I was recently looking at a report on advertisements on Facebook that are related to OCD when I came across a political ad for Justin Simmons, who is running for state representative in Pennsylvania. (Unfortunately Facebook makes it difficult to link to the actual ad, as it is inactive now, but if you scroll down on this page you’ll find it. If you don’t want to do that, I’ll summarize for purposes of this article.)
(One side note, if we want to get even more parenthetical… I don’t have any home or business in Pennsylvania, and I don’t know anything about this person or his politics beyond this one issue. And politics, of course, have nothing to do with what I am going into here.)
The gist of the ad was a response to this politician missing votes, and in the ad, he addresses this saying he was dealing with a flare-up of his OCD. I had a variety of reactions to this. My first was—because I know about OCD very well and the concept of an OCD flare-up is not foreign to me at all—to look at this and as someone who may be completely unfamiliar with OCD, and who was only interested in the positives or negatives of his message. His message being he couldn’t fully do his job because of an acute situation with OCD.
I’ve been told not to put myself in others’ minds, but I often have to. I try not to write from that standpoint, but in this case, we’re going there because it circles around to affecting me. Which I’ll get into.
So my first reaction was: people are going to look at this as such a lame excuse! How does OCD stop someone from doing their job casting votes in the Pennsylvania House? OCD isn’t like that! OCD isn’t like… diverticulitis.
Well, it is true that OCD does not affect the intestines, but it absolutely is like any disease, disorder, or illness that one would classify as “physical.”
My second reaction was both to relate to the idea of an “OCD flare-up” and to feel this person’s pending uphill struggle to have such a thing accepted as a reason for not being able to do things in the working world.
OCD can flare up just like any physical ailment. Your hemorrhoid issues flare up, you’re going to have a tough time doing a lot of things. Same goes for OCD. And what is key here is that OCD—like you may be more comfortable thinking about chronic physical ailments—does go in waves of being subsided and, well, flaring up.
For me, OCD flare-ups are similar to anxiety attacks. First, like anxiety attacks, the severity of these flare-ups can be put on a scale of, say, one to ten. And they do come in waves, and they are sometimes caused by something known, and they are conversely sometimes caused by something unknown.
I write a lot about my “OCD Episodes.” These are OCD flare-ups. When I write about these, I write stream-of-consciousness as I am experiencing them. I should also take a step back and explain the underlying concept of what is going on.
So these are related to anxiety attacks. And they are often filled with anxiety. However, they are often based on some tenets of OCD:
1. Mistrust in the way the world around me is working.
2. Being overwhelmed by thinking of every eventuality, especially when focused on the negative and not being able to put a fix for these eventualities in place.
3. Being stuck in a loop of thinking, which happens for many everyday situations like deciding on the color of a chair to purchase. The brain can’t get out of the loop and decide because all of the information it is obsessed with.
4. Things not being organized. Ok, this is kinda stereotypical, but it is real. And it is much more than a fetish over containers and labels. It is a feeling that those around me have created a space that is wholly disregarded in terms of organization. And thus I see all the problems this can cause now and in the future.
(These are not all the tenets of OCD, but they’re the big ones and the ones which cause flare-ups or episodes most often.)
So these things happen, and as it were with OCD… the brain creates a loop of thinking where the worst of the above is fed back into the obsessive end of things. This, for some, creates compulsions the sufferer is locked into. For others with Pure-O OCD like me, it just feeds more and more obsessive thinking. Regardless of the flavor of the OCD, the point is a flare-up takes over many faculties that are needed for everyday work and existence.
The brain creates feedback much like a guitar and amplifier. Sound in, sound out, sound back in louder, sound back out louder, and so on.
And this is why an OCD flare-up is much like a flare-up of any physical ailment. And why the person who is having such a flare-up should be treated no differently than if they were having a physical issue that—I do think—is seen as much more acceptable.
So indeed one can miss votes on the floor if that is their job. Or, they could be absent from any other life responsibility and/or event because of their OCD.
It doesn’t mean they’re obsessed with being back home organizing a closet.
It means they are under attack from their brain. And their brain is taking over their thinking. And their thinking is not fully available at this moment.