Monday, July 19, 2010

once a year

Yesterday I returned home after attending the IOCDF conference. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have this experience year after year, both in terms of the financial means to do so and the physical ability to leave my home. My heart goes out to all the loved ones who attended on behalf of someone housebound with OCD.

I thought about setting up a twitter account just to liveblog the conference, but unfortunately I didn't have any phone reception in the conference rooms. I did take copious notes and thought that this first post back would be about the messages and ideas that stood out to me most, but I realize now that I'm still processing quite a lot of what I heard.

One thing I have realized, though, is that the conference is a yearly marker that forces me to consider how I have progressed in battling my disorder since the last one. This year, I attended sessions that I would never have stepped foot in before-- not because they did not apply to me, but because in my hierarchy of symptoms, the symptoms were so far down I couldn't fathom addressing them yet. Emotionally, I feel ready to do these exposures.

Perhaps the best part of the weekend: seeing old therapists and being able to report back my successes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

technology: the kindle

the first of a series:

I purchased a Kindle a couple months ago, after reading about the device and thinking that it sounded like a solution to a lot of my worst reading-related obsessions. Writing notes and highlighting "perfectly" is one of my longest battles. Doing this digitally takes away most of the possibilities for imperfection. At least, in terms of writing perfectly neatly, and making sure my highlighting is perfectly straight, perfectly centered over the words on the page.

The catch is Amazon's new "popular highlights" feature. I also have an obsession about having highlighted or annotated "just the right thing" inside a book. I often reassured myself (which isn't a positive thing to do, of course) by reminding myself that in all likelihood, nobody else would see my annotations. (When I was feeling brave, I'd counter this reassurance by reminding myself that friends borrow books all the time.) Now, there is no way to hide my imperfections-- they're out in the open, for all to see, thanks to a new form of social media.

Besides this, however, the Kindle helps me assuage worries of keeping books unblemished, with no bent pages, worry I put my bookmark in the wrong place (since it automatically bookmarks), and several other of my most common reading-related obsessions. (I do worry about getting scratches on the Kindle itself, but for some reason, this doesn't seem to warrant so much compulsive activity.)


My OCD symptoms permeate every single aspect of my life. I try my best to confront every challenge and to structure my own forms of exposure. But there's only so much exposure I can handle at any one time, so there are cases where I'll let myself find ways to circumvent triggers. Not the best way to fight my OCD, but doing so allows me to function like a (mostly) normal human being.

Using technology to accomplish has been a huge asset to me, although it also brings another set of triggers-- usually ones that are much easier to confront than the ones they replace, but not always. I'm a bit fascinated, really, how using a piece of technology confronts my brain with different obsessions. I hope to turn this into a series of posts, in which I discuss some of the ways my OCD has been both affected & helped by using technology.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

in between spaces

In the decades I have suffered from OCD, the obsessions and compulsions I have experienced have evolved considerably. Sometimes these vanished compulsions feel something like a missing limb, or a quiet shadow filling in the space where an unrelenting, unexplainable need use to be. This is especially true of my childhood compulsions, which I performed without knowledge that something about my actions deviated from the norm.

As a child, thinking my actions were normal, I wondered how so much time could be spent out of a human life on such meaningless tasks, and yet people were still able to achieve things like build skyscrapers and cure diseases and become president. The fact I remember these inner monologues is a reflection, I think, of how much time I spent wondering about this. It was a great, unanswered question about Adulthood and Growing Up that I assumed would be answered in time.

I could never step foot on a crack in the pavement. There was a nursery rhyme that told you not to, and I followed this with unwavering dedication. Of course those cracks were sinister; the earth beneath them could break apart and swallow you whole, and your mother, with her broken back, would be left searching for you, beneath the pavement, forever.

I never understood how during recess, other children would carefully pick their way down the sidewalk, and then forget the game as soon as the bell rang. It infuriated me, their casual disregard for something that was so clearly an important, unwavering rule, important enough to be passed down through generations of children on the playground. It took me careful, painstaking ages to walk the distance back to the classroom. At this rate, I wondered, how would I ever become President?

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Why call my blog the Magpie Minutes?
I've always had an affinity for magpies because of my OCD. They're known for hoarding shiny objects (although, as horders, they've got nothing on the bower bird) and I myself am a hoarder. They're attached to deep superstitions, reflecting the scrupulosity that I have dealt with for many years. And one of these superstitions is based on a rhyme that requires counting:

One for sorrow, two for joy,
three for a girl, and four for a boy.
Five for silver, six for gold,
and seven for a secret that's never been told.

And yes, I've done my own share of counting. Lastly, and ironically,  they are one of only a handful of animals who can recognize themselves in a mirror-- and for many layered reasons, I have a very complex relationship with mirrors.

Minutes: as in something recorded, but also as in a fleeting measurement of time. As an adjective, insignificant but still present. Multiple meanings that all give shape to what I intend to write here.

And in the end? It just seemed to fit.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Yes, Elle is a pseudonym, and I hope that you, my (perhaps imaginary) reader, won't mind that I don't disclose my identity here. Why?

I debated about what sort of identity to construct for myself here, because I am committed to doing my part to break through the stigma that our society has about mental illness. At the same time, I want to be candid with what I write here; I worry that I might censor myself if someone I knew personally could simply stumble upon my blog and know I was the one writing it.

Although in my last post, I stated that my target audience is other people who have OCD and are trying to live with it-- and this is true-- I know that some of the people who find this blog may be looking to understand what their loved one with OCD is experiencing. And this, in the end, was the deciding factor in concealing my identity. If you are here because you are trying to understand the OCD experience, I want you to be able to imagine that I am your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, or your lover.

For this reason, also, I may sometimes limit the detail with which I describe my symptoms, or blur or even edit details that seem too closely interwoven with my real self. I have never been ashamed of my symptoms and do not mind talking about them on a person-to-person basis. If you have questions or would like to simply speak to someone who can relate, I welcome your email at elle [dot] ocd [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, July 9, 2010

this is a blog about OCD.

This is a blog about living with OCD. I started it because, of all the things that are important to me, OCD is the one subject on which I have only found a handful of blogs addressing it.
Also, as a person living with OCD, I have a terrible time following through with things. Writing for publication (even blog form) is also a huge exposure for me. So this is a challenge I set for myself: to follow through with posting here, even if nobody else reads it.

What I write here is going to be aimed at people like myself, who have already been diagnosed and have lived with the disorder (a funny name for it, given its nature) for many years.  I hope to focus my blogging on being positive and moving forward. I want to chronicle the ways I have succeeded in living a (mostly) functional life when, at one point, I was debilitated enough by my illness that I was almost completely removed from society.

I plan to write about tools and techniques I have used to handle my many symptoms in different situations. Of course, I am not a doctor, and I have no medical training. My somewhat far-fetched hope is that through this blog, I can create a small community where positive encouragement and ideas for living with OCD can be shared... but nothing, least of all a blog, can replace a real-life therapist and psychiatrist. I believe this fully, which is why I am sharing this disclaimer up front.

Welcome, if you are here and actually reading this post. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on whatever you read here. I hope to learn from others as I embark on this blogging journey.