Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder
Updated: Dec 8, 2023
This personal essay is part of an ongoing series that explores the experiences of individuals living with mental health diagnoses. Each essay provides a glimpse into a unique personal journey, aiming to foster empathy and understanding without claiming to represent every diagnosis.
As I faced a group of thirty college students, explaining the necessary statistical requirements for an upcoming assignment, a familiar sinking feeling transformed into a defiant sense of indignation. Two students exchanged whispers, their smirks directed towards me. The majority of the class seemed disengaged, with glazed expressions or wide-eyed confusion. I was left wondering if these students truly cared about their education.
The lecture ended, leaving me with a sensation of tightness and irritability. Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) manifests differently from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Unlike OCD, OCPD sufferers do not experience unwanted repetitive rituals. Instead, they may view their compulsions as completely justified, and even expect others to behave similarly. According to the American Psychiatric Association, OCPD is characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control. This obsession with perfectionism and control is what distinguishes OCPD as a personality disorder. It occurs across various contexts, over an extended period, and can cause distress in multiple aspects of one's life.
Unique Challenges of OCPD
Two weeks later, as I reviewed my students' assignments, I observed that the majority had passed. However, given the simplicity of the task, I couldn't help but feel that they should have achieved higher marks. Self-doubt crept in, leaving me contemplating whether my delivery as a speaker was inadequate, if I should have better prepared, or if my appearance played a role in their lack of attention and subpar work.
Later that evening, at the gym, I encountered a few individuals whose eyes carried the same smirking expression I had witnessed in the classroom. The small gym space made it impossible to avoid the judgmental gazes, and my irritation and discomfort increased. I attempted to alleviate the stress and tension through running, but the day's events weighed heavily on me, and I couldn't escape the feeling of inadequacy. It was no wonder people looked at me and made assumptions.
The Intersection of OCPD and Depression
The next day, I woke up with sore muscles from my workout, a promising sign that I'm on my way to becoming fitter and slimmer. However, I encountered a problem: I struggled to get out of bed. A wave of panic washed over me because I had a lot to accomplish today. I was falling behind in my studies, and there was a long list of tasks to complete before breakfast, like doing the dishes, running errands, and starting on a publication. It seemed ironic that I needed to find a way to relax and have fun amidst all this chaos. Additionally, I had to buy groceries and work on improving my lazy attitude and confidence.
As I reassessed my schedule and questioned why I felt so terrible, panic quickly turned into dread. Back in 2015, I spent three weeks in a psychiatric hospital, grappling with uncontrollable feelings of suicidality. This terrified me because I was someone who excelled academically and valued control. I received a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, a condition that can be influenced by perfectionism and inflexibility. A second diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) followed, which is characterized by these traits. It was surprising that despite my accommodating and understanding nature, I embraced these aspects of my personality.
The Journey of Acceptance and Growth
When I shared my OCPD diagnosis with my supervisor, he didn't react negatively. Instead, a hardworking professor saw me as a misguided perfectionist. During our meeting, rather than focusing on my thesis, we delved into the challenges of perfectionism and how it intertwines with academic pursuits. This encounter made me realize that I may not be as easy-going as I believed. While my peers also experienced stress related to their work, they didn't seem as devastated if things didn't go according to plan. Whether they were tutoring or lecturing, they exuded confidence and felt less attached to how students perceived them or their students' performance. Most importantly, they seemed to derive more enjoyment from their endeavors. This shift in perspective was significant, considering that society praises hard work and productivity.
OCPD is not a commonly discussed diagnosis, as overworking and perfectionism are often viewed as positive attributes. I gradually learned to relinquish some control and accept both my depression and OCPD. Through acceptance, I could dedicate my time and energy to therapy, aiming to improve my coping mechanisms. I now understand that my previous standards were often unreasonable, unhealthy, and unfair to myself and others. Moreover, I've realized that my achievements, the number of hours worked, and my appearance do not define me in a fulfilling or enduring manner. I am in the process of learning (and practicing) how to prioritize my personal experiences.
In the morning, I still face an overwhelming list of tasks, but now, I am more mindful of my mental well-being and aware of my limitations. I make myself breakfast and choose something comfortable and stylish to wear. Whenever I feel that familiar sense of tightness and irritation, I know it's time to step back, utilizing a strategy I implement regularly. Overworking still tempts me, and I sometimes have to forcibly detach myself from work. As it turns out, efficiency and productivity may not be the ultimate calling for humanity. Who would have thought?
Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) presents unique challenges and intersection with other mental health conditions, like depression. Through acceptance and self-awareness, it is possible to navigate the complexities of OCPD and find greater fulfillment in life. Embracing personal experiences and prioritizing mental well-being can lead to a more balanced and joyful existence.
1. What is the difference between Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Answer: OCPD is a personality disorder characterized by a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control. OCD, on the other hand, is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted repetitive rituals and intrusive thoughts.
2. Can OCPD be treated?
Answer: While there is no cure for OCPD, therapy and self-help strategies can be beneficial in managing its symptoms and improving overall well-being.
3. How does OCPD affect relationships?
Answer: OCPD can present challenges in relationships due to excessive control, rigidity, and difficulties in showing empathy. Effective communication, self-care, and therapy can help improve relationships with individuals with OCPD.
4. What are some self-help tips for managing OCPD?
Answer: Some self-help tips for managing OCPD include managing stress, practicing self-compassion, managing emotions, and reaching out for help when needed.
5. Where can I find professional support for OCPD?
Answer: Seeking therapy from a licensed therapist can provide valuable support for individuals with OCPD. Additionally, there are helplines and support resources available for further assistance.