My Struggles with being OCD

Hello from a quiet moment.

I am sitting in the loneliness of a quiet house at the moment and realizing how much I obsess on little things and how much I sometimes need to understand the why if something. I did not always comprehend my obsession with seemingly minuscule things, but I have been well aware of my ability or need to question things. I understand my questioning as a different issue than my liking order, but lately I see them as more of an extension of each other. Ironically, one of the things that has helped me manage either element of my daily existence has been through my teaching of freshman writing. That might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. First, I need to thank my colleague in the College of Education,

It started with a conversation during our providing snacks and coffee during finals week, something our faculty union did for students. While attending this event with a colleague, one who ironically interviewed here the same day I did, a third colleague, who teaches Business Law courses, questioned me about issues of grammar. As one who is in his 60s, who diagrammed sentences in junior high and beyond, was corrected when he misspoke as a child (and all those things some who read this understand), and as noted is OCD, an interesting conversation ensued. While my immediate instinct was to lament the incessant tearing down of grammar rules near and dear, I realized the world was no longer the same. Additionally, one of my former linguistics colleagues professed adamantly that language is post-modern by its very dynamic nature. While this is a bit of a bitter pill for me to swallow, I have been somewhat swayed to fall into her camp. Language is the consequence of personality, culture, and education. All three of those components are more complex than you might imagine, and when you put them together the complications multiply. And yet there is an order; there is an expectation; and those are the things than mystify and excite me. Those are the things that create some of the most interesting expectations and experiences in my classes, particularly my Foundations of College Writing sections.

As I ponder my own personality or practice, my propensity for needing neatness and order began early in my life, before the age of two. I remember as a two year old trying to make my bed and get myself dressed. My Great-aunt told me about those events also, so it was not merely my two-year-old imagination attempting to alter reality. Throughout my life my desire to structure and order was implemented to create a sense of security. If you have read my blog over the years, my need to feel safe and secure is a central need. And yet, what offers security? What provides my inner-self the feeling of safety? Predictability is part of it, and feeling sure of what might happen next allowed no possibility of anything that seemed remotely calculable. Looking back, perhaps taking control of the minutiae was my initial attempt to feel safe. If I had even a modicum of order, of certainly, I could find a glimpse of hope that my life would make sense. These are difficult connections and realities for me yet today.

The last 24 hours most definitely are defined as unexpected. Plans made and revised with intention were scuttled by an unanticipated mechanical dilemma. However, in an attempt to maintain as much of a plan as possible, alternative plans have been secured. There are still things to manage, and there will be some consequences, but an very different experience and new things for me too. Perhaps what astounds me most is I have taken most of it in stride and did not get overwhelmed by such significant issues. I am quite sure that would not have been the case earlier in my life. And yet, there are things I see myself doing to keep some sense of structure and order to the present experience of organized chaos. It is helpful that Georg has been quite chill about all of it. I just told him thank you and his response is this is not the first time, so I may need to investigate. One of the things I have worked hard to put into practice is if I cannot control it, I cannot waste energy on it. I am much better at that now, thank goodness.

The past year has prompted me to ponder beyond the semester and realize the reality of living life beyond the working to live, which is what most of our life consists of. We get up; we have a routine; we go about our daily tasks as if they are thrust upon us and we are the victims of our daily existence. I do not think I have spent my life as such, but I think that is because I am always pondering the why. Why does this or that happen? More importantly, why does it matter? For me making sense of the non-sensical or perhaps it is more needing structure to manage the non-sensical has been my life’s task. And yet, more importantly it has allowed me to live my life as more of a giver. Indeed, for me, the line from the Prayer of St. Francis is what has sustained me more often than not. – hoc dando accipimus – it is giving, we receive. It is a simple adage to understand, but one difficult to establish or practice. My human selfishness gets in the way at times.

It also relates to the practice of forgiveness. Between my seminary studies and my life experiences, I’ve come to realize how powerful the gift of forgiveness is. It is something we need to provide each other regularly. It is something that is too often withheld because of our own weakness. It took me 25 years to forgive a person who caused incredible injury to others, myself included. However, I am still blessed that it finally occurred. That ability to give, even that long after the fact, released me from so much pain, resentment and anger. It changed my life. And it has changed my outlook on so much more. I still need my structure and my predictability. And yet through the freedom of forgiveness, be it given or received, I am able to understand the possibility of another avenue. I am able to compromise more freely and openly. It amazes me how both structure and freedom, seemingly oxymoronic, are to essential qualities for my happiness. As I ponder, I realize some of that initial structure or understanding of structure came from the very person I needed to survive. Ironic that even now as I sit in the quietness of the morning, in the afterglow of what Christmas has become all to often, I am content in the silence. I am blessed by a gift given that has given back so much more, and unexpectedly. In my piety, I am hoping that all who were once part of my human existence and have left this worldly life celebrate a holiday of the ultimate forgiveness and giving together.

I miss those memories and those experiences. In the meantime, I will ponder and organize, but I realize in that structure I do have security, safety, and possibilities. Blessed holidays to all of you. It is nice to post after so long.

