More than the SSRIs, I’ve learned to live with my OCD by accepting it. I used to feel “crazy” or like I needed to hide this part of myself. I simply wouldn’t tell anyone of the things happening in my mind. If I found myself counting while with friends, I hoped they thought I was distracted or daydreaming. I never admitted that my walking patterns involved taking a certain number of steps. I thought all of these patterns were embarrassing and indicative of some evolutionary failure. I am not fit to survive, because I am so nuts.
But I’ve learned that that’s not true. And in fact, there are parts of my OCD I've come to think are actually useful. For one, it seems quite aligned with the part of myself that is hyper-clear when it comes to setting priorities and getting sh*t done.
I have a compulsive need to be organized around time management, to the point where I often split my workdays into 25-minute and five-minute intervals in order to space out work time from relaxation breaks. This has proven to be productive. And sometimes, there are deep, dark compulsions to count to eight when I’m in a fight with a friend, or overloaded with things to do.
My meditation practice has played a big role in my understanding that there will always be things knocking at the door of my mind, trying to get in. Sometimes those things are feelings about an interaction. And sometimes I’ll have an inexplicable desire to count to eight.
These compulsions are simply my way of trying to gain control over things. On some level, they’ll always be there. But I can also choose how much I want to focus on “there.”
My psychiatrist has explained to me, time and time again, that habits make us feel comfortable. They are ultimately just survival mechanisms, telling us something like this: “I did this yesterday, and the day before, and the day before … so I need to do this again today in order to survive.”
Of course, this isn’t true. I don’t need to count to eight when I walk to the bathroom in order to survive. But at one point, my brain told me this, and I believed it.
Now that I have that awareness, I challenge myself on a daily basis to sit with the anxiety that emerges when I notice my desire to count, but choose not to. The sensation is similar to an itch: it keeps calling for attention. Uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Sometimes, I give in and count. I just try not to hate myself for it, and that takes practice.
Today, I treat my OCD as a nuisance at worst, and an invitation to practice mindfulness at best. And after all, what’s so bad about those moments when you just need to shake your mom’s hand? Or something.