About a week ago, I stumbled onto the description for a mental illness called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Despite the near-identical name, this disorders shares only a small amount of overlap with its more famous cousin, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
When I described the various symptoms to my sister, she confirmed that it was basically a bullet-list accounting of my personality. Near slavish devotion to order, systems, and rules; obsessive, unreasonable thought patterns; uncompromising need for control in one’s life, to the point that every action was an attempt at maintaining one’s defenses against the utter chaos that is life.
A book was recommended on one of the websites about OCPD, Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, which laid out in excruciating detail all the types of obsessive thought patterns people with OCPD would use constantly and their underlying causes. I gave up highlighting relevant passages, because I was highlighting more than I wasn’t.
The biggest breakthrough for me were the descriptions of Demand Sensitivity and Demand Resistance. Demand Sensitivity is the tendency for obsessive thinkers to take any kind of request as a demand, even implied ones. I live with the constant assumption that things are expected of me, that everyone has made a legitimate demand of me and that I have to meet them even when I don’t know what they are. Demand Resistance is the automatic, gut-level aversion that obsessive thinkers feel when something is asked of them.This means that basically everything that is presented to me as a demand becomes something I don’t want to do; even knitting and reading become onerous if I tell myself I “should” work on this project or finish that novel.
In response to this revelation, I decided to reframe every action I took as a “want”. I began by figuring out what exactly it was that I wanted, and not in a long-term kind of way. What did I want, from minute to minute? What were my basic desires? I committed to examining myself whenever any small decision needed to be made, to get some idea of what my own preferences actually were. I found that this approach led to each decision feeling as fully within my control as possible, and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. The relief was immediately palpable. I felt like I had been skidding over ice but suddenly found traction again.
Oddly, this discovery of low-level control coincided with the realization that there is no way for me to maintain long-term control of my life. I realized I was trying to maintain ultimate control of my destiny– a feat impossible for any human.It turned out that the most control I can achieve is by being in charge of my day-to-day details, leaving the overall plan for this road trip in more capable hands.
The gods drive the Winnebago, and I just need to sit back and enjoy the scenery, get a snack, and let Them know if I need to stop (metaphorically). Sometimes They have to swerve to miss a pothole and I’m going to go flying if I’m not paying attention. Until now I’ve been buckled in to the passenger seat, refusing to let Them have the map and counting mile markers.
[To expand on this metaphor: bringing Them a snack from the back, offerings; hanging out near the front and singing road trip songs, hymns]