For the last three months, I have been tired. I mean fall-asleep-at-any-moment, can’t-think-straight tired. At first I chalked it up to a sudden uptick in the “doing things” category of my life: conference in Florida, visits from friends, two weekend writing classes at once, getting sick, more travel, more people in town (PLEASE note, I love having people in town- seriously. It just takes a lot of energy for this introvert to be social.)
But then, as I was trying to fall asleep one night. I noticed how much more of my time was being taken up with OCD than usual. The obsessions had been getting realer and feeling more imminent (I’ll keep the details to my therapist’s office, but let’s just say they involved lots of catastrophic events that could potentially ruin everything for me and people I love). And of course, the other side of that OCD sword is what my brain considers the “remedy”, or rather, the preventative measures that I need to take to satisfy the compulsion side of it all. This flare up has manifested in two ways:
First, I was discovering new- and tedious- actions I needed to partake in to ward off the awfulness. A major part of this was the newly-discovered need to read in a certain way. Before I can move on past a paragraph (or a tweet, or a social media comment, etc.), I now have to find two “safe” words to focus on while I scroll. As much as I barf up all of this ~personal information~, I don’t really feel like getting into the ins and outs of what constitutes a safe word. In part, because unless you have OCD, it’s going to sound like the logic of someone trying to explain a bonkers conspiracy. It makes no sense to anyone except me, for whom it’s perfectly logical.
In other words:
But doing that takes time. It takes effort, and involves a game time judgment on what’s a “safe” word, versus a “not ideal, but still usable” word, versus “absolutely off limits- this will cause everything to fall apart.” The tedium of it is one thing. The amount of headspace and concentration this involves is another. I don’t get lost in reading anymore. I can’t read long documents without breaking them up into manageable chunks and then trying to put the information together when I’m done. I stare at a paragraph looking for the usable words, instead of being able to focus on what’s been written.
Then there are the compulsions I’ve always done. Doing things a certain about of time (every number means something specific to my fucked up brain), or making things even: the cuffs of my jeans, the bows from my shoelaces, the shape of a folded t-shirt, or the placement of my skincare products. But now, the “accepted” actions aren’t good enough. They have to be done again. And again. Sometimes a specific number of times. Sometimes until it just feels right (and more and more that’s a harder feeling to catch).
This is exhausting in two ways: the physical act of repeating simple tasks over and over throughout my day, all the while keeping it under the radar. Because let’s face it: people can be sympathetic to the problem, but still feel uncomfortable with experiencing the actual symptoms. And I get it. If I were to indulge in every compulsion in the open, I would look like- for lack of a better word- a crazy person. Which, I suppose I am. Or “Mentally ill”, for the formality of it all.
So what does this mean? It means that from the time I wake up until the time I’m asleep (going to sleep is another hot zone for compulsions), I’m expanding so much energy, and using so much brainpower, I hardly have room for anything else. I forget things, because one part of my brain is worried all the time. It’s running an old-timey film reel that projects onto a screen in my mind all of the horrible things I’m having to be on high alert for. And that sort of danger alert often sits at the forefront of my caveman brain.
It means I’m not functioning very well. Again, I’m tired. Even when I’m just lying down, my brain keeps at it. I worry I’m failing at everything- a two pronged issues, as it’s a combination of the obsessions of failure as well as my exhaustion and difficulty completing anything (which then feeds into the idea of failure). I feel like I’m trapped in this high-alert, emergency mode all the time.
I’m adjusting my medications, I’m seeing a therapist every week, and I’m working on it. But until something sticks, there is a marathon of both obsessions running through my brain, and the decisions to take one action or another, depending on what I can sense feels “safe”.
So none of this is an excuse. I know I’m behind on things. I know I forget things (I’m sure lingering ECT side effects also factor into this). I know the process of doing laundry is so terrifying that it will become a full day of folding and refolding, and so I have a room that looks like a Madewell shipment blew up in my room, leaving the striped sweaters and pocket tees and earth-tones overalls haphazardly strewn around.
It’s not an excuse, but it is a reason. (part of) The reason I’m so exhausted, anyway (gonna talk about the other reason in my next post). OCD is still pretty misunderstood. It’s not always washing your hands, or being neat as a pin, or fearing germs. It’s whatever your specific brain tells you you need to do in order to stave off chaos, and mine happens to be very thought, time, and energy consuming.
One of the things that doctors recommend for OCD is “exposure therapy“. I even have a workbook! It’s where you slowly resist the compulsions, and see that they don’t cause the harm you believe them to. The problem with my type of OCD, versus, say, contamination OCD (where the only victim of defiance is harm to oneself), is that the stakes for my obsessions are literally life and death for the people I love, or ruining my own life. Logically, I know that’s nonsense. I know it’s not rational. But I’m not willing to take that chance, only to find that something awful does happen, and I’ll have to live the rest of my life believing on a deeply embedded level that it was my fault. It’s a risk I just can’t take.
OCD is still spoken in pretty hushed tones. There’s no big advocacy organization, and (IMHO), the lingering “weirdness” of our actions are baffling to non-sufferers.
Anyway, stay tuned for part 2 of “Why I’m so Tired: Stuttering. Trying to pass in a fluent world, the physical energy it takes to get a sentence out, the anxiety around certain speaking situations, and bonus! on why I feel wary inserting myself into the disability community (also stay tune for an interview I did on just this! No idea when it’s going to be published). But for now, my dog is finally snoozing and that means it’s time for me to sleep off the exhaustion of the real world.