This is the second post in a series. Find the first here.
HUGE DISCLAIMER: I am not formally diagnosed with OCPD. There are absolutely some problems and pitfalls with self diagnosis, but in this case I identify strongly enough with the diagnosis that I feel comfortable talking about it. At the very least, the label serves to collect a variety of my symptoms in an understandable fashion. Many of these symptoms don’t quite get picked up by any of my other diagnoses, which is why I’m taking this space to talk about them.
OCPD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. This is not the same as OCD, which involves recurrent, intrusive thoughts that can only be dismissed with a compulsive behavior. OCPD is a personality disorder with a high focus on perfection, achievement, and control.
Sometimes my brain gets stuck. It’s almost always on something that I am stressed about, something that needs to get done. Most mornings I wake up with a blank slate that I need to fill with accomplishments in order to feel that I’ve earned my right to be alive for the day. Most days I can manage it reasonably, but sometimes I get caught. I’ll spend hours rewriting the same to do list in greater and greater detail, specifying exact time frames for each task and rearranging the order to make sure it’s just perfect because otherwise there’s no way I’ll get it all done, and thus no way for me to be ok.
Schedules, lists, and plans are the only things that feel truly safe to me, the only things that put the world into some semblance of order so that I can be in control. This means that when plans change suddenly (when someone cancels at the last minute, when someone suggests plans at the last minute, when I simply have to adjust what I was thinking I would do) I get incredibly anxious. Even if the new plan suits me better than the old one, I’ll still resist it because it’s just not the way things were supposed to be.
I often can’t enjoy fun or relaxing activities because my brain will continue to run the script of what I should be doing or what I could be doing that would be more productive. When I was younger, this often manifested in being kept awake for hours at a time stressing out over what I needed to do the next day and trying to figure out how I’d have the time to do it, only to be left exhausted and unable to do most of the things that needed to get done.
I’m also a huge rule follower. I like things to have an order to them. Even when rules are pointless or annoying, I still love to follow them because it feels safe and it makes sense. This often comes with a moral tinge to it: in high school, I would get irrationally angry at my boyfriend for walking on the grass instead of the sidewalk or at other students who slept during class because they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. Mostly this gets aimed at myself in unreasonably high expectations and a need to prove that I am good by doing everything just perfectly. I am terrified of making mistakes and catastrophize whenever I do.
On the more mundane side of the spectrum, I’m extremely stubborn and can be highly inflexible (this is what I decided to do, so I’m flipping going to do it and if you don’t like it I don’t like you), and I have a lot of anxiety about money, to the point that it took me until last year to realize that I could spend money on things simply because I wanted them. Despite having a hefty savings, I was still convinced that there would be some unknown disaster in the future and that I couldn’t spend my money on good things now without dooming myself to an unknown destruction in the future.
I just like to know that I get to control what I’m doing and when I’m going to do it, because I have an irrational worry that I’m never going to be doing enough. I always feel as if I should be working harder, longer, and better. I’m afraid of authority, because authority has the power to take away that control. My thoughts about all of this are constantly intrusive, leading to bizarre paranoid fantasies that I will get fired for no reason or that getting a single B on a test will lead to living on the streets. While at a normal extent these tendencies make sense and are often encouraged, at the level that I have them they interfere with my sleep, with relaxation, with relationships. They make me cranky and difficult to be around. They make me controlling and hypersensitive to change.
There are ways to mitigate it, by questioning things that feel clearly like facts, and by organizing my life in such a way that there are clear distinctions between work and play. I also get to exercise my compulsiveness by organizing things. Alphabetizing books is like heaven to me (in grade school I would stay in from recess to shelve books in the library because it was more fun).
Does anyone else have experience with OCPD? It’s not a very common disorder and I’d love to hear other experiences.