While researching OCD for fiction, I stumbled upon OCPD: Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Suddenly I was reading most accurate personality profile ever presented to me. From Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary 18th ed 1968:
[OCPD] is characterized by a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, mental and interpersonal control at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.
That’s broad, so let’s not leap to conclusions. I have hypochondriatic tendencies (though as we will shall see, that itself is a manifestation of OCPD). According Brainphysics.com, OCPD is when everything has to be “just right”:
Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is the mental disorder of striving for too much success. Perfection is the ultimate goal of the OCPD person, and failure is seen as earth shattering. OCPD is the disorder that, on the outside, seems useful. A drive to succeed is very appealing, but OCPD pushes it past the line of success and into the realm of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
I’m a perfectionist, and utterly crushed by failure. I see failure everywhere: My ability to navigate a 4-way stop, order food at a restaurant or make small talk with coworkers. When I lose a video game, or my OS glitches, I’m not merely annoyed, I’m furious. I want to destroy things.
But let’s not take the perfectionism/anxiety relationship as proof of OCPD.
The World Health Organization uses the term Anankastic personality disorder, characterized by at least three of the following:
- feelings of excessive doubt and caution;
- preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization or schedule;
- perfectionism that interferes with task completion;
- excessive conscientiousness, scrupulousness, and undue preoccupation with productivity to the exclusion of pleasure and interpersonal relationships;
- excessive pedantry and adherence to social conventions;
- rigidity and stubbornness;
- unreasonable insistence by the individual that others submit exactly to his or her way of doing things, or unreasonable reluctance to allow others to do things;
- intrusion of insistent and unwelcome thoughts or impulses.
The ones that apply to me in bold: 7/8. To elaborate:
Excessive doubt: After 4.5 years of marriage (and a relationship almost double that) I often doubt Megan loves me. Seriously. I doubt my skill as a writer, gamer, host, friend. I’m always trying to disprove those doubts.
Excessive caution: My financial habits and driving preferences.
Preoccupation with details/rules/lists/order: I make a good Dungeon Master precisely because I’ve memorized hundreds of rules. I had record-breaking grades in law enforcement. I pay intense attention to detail, which is a mixed blessing in my career.
Perfectionism that intereferes with task completion: How many projects have I started, from novels to the Portal2Cast to designing an RPG? How many have I finished? I’m not lazy; the sheer quantity of extra work I perform demonstrates that. But I consistently feel they aren’t good enough. My next project might be, so it’s time to abandon this project and start that one.
Excessive pedantry and adherence to social conventions: Sometimes I flaunt convention, but only to replace it with rules of my own. If you look up “pedantic” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me.
Rigidity and stubbornness: Full stop.
Unreasonable insistance…that others submit exactly to my way of doing things: Both in pedantry against the masses and daily life with Megan. Everything in the house has to be just so; failure to comply makes me either furious or depressed. I can never understand why the world doesn’t operate in the way that makes logical sense to me.
Intrusion of insistent and unwelcome thoughts or impulses: These are private, so take my word for it. I spend my whole existence trying to shake bad thoughts out of my head. It’s why I drink, take sleeping pills, and almost always have two sources of entertainment: A game on one screen, a show on the other. I don’tDAREleave my thoughts free to wander, because I dwell on every argument and mistake.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed), a person must meet four or more of the following characteristics:
- is occupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or agenda to the point that the key part of the activity is gone;
- demonstrates perfectionism that hampers with completing tasks;
- is extremely dedicated to work and efficiency to the elimination of spare time activities;
- is meticulous, scrupulous, and rigid about etiquettes of morality, ethics, or values;
- is not capable of disposing worn out or insignificant things even when they have no sentimental meaning;
- is unwilling to pass on tasks or work with others except if they surrender to exactly their way of doing things;
- takes on a stingy spending style towards self and others; and
- shows stiffness and stubbornness.
Again, the items in bold apply to me: 5/8.
The first part of #1 applies to me, but I still enjoy “the key part of the activity.” #3 is also partially true, but not to the exclusion of spare time activities.
The primary symptoms of OCPD can include preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts, following rules and regulations, compulsion to make lists and schedules, as well as rigidity/inflexibility of beliefs and/or exhibition of perfectionism that interferes with task-completion. Symptoms may cause extreme distress and interfere with a person’s occupational and social functioning. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, most patients spend their early life avoiding symptoms and developing techniques to avoid dealing with these strenuous issues.
By now, friends doubtless agree I show these tendencies, but might argue that I manifest them to the point of “personality disorder.” But what friends see is considerably tempered. I hide the madness.
Some, but not all, patients with OCPD show an obsessive need for cleanliness…over-attention to related details may instead make these (and other) activities of daily living difficult to accomplish.
My preoccupation is more with neatness than cleanliness, though both are present. I eat chips with tongs to avoid chip dust on my fingers. I wash parts of myself before a bath to avoid contaminating the bath. I wipe my hands and mouth between every bite of messy meals, using 10-15 napkins. I can’t stand clutter on floors, tables or counters, a preference that strains my marriage since chronic pain makes it difficult for me to maintain my environement.
Perception of own and others’ actions and beliefs tend to be polarised (i.e., “right” or “wrong”, with little or no margin between the two) for people with this disorder. As might be expected, such rigidity places strain on interpersonal relationships, with frustration sometimes turning into anger and even violence.
Once I’ve identified my position, everyone else is wrong. Dead wrong. Sometimes I omit saying so in the interest of peace, not always. I have lost friends because I cannot reconcile differences. Others can attest to the fury I can display over someone’s failure to realize what’s plain to me.
I’m usually depressed. I have thought about suicide an inordinate number of times given that my life is relatively stable and happy by most standards. As for pessimism, I have snarky and sarcastic responses to almost everything. I doubt that my endeavors will succeed, I doubt that I will enjoy an outing, and when I was younger, mom would say I was “staring at stop signs,” a metaphor for my negativity. Hypochondria is a manifestation of constant worry and pessimism. So I take fish oil, multivitamins and more as preventative measures.
There is significant similarity in the symptoms of OCD and OCPD, which can lead to complexity in distinguishing them clinically. For example, perfectionism is an OCPD criterion and a symptom of OCD if it involves the need for tidiness, symmetry, and organization…In contrast, the symptoms seen in OCPD, though they are repetitive, are not linked with repulsive thoughts, images, or urges. OCPD characteristics and behaviors are known as ego-syntonic, as persons with the disorder view them as suitable and correct. On the other hand, the main features of perfectionism and inflexibility can result in considerable suffering in an individual with OCPD as a result of the associated need for control.
I don’t experience “repulsive” thoughts or urges (OCD). I view all my behavior as suitable and correct; my need for control is because others simply aren’t skilled/smart/diligent enough to recognize what’s required (OCPD). The house should be spotless because it’s the right thing to do, and because it’s important to my self image.
The main difference is that someone with OCD is focused on particular distressing obsessions such as repeated hand-washing or abnormal fears of danger. Perfection for them is a sterile, danger-free environment. OCPD involves a more broad approach; a constant mindset of order and compulsion.
My OCPD doesn’t manifest in easily-identified rituals; just as Brainphysics states, my approach is broader. I’m always looking for symmetry and order.
- I will eat from an unopened bag of chips before others, this is to even out the bags.
- I can’t stand the crumbs at the bottom.
- I’m extremely picky about artwork/design of dishware; I won’t drink from a glass that’s too curvy OR too straight. We have one chipped plate; I hate eating from it, or any plates that don’t match a set.
- I have an aversion to used notebooks/notepads. I have dozens of notepads and graph pads where only the first 2-3 pages were used, but for my next projected, I wanted the “clean slate” of a brand new pad.
- I have readjusted my work and home workstations hundreds of times in the interest of “efficiency.”
- I sometimes rearrange objects, from decorations to restaurant cutlery, to create symmetrical patterns.
- Sometimes I stack things instead: Salt and pepper atop a ketchup bottle, etc.
- It drives me crazy when people defy the simplest social conventions (like not using turn signals).
- I can’t stand to have anything sticky on my hands or face. Period.
- I spend 3x-5x as long organizing/positioning text & pictures in PowerPoint as creating the content.
- I’ll spend hours on fonts, margins, styles and page breaks in Word before writing.
- Or organizing premade templates to avoid the above.
- I create hundreds of characters for videogames, starting over repeatedly in the attempt to “get it right.” I’ll delete a level 10 character just to remake him the exact same way, but with a different hairstyle.
- It drives me crazy when co-workers are 1-2 minutes late for a meeting (much less 5-15) even if it’s not my meeting.
- I can’t stand full or near-full trash cans or laundry bins. They should be emptied IMMEDIATELY.
- I’m the decorator in our house because if I feel things are even a little “off,” it’s a problem. Things must be level, symmetrical, or in places of non-symmetry, at least “even.” (The same density of pictures or knicknacks from surface to surface. At similar heights.)
- I’m the QMS expert, document expert and database manager at work precisely because I remember — and enforce — all the rules of QM, grammar, website management.
- My coworkers have handfulls to hundreds of unread emails (depending on position). I can’t stand to have ANY. I read everything immediately and sort it by task.
- I can’t stand when chairs aren’t pushed under a table, or organized symmetrically. Or when furniture is off-center.
- There is checklist of “emergency items” I go through with Megan before we leave the house, from medications I rarely need to devices I barely use. But I must have them along…just in case.
- I want towels to be FOLDED ONCE on the towel bar, not twice.
- My emails are full of bulleted lists (like this one).
- Worst of all, no matter how many organizational systems I create (rearranging my home, office, documents, notebooks, etc.), none of them is good enough and I will inevitably repeat the exercise.
None of these is compulsory in the sense of OCD; I don’t do them to the exclusion of all else, but there is a pattern of maintaining order, even in ways others consider odd/obsessive. Most people never have to deal with the fallout of me getting it wrong; my poor wife, on the other hand…pity her.
The examples don’t make the case. What convinces me is the relationship between these not-quite-rituals and the anxiety I’m trying to stave off, the feeling that I amfailingeach social encounter, meeting, email, project, article, story, route, party, game and goal. And I must work harder to get it right next time. Or else the world ends.
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