On OCD

We are the new Americana
High on legal marijuana
Raised on Biggie* and Nirvana
We are the new Americana

— Lyrics from New Americana by Halsey

August 10, 1995

“Hey Tiffany, I’m really sorry for you that Jerry Garcia+ died.”
“Thanks, Jeff. It’s such a shock.”
“Yeah, I remember how I felt when Kurt Cobain++ died.”
Tiffany, pissed: “Don’t even try to compare the importance of Kurt Cobain with Jerry Garcia!”
Me, more pissed: “You’re right Tiffany. Cobain was creating art. These days Garcia was just an entertainer.”

Twenty-three years later, I’ve won this argument. Pop-rock star Halsey** says so. I’ve replayed this encounter a hundred times over the past two decades. It’s important that I come out on top.

A hundred times? Seriously? Why?

This is what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder looks like. Reliving stupid conversations in your head while a generation is born and grows to adulthood.

April 5, 1994

The night Kurt Cobain died, I had a small party. Not because he died, the party was already planned. I bought a cookbook on how to make pizza from scratch. I bought a pizza stone, a bag of flour, and all the stuff that goes on top. I was ready to start a new phase in my life. A more adult phase. I was cooking for my friends.

Tiffany was there. My brother and his girlfriend. There were a couple of other people too, but now I can’t remember who—they’ve faded into the background. Something I *do* remember is that my party sucked.

I didn’t understand the yeast/rising step of making dough. And I forgot to add salt. My crust was chewy and flavorless. We might as well have been eating cardboard. I didn’t make anywhere near enough pizza, so we each ate two small slices. No salad, no dessert. Just a bit of bad pizza and beer. Plenty of beer.

Brooding and drunk, my playlist for the evening was only Nirvana. A tribute to Kurt, regardless of what anyone else wanted to listen to. Everyone’s attitude was drawn towards my own. The party broke up early. I was too focused on my misery to be embarrassed. This is what OCD looks like.

When I met Susan, while discussing the subject of music, I was insufferable. Just ask her, she’ll tell you: “Yes, Jeff was insufferable.” I was a music snob. Or maybe a music snot. I listened to a narrow swath of alt/punk rock. Every other genre was viewed with contempt. People who listened to pop and Top 40 were scorned. Unworthy of respect. No, I’m not kidding. A music snot! Why? OCD. A line in the sand. Obsessed with being right. Why did Susan give me a chance? I’ll never know.

These days, I’m more likely to be found listening to Halsey with my family than rocking out to the scraping sounds of Sonic Youth. This is new. Until about a year ago, I would only listen to what I considered “good” music. I was still disdainful of radio pop—the genre the rest of my family enjoys. Sure, I’d mellowed some over the past twenty years, but while driving in the car, when my kids said “can we put on the radio” I’d shoot off an eye-roll.

Magically, this has gone away. I’m mostly happy to listen to the radio with my family. We listen in the car as we drive around town or on a road trip. We listen on our Echo Dot in our kitchen as we make dinner. I enjoy many of the songs, I’m beginning to identify the artists by their voices. Make no mistake. I’d rather listen to the Clash than Justin Bieber, but I no longer feel the need to rub everyone’s nose in it.

So, what’s changed? I’ve been thinking about this daily on my walks around the neighborhood each morning… Oh, that’s new as well. A year ago, I would have said walking is a waste of time. Now I see it as a healthy centering activity, a necessary part of my day.

Over the past eighteen months, I’ve been experimenting with medications for mental illness. Is mental illness too strong a term? I don’t consider myself disabled, but I definitely have some hurdles to clear—OCD, anxiety and depression. One or more of these disorders rear their ugly heads daily to varying degrees. But on my current combination of medications, something has changed.

For five years, ending around six months ago, I refused to watch TV with my family. It was beneath me. Maybe a couple of times a year, I’d watch a family movie on a Friday night, but other than that, nothing. I couldn’t see the gain; I didn’t see anything in it for me, so I abstained. I would sit in the next room and listen to my family interact as they watched Dancing with the Stars or some sort of house-hunting show. Maybe a bit jealous of their conversations, but resolute in my decision to opt-out.

This isn’t the OCD response most people expect. We’ve all been told time and again that OCD looks like order. A medical doctor once told me a joke: “I have C.D.O.” “What’s that?” “Well, it’s OCD, but I feel the need to alphabetize it.” Our misconceptions about ODC are so prevalent that even the doctors get it wrong. I recently read a blog-post called OCD is a Mess. Alice Franklin is a new blogger who, like me, has Tourette Syndrome. OCD is a common comorbid with Tourettes. I think it’s worthwhile for people to read Alice’s post. To learn about the difference between OCD and neatness.

Since I’ve found the right medicine-combination, my life has changed. My relationships with my wife and kids have improved, and I’m a more engaged family member. This extends beyond TV and pop music. I’m more willing to give my time when requested. I’ve pulled down a wall that I kept between myself and everyone else. By stepping on my OCD, I’ve become less self-centered. I no longer annoy people by thinking I’m right.

+ Lead singer of the rock band the Grateful Dead.
++ Lead singer of the rock band Nirvana.
* I have no idea who this is.
** A pop-rock star.

11 thoughts on “On OCD

  1. Hi Jeff..so glad to see you up and about again! I, too; live with an OCD person..he can hardly stand it; that I just don’t notice the ‘little ‘ things he focuses on. More than once, he has crumpled a piece of paper and left it on the floor somewhere..just to see how long it would be, before I noticed it and picked it up! Usually, a few days..Or fixing the blinds just right..or straightening a picture about a quarter of an inch. My brain just doesn’t notice these things-I am pretty oblivious to small details. I can imagine how obnoxious I am, to an OCD person..anyway, good to hear from you. Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Jeff. I’m pleased that you’ve been able to find some medication that has helped you so you’re not missing out on those special family bonding moments. The OCD I had when I was younger (which I still have traces of) was about touching things with both hands to feel balanced and counting or saying the same thing in my head equal amounts. The latter of which is still there.

    Like

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