The Mental Illness You’ve Never Heard Of: OCPD

OCPD (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder) is a diagnosis that most people have never heard of, but, luckily for you readers who are just dying to know about it, I happen to have it. So settle in for the ride, loves.

The Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible for diagnosing mental illnesses) defines OCPD as:

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.

OCPD is not obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) “light,” as OCD is in the anxiety category and OCPD is housed in a completely different area of the DSM. Someone could have both OCD and OCPD, or they could have one and not the other.

I often sum up my OCPD struggles as “can’t see the forest for the trees” syndromeheck, most of the time I can’t see the leaves to save my life. Big-picture thinking is not my strength as I tend to become overly caught up in respective details, rules, lists, organization, and schedules. The details ultimately distract from the actual project because I’m too busy trying to figure out how I can best organize and schedule the bits around the project or assignment. Just stopping and focusing on the task at hand is absurdly difficult because I feel that I haven’t adequately taken care of the bits around the edges that must make me be more successful. It’s like a kind of itching in the back of my brain that keeps pulling my attention elsewhere.

Another aspect of OCPD is that unrealistic levels of perfectionism actually interferes with task completion. People complicate the perfection goal, and so working in teams make me cringe and delegating tasks feels like nails on the chalkboard of my brain.

Usually high standards means that you’ll get the job done and you’ll do it well. But OCPD takes it to another level, where the standards are impossible to meet so the task can never be completed. Everything takes longerhomework, tests, cleaning the shower, getting ready for work in the morning, making a grocery list, color-coding my clothes, shaving, etc.because what if I get it wrong or forgot something? This plays out that either I finally complete the task OR I give up because I believe that I can never do it right.

It’s kind of self-imposed learned helplessness, with the thin rope holding me down being the OCPD. Any negative feedback or constructive criticism I receive further reinforces my belief that I can never do it right, and thus I will fail at life (catastrophizing, anyone?). It’s a delightful companion that never leaves my side.

In my daily life, it can help me crank out quality work or it can be crippling. For example, this summer was a real humdinger because I almost didn’t pass the class I was taking. Don’t get me wrong: I’m smart and a good student, but graduate school has majorly exacerbated the weaknesses of OCPD. One component of my overarching summer assignment was to create program intervention goals, objectives, materials, and scripts. Part of the process was sending the materials to my advisor to get feedback and recommendations for changes, which in reality is a reasonable thing, right? Well, feedback is something I struggle with because in my head it means I did something wrong.

What should have taken me no longer than a day to change was taking me a week because I was trying to perfect it, so that I didn’t have to hear that I’d done it wrong, again. As a result, I got way behind on the work I needed to do, which threw off my schedule, and like dominos, everything related to school and mental wellness fell apart. My worst fear was coming true, as I was about to literally fail my summer course which would mean I would have to stay another year. Cue me about to give up and crawl into a little hole where I could sleep with my kitties and not have to face failure ever again. But my advisor dragged my out of the figurative hole (where I was crying), and slammed some major structure and scheduling into place after she assured me, yet again, that feedback does not mean “wrong” or “bad student.” By the grace of the powers that be, I passed, but in the process I learned some painfully valuable lessons.

First off, I am fully aware that the struggle to override this extraordinarily stringent side of my brain, OCPD, will be a lifelong struggle that I have to work around. As I mentioned above, structure and scheduling is essential for me. I tend to take longer to complete things, which is fine, but that means I have to set several deadlines for myself so that I can meet the final deadline (and not fail/be fired).

Structure helps me finish things on time, and it forces me to focus on the task at hand instead of giving into the scattered, anxious frenzy in my brain. Additionally, as much as I deplore exhibiting weaknesses, communicating what’s going on with my work with my supervisor is essential. I like to pretend that if I don’t acknowledge it, no one will notice and it’ll all magically work itself out. But, on the contrary, it’s unprofessional and gets you in a shitload of trouble.

If  Monsieur OCPD is going to be around for a while, I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and build in support that will help me still be a functioning (and, of course, bad-ass) adult in the workplace, and life. C’est la vie.

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