What It’s Like Using the Internet When You Have OCD

Not exactly to do with books, but certainly relevant to internet usage by some people and perhaps for creating a character.

From Medium:

Morgan was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 20 years ago. While a combination of medication and therapy has kept it mostly under control, she says, it still comes back occasionally in an incredibly frustrating manner.

“There have been flare-ups that have slowed me down because I had to type a sentence, erase it, and type it until it was ‘safe,’” she says.

What Morgan is experiencing is an emerging manifestation of OCD: When symptoms express not in the physical world (for example, when a patient repeatedly, and in a way that interferes with their life, checks their oven to ensure that it’s off), but on the internet instead.

. . . .

Simply wanting a clean kitchen does not mean a person has OCD. What makes it OCD is when the person can’t leave the house without wiping down the countertops once, twice, three more times, because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t. When they can’t do a task without repeating a particular prayer or mantra. When the thought of a disorganized kitchen isn’t just annoying; it causes actual distress and extreme anxiety. And OCD extends far beyond a stereotypical concern with cleanliness. Some people with OCD experience upsetting, intrusive thoughts, such as envisioning themselves hurting a loved one.

According to Sanjaya Saxena, a professor of psychiatry and director of the UC San Diego Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders Program, one of the best ways to understand OCD is that it relates to fear. Whether it’s a contamination-related fear, as in the case of needing to keep a kitchen sparkling clean, or a concern about acts of violence, accidents, or even the fear that a patient will say the wrong thing in a social situation, “these can create obsessional fears, and that can lead to compulsions,” Saxena says.

Checking their social media accounts multiple times an hour doesn’t necessarily mean a person has OCD. But for Anna*, a woman with OCD who developed a compulsion related to checking her social media accounts after an embarrassing social interaction, it does.

“Some people I knew made me feel weird about not knowing something, so I became obsessed with trying to know as much as I can, whether it is a political thing or about someone from high school being engaged,” Anna says. “Part of it is being afraid of looking stupid and having social anxiety as well.”

. . . .

Saxena says he has patients who have trouble sending emails at all, concerned that they might write something offensive or use foul language, even though such modes of communication are totally out of character for that person. These “checking behaviors,” he says, “can sometimes take hours and hours and hours out of a day.

. . . .

Perhaps more frustrating, and even frightening, is when people with OCD experience symptoms that compel them to Google dangerous search terms.

. . . .

The internet, as far as anyone knows, doesn’t cause anyone to have OCD. It doesn’t seem to make symptoms worse. It does, however, create new avenues for the disorder to express and new ways for people with OCD to find themselves regularly confronted with their symptoms.

Link to the rest at Medium

While PG was putting together this post, he wondered where OCD might be accurately represented in a work of fiction. He recalls books in which a character claims OCD for themselves or accuses another character of OCD behavior, but isn’t certain whether the behavioral manifestations are correctly described.

On some days, PG suspects he’s OC but doesn’t think he’s reached the D stage. Yet. Yet. Yet.


5 thoughts on “What It’s Like Using the Internet When You Have OCD”

  1. There’s a useful article here: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

    My shorthand would be, “if it’s not causing you any problems/serious anxiety (including due to the amount of time it costs you) then it’s probably not OCD.”

    It irritates me rather when people say things like, “Oh, I’m so OCD,” when they just mean they like to shelve their books in alphabetical order, or get annoyed when someone doesn’t fill the dishwasher in exactly the right way.

    OCD is a real problem for the people who have it – and mental health issues can be difficult enough for others to understand without the waters being muddied by the nebulous impression that OCD (or whatever) isn’t really all that serious because it just means you like things clean and tidy and get annoyed if people file any of the current political books under P for politics instead of H for horror.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind, if writing about it, that a person’s OCD can be specific to one sort of thing – if it’s a cleaning thing, then internet use (other than the mucky keyboard) may not be a problem. Or if it’s about worrying that you might inadvertently drop f-bombs through an email, it may not bother you if someone drops pancake batter on the kitchen floor (unless it’s carpeted – that would bother anyone, because that stuff sets like glue).

    There’s blog post here by someone with OCD, about books about OCD: https://themighty.com/2018/10/ocd-fiction-books-awareness/

    And if you don’t like YA/children’s fiction, apparently JK Rowling did it well in “The Casual Vacancy”: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/27/jk-rowling-ocd-the-casual-vacancy

  2. An example:

    I worked with someone who had OCD.

    He was a programmer. He would take a sheet of Engineering paper to start making notes for the project he was working on. He would write the title at the top of the page, then erase it, and write the same title again. He would write and erase until the paper at that spot was thin to the point of being transparent.

    All to write the same title, without changing the wording, before he could even start describing the project.

    All the while we would sit and wait for him to start asking us questions.

    Watching him do that was painful.

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