Having OCD is no different than having a second1 job. Actually, “job” is the wrong term here, because we think of jobs as a life situation which we can quit and move on to another one. No, OCD is actually like having an entire second career. (Ok, that solves the “job” wording mentioned in the first footnote.)
For those of us who need to or wish to work for a living, we have a career. I don’t think I need to define any of this- you work for someone, you run a business, you take up a good portion of your day doing things for money2.
Those of us with OCD- no matter what type of OCD we have- are concurrently, all day long toiling away at a second career. OCD is work. It may help you to know this, as we often come off as mentally exhausted when it seems that- on the surface- we work about the same as the average person. Or, better put, our regular daily work is a known quantity of energy spent. Yet the ensuing exhaustion, at the end of the day or week, seems well above what would be expected from said energy spent on our work.
This is something to keep in mind when dealing with someone with OCD.
And the parallels to a career don’t just stop at the end result- exhaustion. No, it is truly a career. (It goes without saying, and you’re probably already thinking this- we don’t get paid money in this career.)
I’ll use examples from my own life. I’ve worked (very hard, and very well) in labor as a teenager, I’ve managed up to forty people in tech, as well I’ve run quite a few successful (hey, and some unsuccessful) businesses. So I’ve been in all aspects of “career3.”
So, the parallels:
1. Planning. My OCD requires my entire life to be planned out. This is an impossible task, and the impossibility weighs on me. But I try. I try to have every situation forthcoming known (including exact dates and times.) If anything is “up in the air” It causes a lot of distress. I attempt to mitigate that, and that is a lot of work- because beyond normal job situations, people don’t take to planning like normal job situations.
2. Hours. Twenty-four per day, minus sleeping. No lunch breaks4.
3. Hierarchy of bosses. These things all exist in my brain, but are analogous to real people. No, I don’t have multiple personalities. I do have a set of voices speaking to me (not in the schizophrenic way.) I have those that control me- my brain tells me what to do (compulsions) based on reactions to obsessions. This is my boss. I am either a faithful worker or a slave, depending on how you’d like the metaphor to spin out. These compulsions have a hierarchy. Say, like my boss’ boss. I cannot ignore that person- those are the compulsions I will act on no matter how crazy I will come off. Then there is a level down- simply my boss. I feel the need to act on the orders from this metaphorical person, but can hold back. I feel extreme guilt when I do, but I can.
4. My employees. I feel my entire environment is within my control. This is not to say I wish to control everything (and especially everyone) around me. But I feel the need to. I have a compulsion to do so. I try extremely hard- and often succeed- at not being a controlling person. That is important to note, I have restraint. But the existence of restraint suggests that I am restraining from something that is pushing on me. And that is my worldview- I have a set of tasks- so to speak- for the tangible, intangible, animate, and inanimate stuff around me. It could be the perfection of items in containers. It could be my wish to have people see me in a certain light. It is most everything. But unlike those without OCD, I feel that I have to control these things for the better of everyone. For my team, of which I am the leader.
5. Methodology. In my real life career, I shirk methodology often for the sake of efficiency. Ironically when it comes to my OCD career, this is not possible. I have charts of the way things should flow. Everything, especially the intangible. But real people come into play as well. But mostly these are high-level manifesto-like charts of how everything should be placed in hierarchies, offshoots, and actions.
6. Pay. As mentioned above, and as should be obvious- I make no (direct) money from this. But I do get paid. I feel the same satisfaction of all of the five above things coming together right, as I do closing a sale in my normal career. The same chemicals in my brain do their thing.
Thus I carry on, with what I feel is double the amount of work most (all non-OCD?) people take on5. By no means is this written for pity. No, I do not want that, ever. I do want people to understand me and my reactions to the rolling recent past. And not just me, but everyone with OCD as well as other mental illnesses.
If I knew this wouldn’t take hours of editing and perfecting, I would have a business card made up for this career. My title:
Obsessive Compulsive Extraordinaire
Vice President, Brain
Director of the Animate and Inanimate
Assistant to the Tangible and Intangible
1 Or third, or forth- I don’t know how many traditional jobs you have, I have many, but we’ll stick with the word “second” rather than “additional” because the point here is to show the direct linkages to that which comes with a traditional job to OCD. And now I’m explaining my writing without actually writing… ok, eyes back up!
2 If you don’t, note that I need a friggin’ assistant. Apply here.
3 Resume available upon request. It has been edited about seventy times over.
4 Yes, bathroom breaks. Let’s not get too personal here.
5 Not counting those who are retired or on a trust fund.