window of the school bus and count the cracks in the sidewalk, a task that became impossible as the bus started to speed up, causing me to quickly lose count. It was a need that consumed my mind, and at 8 years old, it seemed logical that everyone would do that. I was about 11 years old when I walked into my parents’ room one day as they were watching “As Good As It Gets.” The main character of the movie is an older man who does

not want to be surrounded by people, and lives a life completely alone, which satisfies him. One of his compulsions is turning the lights on and off upon


happen, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, avoiding certain situations, and repetitive thoughts. This is a more complex set of circumstances than the average “neat freak” or “perfectionist” would experience. To discover more about each person’s individual symptoms, a therapist must meticulously catalog their patient’s types of compulsions and thoughts.

entering the house. He continues counting until he feels that he has done it the correct amount of times, which is a personal amount known only to him. He treated locking doors the same way. I noticed that the character and I acted similarly, and shared this observation with my parents. Although my behavior slightly varied, his repetitive counting and organizational needs were something I connected with. I saw myself in an aging Jack Nicholson.

Two of the main components of OCD are doubt and guilt. Everyone experiences feelings of doubt and guilt sometimes, but people living with OCD feel these emotions on a chronic, daily basis. By feeling undue guilt and constant self-doubt, it becomes nearly impossible to perform daily activities; a person loses confidence and becomes burdened by these heavy emotions. A daily routine can be destroyed by repetitive thoughts about a conversation with a friend or teacher. A person with OCD may doubt the way their world works and their own ability to perform even a simple task. OCD becomes a battle between ideas, obligations and recurring

Apart from these comparisons, some of the other compulsions I experienced as a child were less

stereotypical. The first one was wall tapping. When I would accidentally bump into a wall or my hand touched it, I would feel the need to tap it again. Typically, I would tap it about four times, but if I thought there was a chance that I accidentally did it an odd number of times, I would go up to six. This habit eventually died down after middle school. Another memorable event occurred during a sleepover with friends. My mom had bought us different types of candy and said to divide them up between ourselves. As a middle schooler with undiagnosed OCD, I assumed I would literally divide the candy up. My two friends sat patiently as I laid out the M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids and Skittles, and color coded them. Then, I further divided them based on their type and the amount, an extremely time consuming task. At this moment, I probably should have recognized that my urges were not typical. As I grew a little older, I would sit in classrooms and agonize over the half-erased whiteboards. Rather than paying attention to the lecture, I would focus on the various leftover scribbles, hoping the teacher would notice and remove them. In her article for The Atlantic, Fatima Tipu identified one important misconception about OCD: that OCD is a quirk, and its symptoms are the result of a specific personality

thoughts. It is easy to then agonize over this “unproductive time.” To think that someone living with OCD can control the thoughts that enter their brain is unreasonable, as

that task is an impossible one. “Obsessions are biochemically

generated mental events that seem to resemble one’s own real thoughts, but aren’t...As biochemical events, they cannot simply be shut off at will,” explained experienced psychologist Fred Penzel, Ph.D. As resisting an obsessive thought is basically unachievable, a common therapy practice is attempting to refuse to comply with the compulsion using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

ILLUSTRATIONS Sarah Ditterline



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