What It’s Like to Live With: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
“I almost missed my brother’s thread ceremony because I sat in my room rearranging the whole wardrobe after I got ready.”
What It’s Like to Live With explores the stories of people who see and experience every day a little differently.
Everybody used to call me my father’s carbon copy — he is someone who double-checks everything and is a perfectionist. So, when I was younger and arranged books in my school bag according to their size, it was my attempt at trying to emulate him. When I would arrange bottles in my bathroom based on their shape or size, it was again taken as me trying to be a perfectionist like him. When my brother and I would color, his putting back crayons in the box in no particular order was careless, like every boy usually is. But, my putting all colors and all their various shades together was passed off as being extremely particular, like every girl is ‘supposed’ to be. So, my obsession with orderliness was never a problem for people at home; it was just something that would help me stay organized when I’d grow up.
While this fixation with keeping things in an orderly manner helped me keep things neat and clean, it also came with a lot of disadvantages. For instance, it landed me with a lot of work not only at home but even in school and later in college and, currently, at my workplace.
I remember, a few days into my first internship as a copywriter, my boss asked me to arrange the office library. I enjoyed doing it, but now, when I look back, it feels like a waste of time.
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When I was 20, my parents noticed that this behavior was crippling my everyday life.
I’d arrange my wardrobe not only according to the size and shape of my clothes but also according to the colors. All reds with reds, whites had to be with whites — an off-white couldn’t be in the middle of a pure white. I had the key to my cupboard and even though my mom’s jewelry was in it, I wouldn’t give her the keys to it, fearing that she’d spoil my arrangement. Every time I’d remove one piece of clothing from a stack, I’d want to rearrange it, even if it meant getting late for work or for anything else. And it has happened innumerable times — I’ve received only half a month’s salary due to being late every day to work. I almost missed my brother’s thread ceremony because I sat in my room rearranging the wardrobe after I got ready. I’ve been warned against wasting time in arranging my work desk several times, but I can’t explain the situation to anyone. It’s like, my brain gets it — the fact that I can finish writing 10 emails in the time I’ll spend doing up my desk — but my hands can’t stop themselves from doing it. Looking at all these instances, my parents took me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
We don’t know what caused it; OCD can be genetic, too, but we haven’t been able to place anyone in the family who might have or has had it. There isn’t any treatment to get rid of OCD; I’d say some day-to-day management of symptoms helps. Stress aggravates it, where I think rearranging things is the only way I can relieve stress — when it should be the other way round: I should actually be using up all that time in finishing up the task that is stressing me out in the first place.
I’d also say that my OCD has affected my relationships with a lot of people. I’ve been late to places, held up a lot of people, and that has ended up affecting my credibility. My ex-boyfriends have told me that it was my OCD that came in the way of deciding a future with me or settling down with me, and I get it. If it can become intolerable for my parents, it could be a problem for anyone else. It sometimes even reaches the point where I don’t get out of my room unless I have to because I feel like I’ll find things disorganized and I’ll start arranging them. I feel my parents sometimes even avoid engaging in conversations with me for the same reason.
My OCD is severe, the psychiatrist has said. I’ve had many many sessions of counseling to manage it, some medication to get it under control, but it hasn’t helped too much. But people do say they’ve noticed a change. I’ve also been practicing calming and relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing because I believe self-management will help me deal with it better and control it as much as I can. I exercise to bring down my anxiety; I’ve devised ways to stop obsessing, such as making a time table about how many hours I spent organizing things in a week and trying to reduce it as the week passes by. And if it does go down, I treat myself to a new dress or at least something to eat that I’d been craving all week that otherwise I wouldn’t because I’m also on a strict diet.
Sometimes, I’m hard on myself, too. There’ve been times I write down my obsessions a hundred times to get the anxiety in control — for instance, if I feel the needto rearrange things, I’ll write “Things look fine,” multiple times, till I feel I can get away with it. And at other times, I give the key to my room to my mom if I have the same urges, and we’ve done it so many times that she now knows when to hand it back.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.