OCD: What is Real & What is Realistic?

The concept of “real” and “realistic” are two ideas that I struggle with as someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don’t think many people would expect that having obsessionive thought patterns and performing compulsions would have anything to do with the credibility of what I perceive to be reality, but it does. This is something I’ve recently realized at age 25, after an 11 year diagnosis of OCD. When I feel a “germ” on my skin, I truly believe that the invisible stain is there until I wash it away. Once thoughts like this get in my head, which is pretty much immediate, I can either carry out the compulsion of washing my hands or question if that “germ” feeling is real or not (for a more in in depth explanation of this OCD phenomenon you can check out my novel, “In Touch”, as well). In more recent years I’ve had an easier time pushing away the thought and carrying on with my day without washing my hands immediately upon feeling the germ, though the Coronavirus pandemic certainly set me back a few steps in these past few months. But alas, for the most part, I could tell myself that this feeling was not real, you can not feel a germ on your skin, and my ability to not only question if the feeling was legitimate or a fabrication of my OCD brain but also ignore it is a perfect example of how OCD brings into question what is real or not.

What is “real” is a very simple yes or no question that can be answered, so it’s been easier to deal with than the question “is what I’m feeling realistic?” “Real” pertains to physical reality. It’s objective. It’s fact or fiction. “Realistic” pertains to my inner emotional reality, and that’s where things go from black and white to very gray. In my adult life the question of what feelings are realistic or not has been very complicated and a source of a lot of pain. When unrealistic feelings carry along for too long, that’s when things get catastrophic and my entire world-view comes into question. For example, when I am afraid of doing something like going on an airplane, it isn’t necessarily based in reality. What are the odds of a plane crash? Pretty low. But what are my emotions about going on a plane? Pretty damn scared despite the unrealistic-ness of the possible event. Here’s an exmaple that’s more abstract- catching feelings for a person. Is it realistic for me to have high-stake emotions tied to somebody, even if they don’t blatantly reciprocate that same level of caring? No, it’s not. And for a normal person I think that realization takes .2 seconds to accept and then nip in the bud right away. For me? No, I elongate those feelings for years at a time because I got caught up entertaining an emotion that was not realistic in the first place. Sure, my hunch about where I stand with someone could have been “real” and maybe I did read the situation correctly, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. At the end of the day it’s my time I’m either wasting or utilizing with what’s “realistic” or not. If I want to take my best interest into account and not the hypothetical interest of someone else, then you have to go by the question of what’s “realistic”, not “real”. I really can’t tell what is worth wearing my heart on my sleeve for and what I’m better off ignoring and eventually falling out of feelings with, because my judgement gets so clouded with an emotion that plays on repeat. My obsessive brain becomes a broken record, constantly replaying the same line over and over. The line that “I like this person” is stuck on repeat and I have an extremely hard, near impossible, time seeing any inconsistences between how I’m treated and how I perceive that treatment. This goes for basic positive feelings towards people that you consider a friend or trustworthy confidant. Somebody that I have made my mind up as “good” could hurt me horribly and my obsession conditioned brain is inclined to brush it off. Life becomes harder to manage and make sense of. This is what it’s like to have feelings that aren’t realistic. My brain keeps on telling me someone is “good” over and over and over and I just don’t believe the reality that maybe the positive connotation I associate with them or certain memories doesn’t match up with the reality of the situation. And I know my close friends and family can see me doing this, see me getting emotionally attached to things that are not good for me, but I have a very hard time seeing that on my own. It takes a lot for me to question the realistic nature of my emotions. After all, who grows up assuming how they feel is based on a false reality? Nobody, unless they’ve got a therapist coaching them through their thoughts.

I always tell myself, “You’re allowed to feel what ever you feel, whether its realistic or not”, which is definitely true; you are entitled to feel whatever and don’t have to explain it… but there comes a time when accepting your feelings and actively trying to understand your feelings become two seperate endeavors. The latter is when my OCD nature becomes evident. When I try to understand my feelings about people or events that’s when I start to see the obsessive patterns clouding my judgement. It takes a lot of mental strength to fight the natural OCD inclination to just continue on with the emotion I inadvertantly attached to this person, place, or event in my mind. It takes a serious call to action that needs to be practiced countless times a day, every day, before I can see reality for what it is. I struggle with this every single day. And it’s certainly not the end of the world to have unrealistic thoughts, we all do now and then, but it’s something that can easily stunt my personal spiritual growth and social growth as I continue on learning how to be a high functioning adult with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I can’t speak for every person with OCD, but from my experience as a writer and an overly sensitive young woman, questioning not only what is “real” but also “realistic” is definitely an unexpected quirk and challenge to having this disorder that I don’t think a lot of people would initially recognize. I love uncovering weird little OCD thought patterns and consequences to compulsions that are not often talked about in media or even high school health class when you learn about mental disorders. As a writer and a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I dissect a lot of misconceptions about the mental illness here on my blog through poetry and prose. For a more detailed dissection of OCD that also plays alongside a plot with rich character development you can check out my book “In Touch” available on Amazon.com. The book is based on my life with OCD against the backdrop of a fictional story. The story makes learning about the disorder a little more interesting than reading a simple autobiography!

Valerie Parente (6-17-2020)

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