Every day when I’m leaving my home, I set the alarm and press the pad of my thumb into the tiny plastic holes covering its speaker until the pattern will remain on my skin for a minute or more. I pick up my backpack, walk out the door, and lock the deadbolt. I push the heel of my palm against the keyhole until it hurts and it too leaves a mark. I walk down the stairs and out of the building looking at my fresh blemishes until they have faded, certain that I have set my alarm and locked the door. For the next sixteen minutes my mind is free to move on to my next obsession: making it to the train that arrives between 10:00 a.m. and 10:07 a.m. on time, so that I can make it to the connecting bus on time, so I can make it to work on time, so I can make it back home on time and begin the entire process again.
I have obsessive compulsive personality disorder (not to be confused with obsessive compulsive disorder, see the infographic for differences) and these are the habits that allow me to function out in the world. In a perfect world, I would be able to control every aspect of my life and I would never be visited by the feeling of terror that comes when I realize life holds no certainty. I need certainty. Predictability. Perfection. If I ever slip and allow myself to contemplate losing my perceived certainty, I have a panic attack and any hope for productivity vanishes for the rest of the day, as I go further and further down the rabbit hole of knowing that life, as I know it, is impossible to sustain.
Obsessive compulsive personality disorder is characterized by an overwhelming need for order, control, and perfectionism, often to the extent of this need dictating your entire life and your relationships. Many unfamiliar with the disorder think of it as having to do solely with physical behaviors. Turning the lights on and off a set number of times, keeping food separate on your dinner plate, avoiding odd numbers. These behaviors fall more in line with OCD than OCPD, though people with OCPD can have aspects of OCD as well. I can best describe the difference as OCPD being an obsession with the perfect long-term outcome, where OCD is an obsession with things that provide immediate gratification.
Perfectionism is unique to everyone. For me, perfectionism is having certainty. Certainty that I won’t be abandoned by the people I love, certainty that the life I have allowed myself to trust won’t suddenly become unrecognizable, certainty that I will always be wanted. Trusting, having faith, and simply being positive that all of these things will remain are not beliefs that have ever been possible for me. It’s difficult to explain my obsession with these things to people that have never felt it, but the best I can do is to say that without this certainty of my life, death feels like my only certainty. Intellectually, I know that these concepts are abstract, that no one really has certainty. Most people are able to carry on with their lives, doing what they do, mostly believing that their certainty will remain intact. It is not an obsession for these people. The closest I can get to ever feeling that I have certainty is through exercising control. Control over my routine, over my expectations, over people in my life (which could be why there are very few people in my life). I can only be certain if I am in control. If I cannot be in control, I cannot be certain and therefore, I cannot survive. If I cannot be certain, I cannot breathe or think of anything but regaining my control.
Therapy and perhaps, medication, are the ideal treatments for OCPD. I am in therapy and plan to remain for as long as I can pay for it, but medication is financially impossible for me at the moment. Because of this, I have had to get creative in tangible solutions to managing my disorder. One of the most reliable management methods I have found has been video games.
Having spent the past four years writing about and rating games on their accessibility, I have amassed over 500 games. I have completed four of them. The beauty of gaming is that, unlike in life, I can start over as many times as I need to in order to attain my vision of perfection.
Earlier this year when so many incredible things began happening for many of the people in my life, I began feeling increasingly trapped and paralyzed by OCPD and all the ways it restricts me. Here I was at almost 36 years old, unable to do anything to help myself progress professionally or personally because all of my energy went to just trying to survive each day while in a constant state of panic about nothing seeming like it was in my control and things feeling like they were so far from my vision of perfection that I’d never get close to even being moderately okay. I became resentful and mean because I envied the lives those around me were able to live. Lives I wanted for myself but had no idea how to move toward.
Warframe is a free-to-play third-person shooter/melee/stealth combat game that you can play solo, with friends, or with a randomly selected squad online. At present, there are over 50 Warframes (Tenno, to be in line with game lore) you can collect, upgrade, and have a unique gameplay experience with. Each one looks vastly different from the next and all have their own unique powers that allow each mission to feel new, even if you’re like me and run the same mission 500 times so you can find which Warframe you enjoy the most. An added bonus for me is that there are male, female, and non-gender specific Warframes. Give me a game that doesn’t force the gender binary and I’m in heaven.
The thing about Warframe that can center me, calm me, even on the most difficult days, is the fact that I can make it as repetitive as I want it to be. I crave repetition. Always have, because it has always given me the illusion of being in control of having that perfect outcome. If I find a certain mission type difficult playing as, say, Octavia, I have 30 other choices I can make until I find the combination that feels gratifying. The best part of this coping mechanism is that aside from being a huge time investment, it has no effect on anyone or anything in my real life. I can’t fail because I can redo something as many times as I want, and much of my obsession with perfection and predictability can be put into this game and having a healthy outlet for it allows me to put less of it on the important people in my life.
Grinding in a game can drive a lot of players away because many want to dive into the story and have it sail along at their preferred speed. But for me, the grind is the draw to Warframe. Being able to get all of my dozens of Warframes to a specified level (I tend to level them all to arbitrary even numbers. I’m currently working to get them all to level 16.) can occupy my mind on days when I can’t seem to snap myself out of my obsessive preoccupations with controlling things and needing something to feel like it’s in order. Give me a range of choice combinations to experiment with in my mission to achieve the most pleasing outcome and I feel like life as a whole is manageable, even if just for an hour here and there. Playing a game like Warframe, where I can experiment with dozens of characters/classes and even more weapons, in a world with endless replayability, and my mind can rest, finally. I find comfort in playing the same level over and over again, with different character builds, in an effort to find what feels best. I take even more comfort in knowing that the possibilities are endless and that I can continue to exert this meaningless control over something that leaves me feeling good, all without ever bringing harm to my relationships.
Perhaps the most important thing video games have brought me comes on days when everything is painful and painfully difficult and nothing feels certain or controlled. Surviving a bad day like this often requires a distraction. A chance to put all of my focus and energy into something outside of my own mind, so that I can forget my problems until they once again feel like something I can face and deal with properly. I may feel like an absolute failure as a person that day, but at least I was able to progress somewhere. We take relief however we can get it.
Video games are, on my worst days, the thing I look forward to that enables me to survive another day. And on my best days, they are something I know I will always be able to be certain of. They allow me to manage a part of my life when absolutely everything else is unmanageable, and, however inconsequential, they give me a sense of accomplishment when I desperately need one. Video games, in addition to the people I love and my dog, keep me alive whenever I begin to feel like there is no point to remaining alive because my struggles are too great, because video games allow me some relief in a world that offers little for someone with OCPD. I hope that one day I will be mentally well enough that I won’t need to rely on anything to want to stay alive or to feel worthwhile, but I take comfort in knowing that until that day comes, I will always be able to lose myself and forget reality for a while in a game world.