There are many characteristics to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder1. Everyone with OCD has some of them. I highly doubt anyone with OCD has all of them. Some of them exist in the realm of the stereotypical- hand washing, having to touch metal items, constantly checking the stove to make sure it is off. The stereotypes are used for humor, which is fine- as long as it is noted that these things are absolutely debilitating for some people. As in- these things are not just quirks, but things that prohibit them from living a full life. Often prohibit them from having jobs. Disastrous situations like that. It is true.
I’m a little different. And while it is part of the goal of many articles on this site for me to tell you all of the characteristics of my OCD, I’m going to focus on one that pretty much never makes it into the universe of stereotype. It really doesn’t make for a good Monk-like character2.
With most every action of any import3 in my life, I find myself immediately- after taking said action- consumed with the thought of wanting to go back in time a few seconds or minutes and re-do how I performed such action. And it is not as simple as it sounds. It is not like being on stage, giving a 5/10 performance and kinda wishing you would have given a 9/10 performance. No, this is a constant stream that is part of my every-second architecture of thought. It is part of me- more so, it is me.
I’ve discussed the concept of “every eventuality” and how it applies to me and others with OCD. Our thoughts have tentacles (weird metaphor, but let’s go with it) that reach out into the future and force us to think of every possible way the fruit of our actions can turn out.
With this “every eventuality” thinking, the second I take an action, I see all of the negative ways that action could play out. And I need to go back in time and not do that action right then. To think about it more. To have it back, for just a bit, and do it again but differently.
I’ll give an example, with another sub-characteristic of this. Timing is a major part of this way of thinking I have. Everything in my life has to be done at the right time, so it is seen in the right light. I need to send an email to someone. I will wait and consider the exact right time that email should go out, assuming the recipient will read it immediately. They may not, but they can. So I prepare for that. And, while I’ve certainly spent far too much time crafting the wording of the email (that part is for another article), it will be ready to be sent eventually. And thus, now I must send it. And the second I do send it, after going back and forth moving it from my “pending send” folder4 back to my “drafts” folder… I finally let it go into the wild. And pretty near 100% of the time after it is sent, I want it back. I want to send it at another time. Possibly night time so I don’t have to deal with a back-and-forth with the recipient now. Possibly the next day, first thing so it can be dealt with when I am in what I consider (and shit, do I consider over and over) myself to be in the best state of mind to deal with the results of sending the email.
So. I have taken an action. It is as exhausting to me as reading that last paragraph probably was to you5. At this point I have been known to pace wildly, take my fist and hit the floor, any number of things (sometimes literally harmful to myself) in anger that I cannot rewind time and do the action over again. Key: The action is taken, I have noticed one of the many eventualities that could come from said action that I did not think of before, and I am now consumed. I am now obsessed with that which WAS in my control and is NO LONGER in my control. That is not a good state for me.
This leads us to something I haven’t talked about much- compulsion. Obviously a concept that will weave through many articles on this site. But focusing on this issue- my compulsion (while most often not acted on) is to do some rather extraordinary things. Would I break into someone’s place and delete an email? Will I send another email maybe asking the person to ignore the first? Things I have and have not done (for example, I have not broken into a place, ever)… but have thought of all of them and more. Any way-out there act you can think up, after the obsession part sets in, for any tiny to large action/reaction… I’ve had the compulsion to do. And I usually can’t (I am an obsessed rule follower, to boot!) So I internalize. I hate myself. I get angry at me. I know I cannot rewind time, but I could have done things differently ten seconds ago.
I don’t always move on from this in a healthy way. I am not healthy. None of this is healthy. I store the hatred of myself. While I need to move on and do things… I remain obsessed. Sometimes the obsession just passes, and the reaction I had stays. Sometimes the obsession passes… and comes back! Hours or even days later. Sometimes weeks. I am never free from any obsession I have to rewind time.
I just know I can’t and I hate me for that.
Time moves forward and I hate physics for that.
1 I’m writing out the whole term because starting with the entirety is important here. So work with me, we’re going to trim it down to one thing.
2 I like Monk. Similar to how real police sometimes like CSI-type shows.
3 “Any import” is a key phrase here. This condition applies to only a certain number of events, every day. It is a lot. I do not count them. The word “import” following “any” is there just to note that a human being makes around 35,000 decisions per day- and this condition does not apply to all 35,000-ish. That would paralyze me. But let’s just say it’s certainly more than twenty!
4 I have a two-minute delay I have set in my email software that starts after I hit “send.” The email sits in the outbox for two minutes while I consider if it should be going out at this exact time. This does not necessarily solve this issue, it may exacerbate it. But it has to be there. I need that safety. Emails cannot just go out right after hitting “send.” This is actually a level of protection anyone can provide themselves for many other reasons. It does help you to check your email after hitting “send” to make sure you didn’t fuck up. But, I take it to another level mentally.
5 If it wasn’t exhausting, here’s an exercise to put you in my shoes. Re-read that paragraph fifty times. Do it! Now you’re me.