Why People with OCD Give Into their ‘Irrationalities’

I have got OCD. That is to say: I have intrusive thoughts flying into my head, which create anxiety, sparking in me the urge to perform certain actions (‘compulsions’), that relieve me of the anxiety. What kind of thoughts am I talking about? Well, it’s hard to explain. Fore example: whenever I touch something, let’s say a book, I have to have a certain ‘image’ in mind – usually of someone I look up to. Also, I have to do the ‘touch-don’t touch’ ritual a certain number of times. Not any number of course! No, only the numbers that ‘are right’. This is not an exact science, but the numbers are always even (unless it’s one, which is always good!), but not any even number will do…Makes sense right?

Is this weird? Absolutely. Would I die if I wouldn’t give into the urges? Absolutely not. Why then do I do it? Am I stupid? Or to put it differently: is it irrational to give into these urges?

Book
My first response would be: ‘Yes, this is very irrational.’ I perform certain actions which don’t add any value to my life. It is not like baking a cake, washing your car or taking a shower: activities that actually provide you with some sort of tangible effect. But it is even worse that: because besides the fact that my compulsions don’t add any value, they actually take (an awful long) time and energy. So actually it is very stupid to give into the urges. So why then do I do it? Am I stupid?

Well, it is actually very easy to explain…to those who smoke. If you are a smoker, you, after let’s say two hours of not-smoking, feel the urge to smoke. If you don’t give into that urge, you will get nervous, irritable, you cannot focus, and more. You know that smoking doesn’t add any value to your life; hell no, it’s even bad for you! Yet, even though you know this, you give into your urge to smoke, and take a cigarette. Why? Because in the short term, it’s the best thing to do. One more cigarette won’t harm you that much, while not taking the cigarette does harm you significantly – you get nervous, irritable, and you cannot put your mind to those issues you want to focus on, etc.

It’s the same with OCD. Let’s say I touch a book and put it away. Then I feel the urge to do this with a ‘good image’ in mind. Not giving into the urge makes me feel like there is a lock on my brain, like my cognitive capacities are severely limited, like I cannot think clearly (sounds familiar smokers?). This feeling is so unpleasant, that – even though I know it won’t add any value in the long term (if will even detract value due to the time and energy it takes) – I do the compulsion to get rid of the unpleasantness.

Furthermore, just like smoking, OCD is addictive. You either don’t do it, or you do it big time. For if you give into the urge, the urge will become stronger, and it will be harder to resist. But in case you don’t give in, the urge will get less and less. But in order not to give in, you have to resist the unpleasantness of the moment, and – as I explained above – that always seems the sup-optimal option.

Rational
But back to the question I asked at the start: is it irrational to give into the urges? Especially given that I know it won’t add any value to my  life? I say – and I have been ridiculed for this by my psychiatrist – it is not irrational. Because at each point in time, not giving into the urge leaves me with a bad feeling: an unpleasant feeling, a restriction on my thinking, that I don’t want. This feeling can literally last for hours, or even an entire day. Giving into the urge clears me of this bad feeling. And – even though the activity takes time and effort – that takes much less time and energy than that the negative feeling makes me feel bad. The only problem is that I know that, within now and a couple of seconds after having given into the urge, the next urge will be there, to which I will have to give in again…

Welcome inside of the mind of someone with OCD.

What do you think: is it utterly irrational to give in to the urges? Or would you say that – given the short term relief of the negative feeling – it is actually a rational thing to do?

Getting Addicted to Cigarettes…on Purpose

This might be one the stupidest articles you’ve ever read. My apologies for that.

Four months ago, I decided to start smoking. Why? I don’t know. Probably a combination of factors: I was fascinated by the series Californication, in which the main character (Hank Moody) smokes. Although it is sad to admit, it might be that watching him smoke sparked my curiosity about why it is people grab to cigarettes. Also, I have always been wondering whether smoking is primarily a physiological addiction (an addiction of the body) or a psychological one (an addiction of the mind). I could never understand why less than 25 percent of those who want to quit smoking, actually manage to do so. I always thought: if you want to stop, then you can stop. I mean: if you want to stop travelling by car, you can just stop taking the car, right? So given these ‘rational’ considerations, I decided to take up the cigarette, and start my journey of addiction.

