The Discovery Channel’s top ten diagnosed mental illnesses, to which I recently referred, caused me to return to earlier medical notes to confirm that a doctor thought me to be obsessive-compulsive. While that list made me consider elucidating the top ten illnesses, I find myself wanting not just to educate, but also to explain that with every condition there is a window for everyone to experience happiness. I’m a firm believer in individual responsibility and that the wherewithal to be happy resides within. So there I was, musing about happiness while meticulously thumbing through my medical records, and listed right next to early schizophrenia, was the suggestion “obsessive-compulsive personality”? Like many others, television’s Monk has heightened my appreciation of obsessive compulsion. If you’ve never heard of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or its resembling illness, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), Monk is a good place for a lighthearted understanding of them. Adrian Monk is a gentle, eccentric, OCD, crime-fighter. If you’ve seen him do an investigation you’d probably recall an incident when, instead of focusing on a detail relevant to the case, he is dusting dandruff off someone. He has a parking-meter fetish and must clean his hands after every handshake.
People with OCD like Monk are trapped in patterns of senseless thoughts and behaviours beyond their control, and, yes, they do recognise the senselessness and/or excessiveness. The compulsion can be so powerful, though, that the person repeats the actions even though he knows it’s senseless. (After all, it’s a jungle out there!) What’s true with all types of OCD is that a compulsion is acted out to relieve anxiety produced by an obsessive thought. By way of definition, psychcentral.com says: Obsessions are disturbing recurrent ideas or impulses that intrude on a person’s mind. They may take the form of fears, extreme worry about getting contaminated, a dread of illness, or an overpowering need to do things perfectly. Sometimes these obsessions have a violent or sexual nature. Compulsions are repetitive actions driven by obsessions such as contamination, doubt and loss. These result in the common compulsions of hand-washing, checking and hoarding. Along with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), OCD and OCPD are classified as anxiety disorders. To date, as with so many personality disorders, there remains confusion and controversy in their dissimilarity and, as obtains with other mental illnesses, there is no conclusive answer as to their origins.
The biggest difference between OCD and OCPD is the presence of true obsessions and compulsions in the former, which necessitate therapy, none of which characterise the latter. Even with an early diagnosis of OCPD and another within the last ten years, I’ve never paid attention to its character before. And having now done so, I’m under a cloud of uncertainty. I’ve pondered if what the specialist saw in me is different from my friend who must have the sweaters/cardigans hung on identical make and colour hangers, all necklines facing west and preferably in ascending colours/shades; starting with long sleeves and moving down to deep-cut armholes, while paying attention to uniformity in length of each piece. Unlike Monk and my happily OCD friend who touts her status, I don’t have myriad quirks and phobias about germs, heights, precision, and so on. So, okay, I’ve had rigid preoccupation with rules and perfectionism, orderliness and control, but how else would the world function? I find some affinity with the OCPD characteristics “workaholics and high achievers.” Yet I’m not “excessively dedicated to work and productivity.” I also have no trouble delegating tasks to others because “I do not believe that anyone can accomplish the task as well as I can.”
And while I never let my closest relatives know that they regard me as a bossy bully, who’s always right, and of me they say “is either she way or the highway,” I admit I could be conceived as overbearing. As well, I own a letter from a relative that called me “self-righteous” about ten to 12 times, each time seemingly written with more vehemence than the last; but in my defence, I submit I do not fit the criterion “miserly.” And about preoccupations, I imagine no future financial calamities that make me so cheap that I live below my means—au contraire, I seem supertalented in spending more than I own/earn! It’s a known fact that I’m candidly critical and openly irritated at some idiosyncrasies, but there are many people like that who’d be called “particular” or “peculiar” or some other non-neurotic term—never OCPD. And now, after this stimulating conversation with myself, I happily conclude that maybe I’ve outgrown whatever the professionals thought they saw. I do not think I have an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and I know I’m not OCD. But then too, that conclusion may just be a signifier of the illness—because I have read that people who are OCPD think their behaviour is normal.