Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Crowded Room

I know. Two posts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in a row. It's madness, I tell you! Madness!  And when it comes to OCD it really is actually.

I'll start off by mentioning this actually does apply to writing. I'm revising Secrets of Skin and Stone again and Piper has severe clinical OCD just like I do.  It's been hard for me to write and work on her chapters at times because it strikes too close to home.

I said something to my agent recently that probably ought to be said to the world at large. OCD is 80% or so internal. Some people with the most severe symptoms of OCD aren't recognizable as having OCD.  I think most people would have been able to guess my mother has OCD before they pegged me.  My mom is OCD about cleaning... which is the physical manifestation that most people expect. I don't have that.  I like things in a certain way, sure... and if the house magically became clean, I'd like that too... as long as everything was in the right place and there was order.

Still, OCD is mostly in your head--which is funny, in my opinion, but I have a broad sense of humor. (Btw, I wouldn't say that to anyone out loud; they might take it wrong.)

Living with OCD is like being in a crowded room.  A very, very, very crowded room and everyone is talking at once.  It's filled with versions of yourself, some older and some younger and some strange variations on you with deeper or higher pitched voices (I have no idea why.)  They shuffle around so that sometimes, amid the fog of voices, some are more recognizable because they're closer to you.

There's one person nearby who spends all day everyday muttering, "This, not that.  This!  Not that!  This, or maybe this, but not that... never that." All day.

There's the paranoid jittery soul to the side who keeps bringing up how dangerous or dirty everything is. "You know, you really should stay inside.  There are bugs out there.  Plus, odds are that someone is out there.  It might be someone who hates you and wants to kill you."  Usually, I tell that person to shut up, but they keep talking regardless.

There are three or four constantly talking about kids and family. "Have you sent a card or talked with your grandparents lately?  No, you haven't.  What if something happened to them?  What if they died and didn't know you loved them?  What then?  You're a horrible granddaughter." "Have you checked your daughter's folder to see what she is doing in class yet?  She's away from the house for hour upon hour every day, and it's like you don't even care what she is doing.  She's practically being raised by the school, and you don't care." "What about your son?  If you didn't let him do that, maybe he'd be less angry." "What about your sister?  How is she doing?  You don't even know, do you?  It's been days. Days!" "Have you ever thought if maybe you cleaned more that your husband would like you better?  You'd be a better wife.  I bet he wishes he'd married someone who likes to clean." "If only you were more like your mother...."

Constantly. Talking.

Some worry about friends, real and online. "Did you offend them when you said that thing?  It might have been taken wrong."  "Have you noticed they haven't talked to you for awhile?  They might hate you."

There's one on the constant lookout for typos. That one triple checks everything I write by reading it out loud which is useful... sort of.  That person sometimes insists I open envelopes to make sure I've signed the checks I just put in there.  That's less useful.

There's a couple voices that are much darker.  Hopefully they just fade into the background noise, but they usually get closer at the worst times.  One of the symptoms of OCD is being plagued by inappropriate sexual or religious or violent thoughts.  Yeah, I have those too.  Imagine sitting in church trying to concentrate and something so deviantly sexual slides right next to you and whispers.  Or you're in your car with your kids and driving and your mind suddenly focuses on how easy it would be to drive off the road.  Sometimes, it's hard to be in church.  Sometimes, it's hard to drive.  Even if you push it out of your head, it's left behind a bit of darkness because it was there.  It was there, and you thought of it, so you must be dark and evil too.

My muse is there too.  My muse may be the one person whose voice and looks I can't peg down. He or she usually stares out the window and throws out comments of "what if...." If I can, I'd love to sit next to my muse all the time.  My muse usually isn't as strange and chaotic.

I have individual phobias who wander around. There's the one who spends all day worrying that it's too tight or too close in the room. I have an extreme contamination issue so naturally there is one muttering, "You should wash your hands.  You may have gotten that on them.  Did that person just cough?  That's disgusting.  Go wash your hands." I was at a meeting last night and everyone kept coughing. That person was very squigged out--not that I blame them.

There is one who is like the physical manifestation of the song, "Baby did a bad, bad thing." All day there is someone who keeps mentioning every bad thing I've ever done.  This voice is especially vocal at night when I'm trying to sleep. So you can get a better idea of what this is like:

...only less sexy and with less film use.

I've been on a lean protein, low carb diet for almost three weeks now, so I also have this gollum-like person in the corner saying, "Bread... bread... we wants it, my precious.  We neeeeeeeeds it."  I mostly agree with that voice, though.

There are some rational voices, of course, but having them talking is sometimes frustrating because they're just adding to the noise. Also, my rational voices tend to be pessimistically rational, so that's not as helpful either.

All day, every day... this crowded room is in my head. I take it wherever I go. I can't get away from it. I'd assumed everyone had this fog of voices in their heads all the time, but then I found out that this is an OCD thing--at least with how crowded it is.

The meds quiet it down and get rid of a few voices, but they also have serious side effects. I've been off meds for a year, but I don't think I'll be able to be off them much longer. Some voices have been crowding out others and some are louder right now. Usually they mostly quiet down enough so I can hear my muse immediately after running or... uhh... other physical exertion. Sometimes, when I'm writing I can get out of the room and get into the world I created. That's really nice.

That's part of why Piper's chapters of this book are so difficult to work on.  She has twice the inner dialogue of Gris and that alone is too close to my real life.  It's nice to be in someone else's head for a change and work on Gris's chapters.  It's nice to be out of the crowded room.

Anyway, that's what life is like when you have severe OCD.  It's a crowded room.

Edited to add: I hid my OCD for the first 28 years of my life and while my mom has OCD and many in her family do, they hadn't realized it and none are as severe as I am--to my knowledge.  My mom feels really guilty she didn't catch that I had OCD until I told her, but I don't blame her, and I never have.  I began to be very open about my OCD when B was diagnosed, and I realized that I never wanted her to hide her OCD or be ashamed as I was.  I chose to be ashamed, and I chose to hide it.  My family never did anything to make me feel either of those things.  In a way, the fact that I had OCD is an incredible blessing because I'll be able to help my daughter.  I know some people with disorders are a product of their upbringing or their family life may have contributed, but I have the best family a girl can have. Honestly.

1 comment:

  1. This was fascinating. I have a few family members with OCD and this description helps me see them different. Best of luck to you, I hope the muse stays close and you find what you need to be your best self.