Thanks for reading,


Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

4 thoughts on “My Struggles with being OCD

  1. Very nice Michael. Thanks for sharing. You are not by yourself in this writing. I know several people who are right there with you.
    Happy New Year to each of you. Dona

  2. Good evening, Michael.
    I glanced through the titles of your blogs. This one is significant to me. My son has OCD also. His psychiatrist made the comment once that it is one of the worst cases he’s seen. Like you, he showed signs of it early. His first grade teacher told me during a PTA meeting that he was meticulous about the order of his desk. Small things over the years, the way he had to turn around three times when he was up to bat during Little League, the insistence of reading the same book over and over; even the tone of my voice had to be the same each time. Long story short, he has all but given up driving because it’s exhausting for him to have to park the car EXACTLY how it was parked previously. When he gets out of the car he goes through a litany of checking and rechecking. The poor guy is mentally exhausted. One time the psychiatrist asked him to name a few things that he does that are OCD. He replied “life.” His whole life is taken up by this disease. His short trip to hell, via heroin, was a cry for peace in his head. He had a wonderful doctor who realized this. The pandemic, as I’m sure you personally know, kicked the crap out of him. Routine was gone. The whole world was changing. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure he would make it. So, I’m sympathetic to your plight.

    I, too, think about forgiveness often. I don’t seem to have difficulty forgiving others. That doesn’t mean that I do it lightly. It’s sincere. It’s myself I have trouble forgiving.

    You seem to come to terms with your struggles. It takes a while, doesn’t it? All we can do is do the best we can, continue to help others with their struggles, practice patience and kindness.

    I’d prefer this not be a public comment if you don’t mind. Take care.


  3. Dr. Martin,

    I was diagnosed with OCD about a year ago. That diagnosis changed my life and the way I’ve come to understand myself. Naturally, the title of your blog caught my eye.

    I, too, seek the control and security you speak of. I struggle to interface with uncertainty; I despise when someone says “It will all be fine” with the expectation that it will quell my concerns. How could they possibly know?! I’ve been in outpatient treatment for the condition for the last several months, uncovering and dissecting the obsessive rumination and anxieties I had previously assumed were present for everyone. It took me until my late 20’s to share the depths of my inner dialogue with someone I trusted. The clutter in my mind, sleepless nights, and uncertainty were weighing on me and it became apparent to me that something more complex than anxiety was at play. I was encouraged to seek help for OCD.

    I had never truly considered OCD as a factor in the way I operate. While some of it is personality, I’m sure, I also grew up fearful that walking on one side of a tree would result in something catastrophic, and opposingly, that walking on the other side would keep me “safe”. I feared irrational consequences of my mundane actions, despite my own awareness of the lack of logic informing those very fears. To this day, I think about death constantly, trying to make sense of that which I cannot crack through with my overthinking. I’ve purged myself of all of my possessions because I can’t bear being in cluttered spaces. I have a spreadsheet listing every material possession I own. Some may find this to be unusual but it is the way I live. My OCD is the part of me that wants to be the very best version of myself that I can be. The consequences are “checking” everything ceaselessly, hearing the cacophony of thoughts so loudly in my mind that I can’t bear it at times, and yet my OCD also gives me the drive to be great at the things I commit to.

    I cannot make certain that the world around me is as I perceive it, that things won’t suddenly become so unfamiliar that I can’t engage with it. It’s a strange push and pull in my mind. I am organized but go with the flow. I am creative but steady. I am moralistic, but outside the box. I follow the rules, but only when I truly agree with them.

    Like you, I seek safety and stability. I seek to understand the “why” of every situation, perhaps so I may be more prepared when something goes awry. Why do things work the way they do in this society? Why do people behave the way they do? Why do I feel the way I do? It goes on and applies itself to the many layers of my life. How can I possibly function without knowing everything about a person’s intentions or a situation’s outcome? How can I be exceedingly knowledgable about a topic of interest if I don’t spend hours and days and weeks fixated on it?! How can I operate in such an inhumane world and ever find true safety when life is uncertain and unsteady? In fact, how does everyone around me function without structure or planning or asking the same questions!? Anything could change at any moment, anything could evolve so far beyond my comforts and that is a threat to my safety. “What if something bad happens?” is the worriers repetition, mine is “When WILL something bad happen?”

    Learning to accept the chaos around us, as you speak to, isn’t always easy. It is hopeful to hear you’ve found yourself in moments, recognizing that you aren’t bothered to quite the extent that you used to be when things don’t go as planned or when the answer to some pesky inner question isn’t immediately made known. I am working on this skill. Somedays, I’m along for the ride and people around me perceive me as laid back and without worry. But the truth is, my mind is always twisting itself around ideas and worries and fears and concerns.

  4. Dear Dr. Martin,

    Although I do not have a particular need for strict order in my life; I can relate to the obsessiveness that is attributed to OCD. I have not been officially diagnosed with ADHD but I have an inkling that I may have a mild form of it. I have tended to jump from obsession to obsession throughout my life. This normally manifested in my flavor of the month when it comes to playing video games. Often I would play a single game for a month straight and then play it sparingly until the next bout of an obsession. Every once in a while this would occur in my physical sense. The two biggest examples I can think of are skateboarding and playing the guitar. I did both of these things for nearly a month straight and then never picked them up again. As I’ve grown, these episodes have happened less often. I now tend to be too busy or simply do not feel like playing games all day long. I think I may be finding my place and settling down so to speak. I can now understand that doing a couple of things all the time is a lot more fun than one thing for a short time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: