My story of OCPD: how I subconsciously stopped myself from living my best life
Mental illness, or whatever I thought that meant, did not apply to me. I did not suffer from one, nor have I been diagnosed with one. This all changed when a friend, who happens to be a life coach, challenged me to read more about mental disorders. One disorder in particular resonated very closely with my life.
What is mental illness anyway? It can be defined as a pattern that causes distress or impairment of personal functioning, affecting how a person behaves, feels, perceives, or thinks. When we think of mental illness we may think of extreme cases where it is preventing a person from living their day to day life. The notion of ‘functioning’ is subjective. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental disorder, what if there was something lingering in the background, affecting your life in ways that are not as subtle as you think?
I immersed myself in research and discovered Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder or OCPD. Health professionals describe it as “a personality disorder characterized by excessive concern with orderliness, perfectionism, attention to details, mental and interpersonal control, and a need for control over one's environment, which interferes with flexibility, openness to experience.” Developed as a coping mechanism unconsciously in childhood, I now realize it is actually preventing me from manifesting the life I want to live as an adult.
My research uncovered that people who have OCPD likely grew up with over-involved and overprotective parents who expected their strict rules to be followed. Disobedience to those rules was followed by punishment and grounding. These children, as a result, learned that in order to survive at home they needed to be perfect. They received praise for ‘being good’. Experts say that this can be labeled as learned behaviour, or in other words, a coping mechanism. Children start to believe that they need to follow the rules and be a good girl/boy, because if they don’t, they would disrupt everything in their environment, and therefore, it was their responsibility to ‘keep it together’.
What a tall order.
What I ‘learned’ is that I must do everything in my power to keep the order, to prevent the adults from freaking out, to prevent being grounded. As an adult, this developed a belief that, if I go toward what I desire (or break cultural rules), I will be punished. How do I avoid this so-called punishment? I try to control everything - things that are in my control and things that are not. (The illusion is that I think I can control everything). I've become accustomed to thinking that everything needs to be a certain way in order for me to feel safe and good about myself. There is a complete lack of trust in life and the unknown. There is very little room for risk-taking.
Therefore I feel like I can conclude that for me personally, not manifesting my desires is my subconscious attempt at survival. I always thought I was living my best life, but when I reflect back on what living has looked like for me, it was merely survival, since I was too afraid to go after what I truly desired, in fear of punishment.
How does such a person go in the direction of their dreams? How does someone manifest that which they want for themselves? They don’t. It doesn’t feel safe. It is better to manifest that which others approve of, leading to manifesting what is accepted culturally or socially, or even literally manifesting for others (making sure others are okay first, attending to their needs before your own).
For example, I have realized with my OCPD that I need to feel accomplished. As such, it is rare for me to take a day off and not check something off my list. I would consider that a waste of a day. I was so obsessed with efficiency that I would schedule activities weeks in advance, my calendar would be so detailed and planned out, there was no possibility to deviate from it. If everything is to be done from a place of accomplishment and the need to check off boxes, it would make sense that my life revolves around work. One way I centered my life around work was by living close to the office so that my commute would be short, so that I could maximize my day, so that I would have time after work to go to more places faster. Do you see the control? The thought of getting a dog was so overwhelming because it would throw a wrench in my calendar. The thought of jeopardizing my efficiency would send me into a panic. I would feel completely trapped by this mental narrative.
OCPD has a positive side (there are two sides to any coin). It can make you productive, motivated, and efficient (a trait that's extremely valuable at work). Individuals with OCPD are detail-oriented, take initiative, are reliable, loyal, and responsible. They think of the worst-case scenario all the time and then plan for it. It can make them an invaluable asset to a business and their boss.
So, the point here is not to try to eliminate the OCPD or pretend it is not there. The alternative is to first understand where it comes from, and then to embrace where it can add value to my life, instead of letting it control me. Big difference. So instead of eliminating something that will likely never go away, I want to be able to pinpoint how it has had a negative effect on my life; how it has created a story and an illusion that I’m living and thriving, when I'm really not. The idea is to challenge the story created by OCPD in order to extend trust in life, the universe, whatever you want to call it. Stepping out of the confines of my made-up schedule and need to control outcomes can actually lead to better, unimaginable outcomes. With OCPD, you only know what you know, and you don’t even try to know what you don’t know. That is not a life well-lived.
How do I catch myself now? When I start to spiral I ask myself a number of questions, such as:
Am I controlling the outcome here?
How am I being inflexible and what is it I am trying to protect myself from?
Am I rescuing someone else? Why?
Am I impressing someone else, or seeking to be validated?
Am I making up chaos (story) in my head?
These days I am trying to challenge my OCPD and the story it has created by consciously throwing a wrench in my schedule. And trying to move further away from downtown to escape that ‘go go go’ mentality. My OCPD will always be there, but with this newfound awareness, I want to consciously direct it in ways where it will be useful, and challenge it when it is not.
Have you ever tried to identify what could be a mental health issue for you? Tell me, what is the story that you have been living, unbeknownst to yourself?
P.s. This self-awareness work was prompted by a workshop about manifesting, led by Christina Prokos, the life coach I mentioned in the beginning of my post. If you are called to dig deeper and get to know your shadow, you can check out an upcoming workshop titled Healing Relationships.