Now, four months later, I have decided to stop. My little ‘experiment’ has provided me with the information I was looking for. I experienced what it is that makes you want to light up a cigarette. And, what I can say, it is more of a psychological addiction than a physiological addiction. It is the feeling of allowing yourself a break from what it is that you are doing. Also, the habit of smoking a cigarette every morning during your ‘morning walk’ gives you a clear signal that the day took off; a feeling as if the referee blew his whistle and the match has started.

However, I must admit that there are also physiological factors that make you want to grab a cigarette. In case you drink coffee (which is more likely than that you smoke), you can compare it to that longing for a cup of coffee to give your the energy you need to get through the day. And, as with drinking coffee, the first cigarette/cup of coffee gives the relative biggest ‘boost’; the relative biggest satisfaction in calming down your longing for nicotine/caffeine.

I’m not sure whether I have become truly addicted to cigarettes. I can only tell how I feel, and that’s what I’ve described above. And – since I’ve been drinking (much) coffee for the last couple of years, and I can fairly say that I’m addicted to caffeine – I think my smoking adventure will have likewise effects. Probably, even though I ‘quitted’, I’ll keep (at least for a while) on having that same longing for cigarettes as I have for coffee. I wonder which impulses will be tougher to handle: the psychological or the physiological. I am curious, and a little anxious, to find out.

What do you think?

Addiction: A Purpose in a Purposeless World

Addiction is “the continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse dependency consequences”. In this article I want to zoom into the meaning of the word “adverse” as it appears in this definition of addiction. Because what is “adverse”? Is it adverse when you are ruining your liver? As what people are allegedly doing by drinking. Or is it adverse when you are ruining your lungs? As what people are allegedly doing by smoking. Is it adverse to be a pervert? As is allegedly the case for those who are “sex addicts”. What is “adversity”? Let’s take a look at that.

Before being able to know what adversity implies, we need to know relative to what an an act will be adverse. After all, the same action can be benficial or adverse, depending upon the purpose one had with the action. So let’s take the most absract purpose one could have, and apply it to you: what’s the purpose of your life? Do you want to become an astronaut? If so, then you know what to do: study the universe, apply to NASA and hope for the best. Do you want to become a professional football player? If so, then you know what to do: train like hell and hope you will get through the selection process. So far so good. But what if you don’t know what to do? What if not every cell in your body pulls you into the direction of your dreams? What if your mind isn’t occupied all day by thoughts of you playing in a full stadium, with supporters chanting your name for the entire match? Then you’ve got a problem, right? Because your mind isn’t going to rest; it will keep on pulling and pulling without knowing where to pull to. So how are you going to to stop this? How are you – if you don’t have a clear purpose in life – make sure your mind doesn’t keep on reminding you of the purposeless of your existence?

Well, maybe you could just decide to find out what’s your purpose in life? Figure out what you want to do, where you heart lies etc. etc. But let’s be fair: that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? I don’t know if you ever sat down one afternoon and through deeply about what is “your purpose in life”; if you did, you might have experienced that finding your life’s purpose isn’t like a Sudoku-puzzle: the answer is not written on the backside of the paper. So what to do now? How to keep your mind and body occupied without having that all-encompassing purpose leading the way?

You could start smoking, or drinking, or even better: you could start using cocaine or heroine. Because one thing is for sure: although these goods might not be “healthy” – in the sense of being beneficial to your body – they sure as hell provide you with a purpose in life. A purpose to make money in order to buy cigarettes, a purpose to run to the liquor store in order to grab that booze, and a purpose to rob the old lady on the street in order to get some cash so that you can buy your drugs. It’s just another way to keep your mind occupied, right?

Let’s be fair people: the is no “Purpose” (with a capital “p”) in life, right? There is no single goal each one of use should strive for. There is no single benchmark along which to measure your degree of success in life. So we should be damn happy if we find something that we find worthwhile to do, right? Because we have to do something. We cannot do nothing. Everyone needs a purpose. But some of us have been more “lucky” in finding our purpose than others. Some of us might know by heart what they’re “destined to do”, while others are just wandering around, answering their need for a purpose by laying their hands on drugs and booze; all to silence the mind and have – consciously or not – a purpose in life.

So let’s be mild, shall we? Let’s not condemn the addicts of this world for the “purposeless” lives they’re seeming to live. It’s bad enough for them that they don’t have a purpose; that they’re trying to fill the gap of purposelessness with other – “lesser” – means. Let’s just be happy for our purposes in life and fulfill them with flair.

Don’t you think so?