I went to see a consultant psychiatrist this morning, the first mental health profesional I've had contact with since moving to County Durham. Mrs MP has been worried for some time that I might have an underlying mental health problem that preceded my meltdown fifteen years ago and which has remained to this day. I thought that if I could get some sort of exact definition to my "problem" ("other people's problem") it would be easier for me to get a job and some respect. I was rather hoping that I would be diagnosed with something sexy like Asperger's Syndrome so that bishops could score brownie points by going out of their way to accomodate me within the Church. But, no such luck. Apparently I suffer from Obsessive Personality Disorder.

Brilliant. Just brilliant. I have put up with over fifteen years of people misunderstanding and being prejudice about depression, now when I tell them what I live with they are going to immediately think "Hannibal Lector" and probably call security.

The shrink didn't say much about what Obsessive Personality Disorder actually is so I checked it out on the Mind website when I got home. I have to admit, it's a fair cop.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)

Personality disorder is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised diagnoses in mental health. The word ‘personality’ refers to the pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour that makes each of us the individuals that we are. We don’t always think, feel and behave in exactly the same way. It depends on the situation we are in, the people with us, and many other things. But mostly we do tend to behave in fairly predictable ways, and can be described, accordingly, as shy, selfish, lively, and so on. We each have a set of these patterns, and this set makes up our personality. Generally speaking, personality doesn’t change very much, but it does develop as we go through different experiences in life, and as our circumstances change. We mature with time, and our thinking, feelings and behaviour all change depending on our circumstances. We are usually flexible enough to learn from past experiences and to change our behaviour to cope with life more effectively. However, if you have a personality disorder, you are likely to find this more difficult. Your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving are more difficult to change and you will have a more limited range of emotions, attitudes and behaviours with which to cope with everyday life. This can lead to distress for you or for other people. If you have a personality disorder, you may find that your beliefs and attitudes are different from most other people’s. They may find your behaviour unusual, unexpected and may find it difficult to spend time with you. This, of course, can make you feel very hurt and insecure; you may end up avoiding the company of others.

The diagnosis applies if you have personality difficulties which affect all aspects of your life, all the time, and make life difficult for you and for those around you. The diagnosis does not include personality changes caused by a life event such as a traumatic incident, or physical injury. Personality disorders can make it difficult for you to start and keep friendships or other relationships, and you may find it hard to work effectively with others. You may find other people very scary, and feel very alienated and alone.

If you are very concerned to keep everything in order and under control this can be a sign of OCPD. You are likely to set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others, and you generally think yours is the best way of making things happen, so you end up feeling responsible for everything. You worry when you or others make mistakes, and expect catastrophes if things aren’t perfect. OCPD is separate from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which describes a form of behaviour rather than a type of personality.

Unfortunately there aren't any local groups for people with a personality disorder (I was hoping that I would be able to meet up with "likeminded" people and have some sort of social life). The best the shrinks can offer me is therapy designed to help me ape the social niceties of normal people. I might take him up on this but at the moment I feel inclined not to. Much as I hate the poverty and loneliness of being exiled from society I am actually quite fond of my high ideals and insistence on telling the truth. Anyway, why should I have to pretend to be someone I am not just so normal people don't have to go out of their way to understand people different from themselves. Social conventions are not absolutes. They are inventions. Telling me I have a disorder because my conventions are different to your conventions is rude and arrogant if you ask me. My personality happens to give me a set of skills most normal people do not possess. I could be employed for who I am. But, no. I will either be pushed out so that people can pretend I don't exist (which is what has happened so far) or I will be counselled by friends (with only my best interests at heart) to accept the reality of the world around me and learn to pretend, to lie basically, when I come into contact with other people. Which is like forcing a left handed person to write with his right hand but even more sinister.


MADDER PRIEST — 17 Comments

  1. I’m glad for you that you saw a professional, Jonathan, and that they were able to “connect some dots” that were never connected before. I wholeheartedly agree with you that what we more recently call “disorders” (with undeserved stigma), are traits that are found in many gifted artists and thinkers. That’s how I have always seen you, a highly-focused thinker and minister with an uncommonly good “BS filter” (as we might say here in the USA). I do pray that this is a step toward better coping and relating to other people without losing the “disorder” that makes you a brilliant priest.

