At times I ask myself to try to explain the OCD mind the best I can. This is something that will take many attempts. This is one of them.
Having OCD provides one1 with a brain that works very differently than we’ve come to know the human brain over thousands of years. Most of us do not study the brain, so we learn how the more normal mind works through observations and history passed down on the actions people take—all of which we surmise is the workings of the involuntary and voluntary mind. We learn from our parents, and then friends and acquaintances what “normal” is, and we attribute that to the mind. We don’t know how the mind works, but we know the results of it working, and can—in knowing many people—triangulate from there.
Oh, also, we all have a mind! That may make things simpler and more confusing at the same time. Simpler in the fact that we can track our own unexplained goings on in our minds with what we sense in others’ minds. More confusing, at times, because I know for certain that we all know one thing—our minds are more powerful than any of us utilize. Humans—that includes you—live in constant frustration that we have this powerful engine, but we can only seem to get it into first or second gear2.
So you are aware of the power of the mind, even though you can’t explain it all scientifically3 and you really don’t know what’s doing what—but you do know normal from abnormal.
Ok. We have that whole… thing down. Now imagine your brain starts as a perfect circle of squishy clay, and at the moment you become you (and even as you grow) certain areas of this perfect circle deform. You now have bulges and valleys. Consider the bulges high-sensitivity areas (maybe your eyesight—you have very powerful eyesight that can determine the difference between to very minutely distinctive colors.) Consider the valleys to be areas that are essentially dulled (maybe your grasp of composing music, complex math… something you just don’t grasp fully enough to really do much with.)
Note! We’re not talking intelligence here… we’re talking sensitivity. Your ability to compose great music may be a sign of intelligence, but your sense—in your mind—of the notes of the B major scale4 is more apt to what we’re talking about here. Sensitivity, sensation… sense.
Now, we move to the brain of someone like me, with OCD. Imagine starting again with the perfect circle, but rather than some areas—upon becoming the person I am/we are—that circle remains a perfect circle and just grows. Every area of the brain becomes seemingly equally of heightened sensitivity. Whereas some people—I would argue for the purpose of mental health—have areas of thinking that are less at the forefront, not always being thought about… people with OCD have all of these areas of thought at the forefront at all times. This is not healthy—a key to human survival is to have heightened senses in some places at some times, and dulled sensitivity in other places at other times.
Again, this has nothing to do with intelligence. Because intelligence is the ability to harness this sensitivity and produce something from it. Those with OCD are not savants5, we are normal in that aspect. Which makes things all the more difficult. We cannot harness all that we have at the forefront of our thoughts and senses (which is exponentially more than a normal person.) But it is natural for the human mind to want to harness all it senses into something productive. Productive does not need to be a creation—it merely needs to be acted on in a way that becomes A Thing. This term being in the generic is important, because we do not often know what that Thing is. We just know we have a heightened sense of near everything around us, begging to be acted upon.
We sense that action must be taken, always.
Let’s step back and think of the stereotypical ticks you often think of when you think “OCD.” Checking to make sure the stove is off 5, 10, 20 times in the course of a short period of time. This is the perfectly normal sense of fear of everything that can happen if the stove is left on… always present. After the first time checking (normal), that sense should be dulled. But it is not. It remains just as present and at the forefront.
Now let’s walk down some areas less stereotypical of OCD. I have a very difficult time listening to music. I love music. But when I listen to music, it brings about so many thoughts that I feel I need to act on somehow. Music is an engine of imagination, but for many with OCD (at least me), imagination doesn’t stop with daydreams. It involves a host of other thoughts, some hard to categorize. Self-reflection: I am not the best person I could be. Love: I sense a perfect love, and realize I am not giving that to my partner. The sense of being someone else: I should explore a totally different life. And hundreds more senses, all with actions dangling from them that I cannot harness.
Another: I have an extreme feeling like I don’t belong where I am at. All the time. This is because I have a heightened sense that I should be somewhere else, being more productive. “Productive” here often remains, again, a generic concept without an actual plan. I do sense all the things I could be doing, and I have to weigh them all. But mostly, I remain with the knowledge that I am sensing something that needs action, that I cannot harness sitting where I am at.
These are a few examples of things being sensed in the OCD mind, often at one time. Go ahead and multiply that by your favorite three-digit number6. Seemingly everything that can be sensed, is put to the forefront for us—similar to putting a formula in front of a mathematician, but just with every thing (two words.) And unlike the mathematician, who can focus on this sensation with their expertise, and do something with the aforementioned formula, we often can’t do anything with that which is being sensed in a heightened manner.
We live in constant frustration of not being able to harness the power we know our mind has, because the existence of that power is always being told to us by our own minds, yet we can only do what we have the expertise to do. That which we do not have the expertise to do—we still sense it as if we do.
We sense that action must be taken, always. This summarizes everything OCD: we sense that action must be taken, always. Or, take a look at it this way—our minds are consumed with the following simple item:
List of Things to Do:
1 I was going to use the term “the sufferer” here but it is beneficial to all to note that OCD is not all suffering. While at times I will go as far as mentioning ways the OCD mind is stronger than a normal mind, we can stick with something a little more toned down here and just think of the OCD mind as… well, you’ll see. [BACK]
2 I try not to include too many car racing references on this site, because once those floodgates open for me… well, it would just be too much. I also think in terms of NASCAR race cars—which only have four gears. This number seems to work perfectly in metaphor for me. [BACK]
3 You don’t need to. [BACK]
4 My favorite. Along with C# / Db Major. Both because of the sound and because of the way the keys used are laid out on the piano. [BACK]
5 Eh, I’ve decided not to go down this route in this article, ignore this footnote. [BACK]
6 You should have one! [BACK]