OCD is like Pong
Was Atari's 1972 electronic ping-pong game actually Allan Alcorn's cry for help?
Having OCD is like playing a nonstop game of Pong.
It’s a commonly-recommended technique to personify your OCD as a way to drive home the fact that you are separate from your disorder.
So if I may, let me introduce you to Mort. He’s lazy, he’s a prick, he’s obsessed with a monotonous table tennis arcade game from the early 70s and he’s—if you haven’t caught on yet—my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What really revs Mort’s engine is attaching completely asinine consequences to his favorite game so I feel compelled to indulge him in his weird electronic ping pong fetish. According to Mort, if I “lose” or if I don’t play his game, I’ll die. Or go to prison. Or experience shame or get cancer or HIV. And maybe my marriage or career will end. Then Mort clears his throat, slips a quarter into the arcade machine, and—with the gusto of 2004 Howard Dean—squeals, LET’S PONGGGG!!
Like Atari’s Pong, OCD has designed a boring, repetitive, albeit addictive game that traps you in a dreadful cycle of mental ping pong.
OCD will bounce a ball of doubt and uncertainty your way, goading you to hit it back.
“That bump in the road was a person. You ran someone over.”
No I didn’t.
“Are you sure you weren’t a little distracted?”
No? I mean… I couldn’t have hit anyone. I was paying attention.
“You were probably a little distracted.”
I would of felt it if I hit a person. It was just a pothole.
“And you know that for sure?”
Yes? And I don’t see anything in my rearview mirror.
“You’re already too far down the road. You should go back and check.”
Fuck. Alright. I’ll turn around.
Okay, I checked. You happy now?
“Are you sure you went back far enough? Did you look hard enough?”
Yeah, I’m sure of it.
“Do it again, just to be sure.”
I know I didn’t hit anyone!
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
Ughhh. I’ll check again. Alright. There’s definitely not a body in the road.
“What about the sidewalk?”
I’m not doing this again.
“Yeah you are.”
Okay yeah I am.
“You know, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. That’s twelve years in prison.”
I didn’t run anybody over.
“That’s twelve years in prison.”
“Your life would be over.”
“You should probably retrace your entire trip, just to be sure.”
But I’ve been driving for over an hour.
“I don’t know what else to tell you, man. It’s twelve years in prison.”
Your OCD finds the scariest, most shameful, horrible thing it can bounce your way—and you play along. You drive back to check you didn’t run someone over. You replay entire conversations and social interactions again and again in your head. You go through your cleaning rituals. You reason through things you already know the answer to—are you sure you aren’t a pedophile? Are you sure you don’t want to hurt kids? Are you sure you didn’t cheat on your wife? You do this over and over and over again. You do this mental ping-ponging, this back-and-forth, to become certain and to expel all doubt—to find an answer, to rid yourself of discomfort and distress.
And you can’t stop. So instead of living your life, you’re stuck playing this hellish game of virtual ping pong against the likes of 1992 Jan-Ove Waldner.
That’s what OCD is—a mental game of ping pong against arguably the greatest table tennis player of all time. Who… squeals like 2004 Howard Dean, I guess? I’m starting to lose track of my analogies at this point.
Just like how you don’t stand a chance against Jan-Ove’s lethal shakehand grip, you can’t beat OCD at its own game. And rather than try to hit the ball back, you just need to put the paddle down. Let Jan-Ove whizz one past your ear. Let Mort—I mean, Howard Dean—scream that you’re contaminated or you’re going to prison or you need to check that your dog is still breathing for the umpteenth time.
All the ruminating and the checking and the ritualizing and the cleaning and the obsessing has never gotten you anywhere. And it never will.
So tell Jan-Ove to get out of your head and go back to his Swedish meatballs and unassembled furniture. Remind Howard he lost the 2004 Iowa Caucus.1
Because you’re done listening to them.
And you’re done playing their stupid games.
Some resources and links that have helped me
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I’m not against Jan-Ove Waldner, Swedish meatballs, Ikea furniture, Howard Dean, or people named Mort—so please don’t read into any of that. You know what I’m actually against? Ping pong. And obsessive-compulsive disorder.