Another Crappy Thing About OCD

I suffer from mood swings. I can be on top of the world one minute and on the bottom the next. Once I’m at the bottom I tend to stay there for a while. At one point I wondered if this was indicative of bipolar, but after doing my own research and talking to a doctor I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not. A much more plausible explanation is that this is yet another wunderfuckingful manifestation of OCD.

In earlier posts I mentioned that tics don’t stop, even when they start to cause bodily harm. Some of the worst, for me, have been head-jerking tics that wrench my neck. Even when I pinch a nerve and my muscles spasm, the tics don’t stop. They keep going and going and causing more and more damage until I’m back in a doctor’s office, waiting to hear, “Well if they’re hurting your neck, why don’t you stop?”

Because. I. Can’t.

I’ve learned the same kind of thing happens with OCD. I fixate on a thing, and I can’t stop studying it. Eventually the need for information invades every aspect of my life. Whatever I know isn’t enough. It’s never enough. So I’ll stay up late, I’ll read on the computer when I should be doing other things, I’ll buy books I can’t afford because I need to know.

In so many many ways this has served me well. Unlike the tics, I’ve benefited from the information overload. I’ve steeped myself in Old Norse culture. My browser history is chock full of visits to sites describing stereo recording techniques I’ll never use. I have shelves of books detailing the history of machine tools. I learned these things not because I needed to, but because I needed to know.

None of this information has ever helped me win at Trivial Pursuit. In some ways it hasn’t helped at all, except that I feel better for knowing. All I know is that I can’t stop, any more than I can stop ticcing. Even when it hurts.

The one drawback of this obsessive approach to learning is that I’m a constant novice. I always find myself at the grassy foothills of a mountainous learning curve. As soon as I make any real headway into a subject, my mind jumps the rails and plants me at the foothills of yet another subject, staring up at the cliffs. As much as it’s invigorating to learn new things all the time, it’s also exhausting.

And, as I’ve learned over the years, not all experts are very accepting of the perpetually ignorant, no matter how driven they are to learn. The beginner questions I ask are often met with scorn and derision rather than real answers. But no matter how painful it becomes, I can’t quit. I can’t stop. I have to keep reading and asking and putting my foot in my mouth. It’s hard not to come away from these interactions feeling genuinely stupid.

After a while, feeling stupid really starts to grind on the soul. I wish I could tell my mind when to jump the rails and leave a subject behind. I wish I had some measure of control over the things I fixate on. I wish I could just stop. Why don’t I?

Because. I. Can’t.


2 thoughts on “Another Crappy Thing About OCD

  1. Therapist wanna-be here. Possibly you won’t let yourself get beyond the first steps in immersion in a subject because you are afraid to fail. Getting the overview is (relatively) easy. Gaining expertise is harder. If you don’t try to become an expert, you don’t need to determine if you’ve become any good. But you *are* blogging.


    • I’m not sure that’s it. Not exactly, anyway. It’s more that I go off on esoteric tangents and can’t let go of them until that interest gets switched off. I’ve been a part-time machinist for over twenty years at this point. But with only one exception I’ve never met another machinist who really cared who originated the first systematic screw cutting tools (Maudslay) or who figured out how to originate true planar surfaces (Whitworth). For the most part the machinists I know just pick up a tap or go use a surface plate.

      But heaven help me if I get into a discussion with a historian who studies that time period. In their mind, becoming an expert to the degree I could hold a conversation with them would require years of study I simply don’t have. I could choose to put in the decade or so worth of study it would take to hold that conversation, but at some point my interest in the esoteric tangent switches off. I’m still a machinist, and I still enjoy reading about the history of machine tools, but it doesn’t drive out every other aspect of my life any more. These days it’s a conscious decision to pick up a book on the subject.


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