When things are calm in my mind1, I sit back and think to myself—what is OCD? What is the root of this condition I have? I section off anxiety and other mental disorders I deal with and focus just on the condition of obsessive-compulsive disorder. While I wallow in its harsh endless sea for most of my moments, I do indeed have flashes of clarity where I can think about these mechanisms.
“Mechanisms” is plural for a reason, because OCD is so multi-faceted—even just the parts of it which I experience, which is not the whole. No one, I don’t believe, experiences the whole of OCD. Regardless, I want to focus on the concept of priorities.
OCD—again among many other things—I believe is a malformed orientation of priorities. The way I phrase this is important, as I don’t necessarily believe one with OCD has the wrong priorities, but rather a different way of organizing them than people without OCD.
Most people think of priorities as a list. This list could be multi-dimensional (priorities at work, priorities with friends, priorities with money, etc.) But still, a list. On top is the most important stuff, at the bottom the least important. Most likely no one really tackles the most important stuff first all the time, but priorities remain linear and ranked.
The multi-dimensionality here is important when looking at someone like me, with my OCD. First, I’ll use an example that helps explain dimensions scientifically to people. I didn’t make this one up, it is something used often. But I’d like it to be here for reference.
Imagine you lived only in a two-dimensional world. Flat, no depth at all. You lived on a plain, infinitesimally thinner than a piece of paper—but like a piece of paper. That is your whole universe. It can be infinite in length and width, but not depth. As well you can. Now imagine there is a third dimension of depth (like the world you’re used to in real life)… and a sphere, a ball, passed through your two-dimensional world. You would see this three-dimensional ball as a point, expanding outward to a line until it crossed its maximum length, then the line would shrink down to a point and disappear. Disappear to you, at least.
I don’t see priorities in multiple dimensions. I see everything as if it were flat… with points being small concerns and longer lines being greater concerns. I do prioritize, but then obsession comes into play.
I must tackle priority number one. It is most important to note that with OCD “priority number one” is often not ranked number one for any reason my brain understands. At least not fully. It is the epitome of obsession, and thus compulsion—which I will get to in a bit.
This whole universe involves concepts like “want” and “need,” but the definitions of these two normally distinct concepts are almost always combined into one thing for me. We can call it “want/need2.” This often comes off as immature, this is something you see in children—the inability to distinguish between want and need. Well, note, I can fake it like I can distinguish, as I am self-aware of all of this happening. I just cannot control the, well, needs.
Now we get to compulsion. Upon my singular priority. I will give an example. I like fried chicken. I eat a lot of it because it is easy, and, well, I like it. It has solidified itself as a part of nights when I am alone—I almost always eat fried chicken3. It holds the promise of a good (enough) and comfortable (enough) evening for me. Problem: it is almost impossible to find in the city I live in. No, really.
Those establishments that sell fried chicken are generally on a once-per-day schedule (which is random), and they sell out quickly. Getting fried chicken for the night- the compulsion to- becomes an obsession from which I cannot be stopped. I have ridden a bike two miles in the rain to attempt to get fried chicken—with no promise of it being there. I’ve gone miles from place to place hunting it down.
Am I talking a lot about fried chicken? There you have it—a real-life OCD obsession. It is, in my non-dimensional world of priorities, a malformed orientation of such.
I’d almost like to take back the phrase “priority number one” in this case, because it suggests there is a priority number two. There is not. Things are not oriented that way. I can only see the one-dimensional line of want/need. And that is all that exists.
Until the next fixation which my brain must move within.
But for now, fried chicken.