  2. I should add that, given this diagnosis, is it absolutely no wonder that the terrible things you witnessed all those years ago injured you in a way that a person without a so-called personality disorder could never comprehend.

    • Yes. Depression and anxiety seem to be a side effect of the syndrome. I think it may be something to do with how let down we feel when we come face to face with reality. One of the defining phrases of my world view is “It shouldn’t be like this.”

  3. According to her doctors so far, my daughter has only anxiety and depression, but this description fits her exactly. She sometimes hurts her more sensitive friends, and I’m trying to help her deal with this. But in general, she wears her “dickheadedness” as she calls it, loudly and proudly. As far as she is concerned, if others don’t like it it’s their problem. She persuades people her way is the right one, then she works hard to make sure it’s successful.

    She’s very anxious about meeting new people and can’t stand being in very crowded areas, but she has a large circle of friends (or followers, I’m not sure which). It may be a disorder but for her it’s a strength. I just hope she uses it well.

  4. I like what Marcus of Borg said.

    AND I really agree about your BS filter.

    You know, therapy doesn’t necessarily have to be about “aping” normal people. It can be about making a healthy adjustment to your own characteristics and skills that others, perhaps, do not possess so that you don’t suffer so much. That doesn’t mean you renounce those traits or hide them; merely that you can become more skillful at managing your own experience of them and learning to be more comfortable in your own skin.

    Of course, that would take finding a therapist who is truly a good match. (And that can require a fair amount of patience along with a trial and error approach…)

    • I may have to do that for myself, Ellie, as English psychiatrists are obsessively keen to cure people. What I do know is that everything good I have achieved in my life has come out of my madness and experience of madness.

  5. MP there are many times where the “disordered” show a lot more sense and compassion the the “ordered” (a case in point is the Vatican’s determination that homosexuals are “intrnsically disordered.”)

    It also smacks of arrogance: “I’m well ordered and you’re not!”

    The extent of one’s orderedness” is something to be determined by others, not by oneself. I believe MP that you are no more “disordered” than most people and probably better “ordered” than many others (especially those who wear the pointy hats).

    • It does strike me that it is all a numbers game. There’s more of them than us therefore they are normal and we are abnormal. Of course, it’s not just concerning matters of mental health that such arrogant categorising of minorities occur.

  6. While the help may vary (wildly), seeking help I believe is always a Good.

    One Day at a Time, MP. Blessings&Serenity to you.

  7. They may find your behaviour unusual, unexpected and may find it difficult to spend time with you.

    Once we set out for Scotland, the mad three were, for all intents and purposes, yoked together for 11 days.

  8. But seriously my son has Aspergers Syndrome and he (and I) would agree with everything you said about changing just because so called normal people don’t get you.

  9. I think the problem is not yours, you seem quite ordered, and that’s what scares the hell out of those who cannot cope with blatant truth-telling folks with a strong sense of self.

    Just my two-cents (plain)

  10. I’ve been mulling this info over – The black dog is nipping at me a bit this week, so I’m in slow motion.

    I would certainly agree with the comments above. While the diagnosis has a name, none of the information came as a particular surprise, I suspect. I certainly have some of the “traits” described, which likely places me on this particular “spectrum,” but without the mad bits.

    The mystic in me causes me to believe that we are all who we are in order for the Spirit to minister to all without exception, which is not to say that any of us is gifted in ministering to all. For those that we are not equipped to minister, we support those who are.

    And with that in mind, in community we all must learn the “dance” that allows us to live together in unity (Not to be confused with unanimity.). That’s a give and take process of the expected and unexpected. I don’t think that’s lying or aping, but readily acknowledge that both the “ordered” and the “other ordered” can have equal difficulty learning the dance.

    • Well, yeah, BUT, what if you have worked out that the dance was invented by the powerful to keep everyone else in their place? I mean, I probably say please and thank you far more than anybody under the age of thirty but I just don’t get the cap doffing stuff. In fact, I actually find it funny because it is such a daft idea. And as for “not telling the complete truth” (as Mrs MP puts it), it wouldn’t matter how many therapy sessions I attended it would still remain lying as far as my “disordered” brain is concerned.