Save. Preview. Save. Preview. Save. Preview. No, these are not different posts waiting to be published online, they are the same post being obsessively checked by me, a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not something that hits me every time I finish a piece of writing but it does quite often.
If you have any knowledge of OCD and aren’t a sufferer yourself, the chances are quite high that you think of it as that hand-washing door-lock checking thing that looks weird but seems largely harmless. The truth of the matter is that OCD can attach itself to anything that is important to the sufferer and so can be far more varied or obscure than the commonly held beliefs above. It can also change form over the years, even if the themes stay the same. How about a sufferer obsessed with germs and hand-washing suddenly finding themselves obsessively scanning their PC for viruses every day? Or the gadget geek who is so afraid that something might be wrong with a newly purchased toy that they examine it with the concentration usually utilised by forensics at a crime scene? Technology has changed the world around us, so is it any wonder that our mental issues have reached the next version number too? If you have OCD and happen to be a geek, it will almost certainly poke its nose into your favourite hobbies and interests.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes the sufferer to feel tremendous amounts of anxiety about certain things which are triggering issues for them. The sufferer feels the overwhelming urge to engage in certain behaviours to lessen these uncomfortable feelings, be it checking that the door really is locked or engaging in mental checking or patterns of thought. Geeky pursuits can often be a great way to offset some of the effects that this disorder has on a person, either by engaging the brain, mentally escaping to somewhere otherworldly, or simply used as a common basis for social interaction. Until OCD begins to come along for the ride that is.
I used to play the MMORPG World of Warcraft. I hadn’t been on it for too long when I decided to create a new character; I very much wanted to try playing as a sneaky Rogue rather than the cloth-wearing Mage class. I played for a while and then began to feel anxious about whether I’d made the right character choice. Fast forward a week or so, and I’d made and discarded almost ten new characters, never settling with one or feeling ‘right’, my anxiety levels going through the roof every time I sat at the login screen. What had been an enjoyable pastime had become one more thing for my OCD to beat me with. I did get past it, but I felt both foolish and weak afterwards. The anxiety I felt was tremendous. This wasn’t just “My CD’s aren’t organised and it bothers me!” levels of anxiety, this was almost at panic-attack levels. Creating a new character in an online game sounds like such a trivial thing, but when OCD begins to twist it into something more important, it becomes as trying as fears of germs and unlocked doors.
OCD makes the sufferer hyper-vigilant for incoming catastrophes or any signs of possible problems in the future, but sadly for the sufferer, almost everything feels like one. That new home cinema system you bought with the little fan spinning at the back…should it be that noisy? Your laptop usually boots in a few seconds, why did the last boot take what seemed like a minute? That USB cable didn’t feel right as you plugged it in did it? What if the port is faulty? What if there is a problem that makes it unsafe and it sparks and starts a fire? To a non-sufferer, this sounds like a low-budget Final Destination scenario playing out. A sufferer will have all kinds of fears and associations like this clicking into place every time their anxiety surges. It’s a perverse kind of creativity, one that enslaves you rather than frees you. I’ve turned the tables on mine and chained it to my writing desk. I poke it with a sharp stick and it helps me with my horror fiction; a just reward for making my own life hell at times.
Thankfully, OCD is treatable. My own path to a better understanding came through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and self-eduction via some very good books on the topic. If you think you might have OCD, consult your Doctor, as this is one illness that does have treatments available that can help you come to terms with it and begin to deal with it in a more skilful way.
First posted on Geek Syndicate.