With my OCD, my brain tends to need to whittle down every observation into more and more minute detail. Part of this being a disorder is that it never stops at a place I am satisfied with.
A very simple and succinct example of this came up recently when asked about the pain I am feeling in my wrist. The common question for any doctor is “how would you rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.”
(Sidebar: if this was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, I think it would be obvious to everyone in the room. And the next room. And the next office. Unless they have great soundproofing. But that is not the point here!)
This question is posed to take something that cannot be generally seen and give the doctor(s) a very simple place to start. The goal is transferring something only I—the patient—knows into something that is not too verbose.
This makes sense. For most people.
I can indeed start there, I am obsessed with numbers and rate things all the time to try to organize a world that is complex of my own making.
However, my OCD can’t stop burrowing into more and more detail. I really would rather explain my pain in 700 words or more, and even then I would feel like I haven’t described it perfectly. When seeing a psychiatrist, who allows me to speak freely, I am a babbling mess. “Mess” in that I am often taking something that should be one sentence and turning it into a ten-minute non-stop oral history of the situation at hand.
So I am asked to rate my pain (or anything) on a scale of 1 to 10. And I start there. But then my OCD causes me to think more—unsatisfied with, say, an answer of “3.”
No, it’s more of a 3.5. I’ve now moved what was supposed to be a simple non-technical measurement by a literal order of magnitude. I am now rating on a scale of 1 to 100, my pain is a 35.
It gets even more detailed, seemingly around certain numbers. I have a notion that 7 is a special place on the scale of 1 to 10. I could get more into what I feel about 7 out of 10, but it’s just a place I feel a lot of detail. I understand 7. I know 7 in and out.
And thus, if I am around the number 7 (which my pain right now isn’t, but other things I rate are—like how much I enjoy something or how high my anxiety is)… I will go into quarters: 7.25, 7.5, 7.75.
This also happens around the number 9, and for a different reason. My OCD does not feel right saying “10” when asked the 1-out-of-10 question. I don’t feel like one can ever reach 10, as that essentially leaves no room for more detail on the upper end. Which I abhor. I always feel like more detail can be attained up or down from something. And I also don’t want to break the system and go over 10. There is no 11, or 10.5. That doesn’t work for me.
So in these cases (and they usually involve how high my anxiety is), I will often give ratings of 9.8, and even something like 9.85.
Note, I am not just throwing out numbers here. My OCD is just finding more detail to add to the base integer.
I think of 7 and 8, and I feel like I’m around 7. But not exactly 7. And not exactly 8. I find understanding in these whole numbers, and that understanding is not perfect enough. So I add (or subtract) from it more detail in the form of fractions. “.25” from 7 means something specific (depending on what is being measured.)
It is my way of being verbose when others attempt to contain me in brevity.
And, when finally translated by the person asking… I pretty much know they ignore the part after the decimal. They round down, I know they do.
I am at 7.25 in my mind. To them, I am a nice round 7.
I am truly a 7.25. And I will stick to that. Because that .25 means something to me.