Fear is defined by Wikipedia (yes I’m aiming really high brow here) as an emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes entities to quickly pull away from it and usually hide. Fear exists to protect us and to ensure our survival but fear can often cause us to procrastinate rather than completing some important goals and more extreme cases seriously limit us and our lives.
The definition of procrastination is to chronically avoid difficult tasks and look for ever increasing distractions. How much we procrastinate is a test of our willpower to get something done.
Suffering from OCD means I have a lot of situations I fear, so my solution is to avoid them all. I am very good at avoidance, I don’t procrastinate as there is nothing to distract me from the fact I am avoiding because there is something wrong with the way I see things. The low mood and anxiety that results from avoiding things is worse than if I had done them in the first place, but my fear is not rational nor are the judgments I make as a result of OCD. It’s like I was given a rule book no one else has and they cannot understand why I have to do things a certain way.
From my perspective, I cannot understand why people would want to do things differently and my avoidance I see as preserving myself from the nasty consequences of putting myself in a situation which will cause pain and anguish. The pain and anguish itself isn’t the consequence but the feelings and thoughts afterwards when I have to pick myself up are a whole different ball game. I could be upset for days if I have a confrontation with anyone. Simply being beeped at in traffic will make me dwell on the cause for days later.
Most people can be obsessive and/or compulsive to a degree but those of us with OCD have these qualities in excess. I still remember being told off by a teacher from my Infants school for forgetting my word tin at home. My word tin was a tin which contained bits of card with the words I found difficult to read on them. I remember feeling upset and let down that I hadn’t brought the tin to school and dismayed when my mother thought it wasn’t such a big deal when I told her. Even the satisfaction of conquering a fear and achieving something isn’t incentive enough to remove my avoidance, nor is the loss of income and lifestyle.
As time has advanced my fears have not lessened which is why I suffer from OCD which sees me practically housebound. I rarely leave the house by myself although I have done so more often in the past month as part of the goals I want to achieve. When I do go out I face a different kind of fear, this time not my own personal demons but the fear in the eyes of people who have known me in the past and know I have a mental illness and don’t quite know what to say or how to get rid of me fast enough. It amuses me as I don’t have this fear and am happy to give people as much or as little time as they need with me.
I find myself wondering if they are under the delusion OCD is catching? Or is it failure they see as infectious? Failure to thrive in a successful career and make lots of money? Of course I probably should let them into the secret it isn’t catching, but I realise they don’t wish to fall in their social hierarchy by associating with me. An outcast, undefinable my mental illness. They don’t want to be losers by association no matter how well brought up they are or how impeccable their manners usually are.
At medical school we were told that only 10% of our year would remain hospital doctors and the rest of us would be GPs. They didn’t factor in the number of us who would be too ill, disillusioned or lucky lottery winners to not work. It didn’t exsist in the realms of possibility that anyone would go through medical school and not go on to have a medical career. In these circles having a mental illness is a lifestyle choice rather than the difficult illness it is in reality.
I cannot easily leave the house by myself to work or to go to the spa and spend a day of luxury. When avoiding work I wasn’t having a Ferris Bueller type experience I was barricaded in my home too frighted to leave or answer the phone. Prior to my diagnosis of OCD in December 2009 I was utterly miserable. I had reached the point where I could not see the point of carrying on with life. It was a relief to finally be told I had an illness, a mental illness. I was not choosing some masochistic path of self destruction for kicks.
Once the wonderful private psychiatrist I first saw had diagnosed me, he went on to tell me a lot about my perceptions and I had light bulb moments in nearly every session with him as I connected the dots of my illness and behaviour. He made me realise that my judgments about myself were too harsh and allowed me to find a sense of self -worth no doctor to date had evoked in me. I worked with him for a year and then I felt I needed to move on to other therapies like psychology and the dreaded group therapy which I could not fund privately.
I sought treatment under the NHS and I was fortunate again to find a kindred spirit in the psychiatrist I saw and enjoyed 10 weeks of group therapy even when it was hard going. I currently see a psychologist to help me break my behavioural norms and also to understand what underlying factors my behaviour is tethered to. I am relieved to say I have not been disappointed to date with the journey I have or am taking with any of these doctors. They push me to reach outside of my narrow comfort zone. They work to make me realise there are benefits beyond money to getting well again. I wouldn’t be motivated if this was all for money, but I am doing this for me. For the first time in my life I am doing things because I want to do them, not just because I can. I laugh at the shallow, uninformed and egotistical who have no insight into their own behaviour and cannot see how limited they are for the stigma they attach to millions of OCD sufferers like myself. At least I am doing something about my limitations, you cannot even see yours!
I totally get the avoidance and procrastination. Actually doing something is always a joy, and I often wonder why it sometimes takes me so long to complete things. I really admire your candid and honest sharing of something which must be incredibly difficult to deal with. Hopefully you will get better and better. x
Thanks Jo, I think we fear not doing things perfectly, others might not like it or failing. For OCD sufferers the compulsion it has to be perfect is what stops them going to work, doing housework and many other things. It can be a miserable existence when the illness is at it’s worst.
That must be totally crippling. On a smaller scale I also sometimes put of doing things and now that you put it that way, I suppose it is because of fear of failure. To have that full-blown all the time can only be awful. I love that you discuss it though – there are probably loads of people that hide it away.
I think it’s natural to have an amount of compulsion and obsession but when it starts ruling your life you need help. I think dispelling myths and prejudices start with each one of us and that is why I am open to talk about it. I have hid away for long enough. I’m out now, so to speak!