Thursday, August 6, 2015

She has a great personality - Part I: Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

When I was looking into ideas for a new series there were several directions I wanted to explore, but eventually I decided I wanted to write a few posts on personality disorders because I have two partial diagnoses myself and am closely acquainted with people who have other diagnoses in that field. Both of mine, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder, are ones I didn't get a "high score" for in the various forms of testing I had done with me, but I was a close enough match for both for them to end up in my list of diagnoses. I actually recognise myself a fair bit in both of them, which is why the first two posts of this series will focus on them, starting today with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).

When reading about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the past, my web sources, mainly Wikipedia, were always adamant about it not being confused with OCPD because, they say, that's often done, and it's some sort of really bad thing to do (judging by the tone of the "do not confuse"-warnings) because they are completely different things. Well, I made sure I never confused them and steered clear of reading about OCPD because of how unrelated I was told it was to what I have. In the end, I now, since recently, have both diagnoses. Unrelated they may be, but I guess it's not impossible for you to have both. So I had to begin reading up on OCPD anyway, after being told for so long that I shouldn't bother with it. Also, what's with that extremely similar naming if people are so worried about the two diagnoses being confused with each other? Just saying, though. What you read in this post has nothing to do with OCD, even though I have that diagnosis, too, and wrote a post on it in the past.

My partial diagnosis of OCPD came together rather simply and quickly. I was in treatment for - among other things - depression, and one of the most common things people with depression have bothering them is that they have a lot of principles in their heads that go "I must..." I must perform well, I must satisfy this or that need of others, et cetera. When my therapist asked me to write down a few sentences like that that apply to myself, I filled an entire page. About fifty or so sentences of things I thought I must do in order to consider myself a valuable human being. And the list wasn't nearly complete.That's OCPD in a nutshell, everything has to be done to perfection according to a rigid set of rules, and if you don't live up to them, you suck. You put immense pressure on yourself to run every aspect of your life by these ideas written in stone and measure yourself by your success at fulfilling them every day. You obsess over them and you have the compulsion to follow them, hence the name of the disorder.

If I were to make a list of examples from my life this post wouldn't be done before next year. I'll just pick one I think is the weirdest and most useless to illustrate how invasive this disorder is in living one's life normally. I bet many of you have heard of that site Last.fm. You install a software on your computer and it "scrobbles" the music you are listening to with your media player of choice, and the scrobbles are then made into a set of lists including charts of what you listen to the most. I've been using it since late 2006. At one point a few years ago my taste in music drastically changed, and I wanted my charts to reflect my changed taste in music, but I did not want to delete anything because I didn't want to lose the data for historical value, and I also would consider it cheating. So I started to constantly listen to the music I'm into nowadays. Must have been around 2011. You know how hard it is to get a lot of new stuff past an entire top 500 of music that had been established for five years? So I constantly watch my charts, see what needs to go up, look what needs to go down and what can go past it, listen to things I like on repeat ad nauseam, all day every day. Just think of the maths in this. If you have an artist in, say, seventh place at a thousand plays, and you want to get it out of the top 50, you'll have to get forty-four artists above a thousand plays. It sucks the life out of you. But music is one of the most important things in my life and I identify myself by what music I like, so I feel it is necessary to do this to properly represent what kind of person I am.

Sound ridiculous? It is. And for years I have been trying to identify what it is inside me that causes me to spend so much time on that ritual. For the longest time I assumed it was a form of net addiction, until one day I read up on OCPD after the therapist at the clinic gave me that partial diagnosis, and then it dawned on me. A rigid set of rules linked directly to my self-worth. Obsession and compulsion are a constant given. And the difference between OCD and OCPD shows here. If it was the former, I'd feel strong symptoms of anxiety after non-fulfillment of the ritual, with the latter it is not about how I feel at that moment, it affects how well I think of myself as a person. Mind you, the above is just an example of many, I do not determine my intrinsic value by some charts no one will probably ever look at alone. It's this huge list of things I need to do perfectly, a list so long it is humanly impossible to get everything right. The perception of oneself suffers by the nature of the thing, because you simply cannot live up to every rule you burden yourself with.

I think the reason I only got a partial diagnosis and not a full diagnosis is that I can often "unhinge" my daily life from my suffocating rules. It's like when I play/record music. I want everything to be perfect, but I can quickly reach the point at which I say "ah, fuck it" and just do as well as I can and be happy with it. It's something that plays a major role in my life, but there's a healthy side of me that can just as well take over. No, not as in multiple personality, it's still me, it's just that mental illness can vary in severity depending on how you feel at any given moment. It's less true for personality disorders which in many cases tend to be always there, but it's not uncommon, either. Sometimes it dominates my thinking, sometimes it doesn't even cross my mind. Hence the partial diagnosis.

To close my first post on personality disorders, you'll already be getting the idea that almost all of them are united by the idea that you are your own harshest critic, that somehow you always fuck up. Maybe not narcissists, more on those friendly fellows later, but in most personality disorders you'll always catch a person if you ask them about the last time they did really great at something. Or generally something they're really great at. With OCPD it shouldn't surprise you that I think every single post in my blog sucks. You know, they don't live up to some outlandish idea of perfect writing. But we live in a time in which these disorders can be identified and treated, so I'm optimistic about the future. Mine and that of everyone else suffering from a personality disorder.

3 comments:

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