OCD in the 21st Century; THE INTERNET

I was sat in bed last night drinking my nightly Ovaltine (yes it was a Saturday night and yes I’m only 27) and I got to thinking – what was having OCD like in times gone by? I’m talking 50 years ago… 100 years ago… 1,000,000 years ago?! (Cue mental image of a neanderthal man stuck in an endless repetitive loop of lobbing a rock on the ground until it feels juuust right). Obviously, it would have involved the same basis (obsessions, compulsions and general mental torture comparable to purgatory) but I began to ponder the effect that modern life has on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Pour example; GOOGLE. I bloody love a bit of Google (although it’s more of a love/hate dynamic really). I rely on it heavily for about 100 seemingly mundane questions a day. In fact…lemme check the the last search in my Google history and report back. AHEM… “Why are my hamster’s toenails so long”, closely followed by “How do people throw up in space”. These completely pointless, arbitrary questions pop into my head LORD KNOWS how many times a day, and I’d like to say that they’re the result of an innocently curious mind, however a large proportion of them stem from OCD.

We live in a time where any question you could possibly think of can be inserted into a website, and billions of results pop up within seconds. Although impressive and helpful, this absolutely sucks hairy balls for many OCDers because it’s a massive enabler. CBT teaches us OCDers that we mustn’t seek reassurance for our OCD-related worries – not from our friends, not from our family, and not from the internet. It’s perhaps easier to resist the urge to seek reassurance from human beings due to embarrassment, shame, and the fact that they might refuse to reassure us if they know it will exacerbate our symptoms. 

ENTER GOOGLE  *Metallica’s Enter Sandman blasts in the background from a massive speaker in the corner of your room that you didn’t even know was there until this very moment*

Google is a very private, shame-free and easily accessible method of trying to ease our discomfort. Personally, I’ve found it very challenging to stop myself from Googling OCD worries, even though I know it’s harmful in the long-run. I’m pretty sure other OCDers can attest to this being an issue. I then imagine being my angst-filled OCD self 100 years ago. How would I privately reassure myself? I’d have to track down a ruddy book about my specific worry. Not only would it be an absolute ball-ache to physically track the book down (at least compared to having Google on my phone), but the chances of books about some of my specific worries being in existence would probably be fairly low e.g. “I found a piece of cotton on my arm and I’m worried that it’s not cotton and that it’s actually an undiscovered parasite that presents itself as cotton in order to infest humans without them knowing” lol see my point? Without being able to research this worry, the power would be taken away from said worry, which would disarm the OCD.

Another element of 21st Century life is our (perhaps unhealthy) fixation on news outlets. I watch and read the news daily because I like to know what’s going on in the world. We all live on this one planet, and I personally feel I should educate myself on what’s going on outside of my existence. I try my damnedest to educate myself with independent, non-biased sources, however mainstream news is very forthright and is constantly being forced down our throats (pretty much like that meme with the girl and the milk). Mainstream news outlets are just businesses that want to make bags upon bags upon bags. They want the most eye-catching headline, in order to get the most readers, so that they can get the most moolah. In my opinion, there is also a large amount of fear-mongering coming from these sources, which can be tremendously poisonous.

Headlines have been very triggering for me at times, as they often sensationalise, exaggerate and mislead. This can sometimes result in an obsession about a news subject forming in my lil freckled head, which then leads to a compulsion in the form of scouring the depths of the web trying to further my knowledge of the fearsome news subject (it’s a really self-sabotaging behaviour that I cannot seem to control sometimes). The constant influx of news we experience in modern day life also causes me to visualise every single bad outcome that could happen from every situation on earth, which leads to a state of mind that can only be calmed by a high dose of Valium and Fleetwood Mac combined. (I’m not neurotic, you’re neurotic.)

I’ve considered temporarily avoiding the news to see what effect this has on my symptoms, but my desire to stay informed always seems to override this option. Even if I were to actively try to avoid it, it would be close to impossible, as it’s everywhere. It’s allover the internet, it’s on our phones, it’s on the radio etc etc. Perhaps this would have been less of an issue for OCDers historically, as newspapers were commonplace, and you had to go and physically buy one. For me personally, there is a very fine line between being informed, and being unhealthily obsessed with reading graphic and disturbing news stories until 5 in the morning. It’s entirely up to me to find the right balance, but it’s quite difficult when I’ve got OCD constantly poking my orbitofrontal cortex.

Another element of the interwebz which has had an effect on my OCD is social media. In some ways, social media has been an incredibly useful tool for my recovery and wellbeing – this blog being the perfect example. I’ve opened my brain up to other OCDers who I’ve spoken to and identified with and this has had a profoundly positive effect. This blog wouldn’t have come into fruition without my @diggingthedirtonocd instagram page (shameless self promotion there, sorry not sorrehhhh). Sharing the fact I have OCD on Instagram has helped to offer a sense of relief, as I’m able to portray my truest and most authentic self without shame, which has aided my recovery considerably.

It’s also a space where many OCDers share their accounts and experiences, which in turn helps other OCDers to feel less alone or ashamed. This wouldn’t have been possible 100 years ago. If one was diagnosed with OCD and they didn’t know anyone else who had it too, they must have felt so so isolated. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to not have this space where you can say “Hey guys I’ve been having these thoughts and behaviours”, and then multiple other people pop up and chime in with “Same argh isn’t it so annoying?”. There are – and will have historically been – support groups for mental illnesses where people physically meet up in a room, but the internet has brought with it this phenomenon where many humans find it easier to share their innermost problems and worries anonymously from behind a screen. When looking at the bigger picture, this seems detrimental, but it sure as hell seems to help people feel less ashamed about their mental illnesses.

(On a little side note, a very strange compulsion that I was dealing with back in 2016 was constant checking behaviours on Instagram. OCD would chime in during random points during the day and night, telling me that I’d liked a post that I ‘shouldn’t have’, which lacked any sense or logic because I only ever looked at my friends’ and family’s posts. It even used to happened when I hadn’t been on instagram at all. OCD would plant this weird, illogical seed, and so I would have to repeatedly check the ‘liked posts’ section of Instagram. I would check, and then return to my profile, then check again, then return to my profile, and so on. I would sometimes be stuck in this repetitive loop for up to an hour, which is a perfect example of how illogical compulsions can take control of your day and begin to have a negative impact upon other areas of your life such as work and socialising. I’m not sure if this is a common compulsion amongst OCDers and therefore a widespread issue with social media and OCD, or whether it’s a silly little Mimism, but I thought I’d include it as a very specific example of how social media definitely has the ability to amplify specific OCD symptoms.)

To conclude, my 21st century dwellers, we live in a time where the internet is both a blessing and a curse – for everyone, not just OCDers. Two of my romantic relationships have been a result of the internet (I’m not gunna say whether that’s a blessing or a curse heh). Without the internet I wouldn’t have this blog, which has helped me and others alike. I would still feel quite lonely in my OCD without the internet. HOWEVER… I’m still learning to recognise the point at which the internet stops being a useful tool, and starts being weaponised by OCD. It’s such a complex element of our lives that it’s almost impossible to decide on a black and white conclusion, but I’d be incredibly interested to know in what ways the internet affects other OCDers. Are us OCDers lucky to have the world wide web? Does it worsen our illness? Would we be better off without it? Find out on next week’s episode of I Have Absolutely No F***ing Clue.

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