What It’s Like: OCPD

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.

What It’s Like: Borderline Personality Disorder

I just recently read a post by Ozy Frantz about what it is like for them to have BPD. I also have a BPD diagnosis (although I have BPD traits rather than a full diagnosis of the personality disorder. For more info on the difference see here), but it got me thinking that I don’t very often talk about the overall experience of what my different diagnoses mean for me. I have a big ol’ mix (EDNOS, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and BPD), but there are definitely different strands that I can pull out that seem to correspond to each.I was also surprised to find how good it felt to simply read another person’s general description of their symptoms.

So in the next few days I’m going to be spending some time in my own head (big surprise I know), talking about what it’s like to experience these different mental illnesses. Disclaimer: I can’t speak for everyone. My experience of each will be determined by all sorts of things, not least the fact that I have quite a few comorbid disorders. But I do want to make a space to talk about the overall experiences rather than particular issues that have set me off on a day to day basis.

I’m going to start today with borderline personality disorder. One of the most common descriptions of being borderline is that it’s like living without emotional skin. People with borderline tend to be highly reactive. Let’s say everyone starts at a baseline of relatively neutral emotions. For me, any stimulus will result in my emotions spiking higher than most other people’s, and I also have a really hard time returning to base. This means strong emotions that last for an unnecessary amount of time. For many people this includes extreme anger, but I’ve developed the great coping strategy of just only ever getting angry at myself because the strength of my anger and a family history of anger problems means I’m terrified of being angry.

One of the things that’s most frustrating about BPD is that I can be entirely aware that I tend to overreact and still have extreme emotions, which leaves me struggling to figure out where reasonable is.

Another classic symptom of BPD is self harm, which I’ve been free from for almost four months (woohoo!). Typically I use it to regulate either extreme emotions or extreme dissociation. Speaking of dissociation, welcome to another fun part of having BPD. Dissociating is essentially letting your brain leave your body or feeling like you’re not inhabiting your body. Most people do it on a really low scale in the form of daydreaming, but in extreme forms people can forget what they’ve done for hours at a time. I tend to simply shut down when things get overwhelming. I fall asleep, I can’t move my body, I just turn it all off. It’s scary, since I’m never entirely in control of it, and it often feels like being trapped just outside of my head without any way to get back or influence the world around me.

People with borderline also tend to have two problems that are really tied together: difficulty holding together a self identity and an intense fear of abandonment (also found in the form of either deifying or demonizing people they’re in relationships with). I have always had trouble with knowing who I am, and I have this suspicion that I forget that I really exist when there’s not someone looking at me or talking to me or reminding me what I am. This might be why I write so much because it’s solid evidence of who I am and what I think. But I really define myself through my relationships and through the perceptions that others have of me. Again, this goes back to the idea that I can’t figure out what “average” or “normal” or “reasonable” is, so I don’t know if I’m particularly smart or particularly clumsy until someone else tells me what normal is and how I fit in. Similarly to cutting anger out (unless it’s directed at me), I also tend to take all of the negative feelings I have towards people and turn them towards myself instead, so I very rarely switch from deifying to demonizing and instead just make lots of excuses for bad behavior.

Like a lot of other borderline people, this means I can be somewhat manipulative. I’m highly, highly aware of it at this point and can see myself coming up with useless little tests (did that person text me first? If I don’t tell them I’m upset are they paying enough attention to tell? Do they care enough about me to demand that I take care of myself when I’m resisting?), so I’ve started to combat it by being as ridiculously open as possible with people I’m in close relationships with and calling myself out. Hopefully this is some evidence that a diagnosis of BPD does not condemn one to a life of being a manipulative asshole, as there are some evidence based skills to help out.

Last but not least, I also feel really empty a lot of the time. Possibly because I have a hard time knowing what appropriate goals are, or because I think everyone actually hates me and is going to leave me, or because I really just don’t know who I am (and for a lot of silly philosophical existential reasons about whether there’s a point to being alive), I feel very hopeless and I’m often overwhelmed with a kind of despair. This might also just be depression, but there is a certain flavor that I think is borderline and that tends to come with being bored. It’s a feeling of terror that nothing will ever change, that my mind won’t stop treating me like crap, that there’s just too many feelings and thoughts in me to just exist. I’m really, really bad at being bored, and I start to get very self-harmy and very twitchy and very desperate to do something worthwhile the moment I get bored.

I’d love to hear in comments from anyone else about their experiences with BPD. Do these things ring true for you? What’s different?