What OCD is Like: Exhausting and Unsafe (Video)

by Matt B. on June 14, 2011

What OCD is Like: Exhausting and Insecure from Matt Bieber on Vimeo.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lian June 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hey, this must have been a difficult one to do–you sound so tired at the beginning.  I’m curious about how often you personify OCD as your antagonist.  Is that how it makes itself present to you, like a bad guy with a broadband connection into your mind?

Matt Bieber June 16, 2011 at 8:11 pm

That’s a great question.  There was a period there where I really externalized it – I thought of it as this parasite, a nasty dog nipping at my heels (or often doing much worse).  And that externalizing move can be helpful – it can locate the OCD in space, isolate it, make it into something discrete, even help me get my head around it conceptually.

But it can also create false expectations – namely, the expectation that my desire to think of my OCD as external (and only tangentially related to my life) will have anything to do with how it actually manifests.  Because of course, it doesn’t necessarily respond to the ways I characterize it. OCD can be stubbornly, insistently, maddeningly present.  And more than anything, it isn’t external – it’s very much inside, a feature of my mind, and  tangled up in the way I think.  (When is a thought a regular old thought (however painful), and when is it an “intrusive” thought of the OCD variety? It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, to uncoil the threads.)

Lian June 17, 2011 at 10:55 am

Hm, I see.  So sometimes it’s helpful or necessary to draw the boundary to the self in different places relative to this experience, and no single construct is adequate….

I’m wondering about something like cancer, by way of comparison.  I have never had cancer, but I imagine that similarly, there would be times when one would need to forgive one’s own body and understand why it is reacting the way it is and so on.  And there would be many times when the cancer seems best perceived as an intruder, something totally alien working inside of oneself. 

My speculation is that our willingness to drop the equivalent of A-bombs on ourselves (radiotherapy or chemotherapy in cancer) has something to do with this: is my body a territory where a war is being fought with an external enemy?  Where do “I” get displaced to, when all of this is going down? 

What you’re saying about the blurriness of OCD–the seamlessness between normal thoughts that you want to own, and intrusive thoughts that you want to keep at by–hits home here.  I guess that’s the really awful thing about cancer, or about OCD.

Matt Bieber June 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Yeah, that last point is something I’ve been wrestling with for some time – the difference between an intrusive thought and a normal thought that just happens to be painful.  There are some indicators about which is which – intrusive thoughts tend to generate anxiety right away, for example, whereas other thoughts can be painful or sad without inducing anxiety – but they’re not always dispositive. (Another one of the giveaways is if I’ve been through this series of thoughts before, in which case I can sometimes recognize the thought pattern for what it is.)

I think you’re probably right about different conceptions of the self being useful at different times.  I’m fairly determined not to be too invested in any one conception of the self – to demand that there be a special place for the “I” even amidst challenges.  The trouble starts, I think, when you imagine that the displacement of the “I” means that you can’t take notice and seriously the thoughts that remain. (And in all but the most soul-crushing situations – prolonged torture and isolation, say – I think thoughts tend to remain.)   In other words, even if you don’t have a thinker, you can still have your thoughts.

Kat July 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Thank you!

Kat July 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I really relate to what you said about exhaustion, and I’ve brought this up with a few therapists before, but I didn’t really feel that they understood what I was talking about. I would say I suffer from mild (obsessive) OCD, and other anxiety disorders, but often times, even by 11am or so, I feel this mental fatigue. And the only thing that really helps is to lay down and close my eyes for half an hour or an hour, or take a nap. But I really have to shut myself off from any stimuli. So I really relate to this. Do you think fatigue is a pretty standard characteristic of OCD?

Thanks again for your candidness. I just found your blog :)

Matt July 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Hey Kat! Thanks for reaching out. Truth is, I don’t actually know how common this kind of fatigue is, but I bet it’s pretty standard. It’s just such a mentally taxing way to move through the world–I’d be surprised if it didn’t take its toll on lots of others as well.

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