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Sunday, July 3, 2011

You Talkin' To Me?

I don't know if this is common to people with OCD, but I have a really hard time with verbal communication. I've gotten better, but it used to be that even basic greetings and conversation starters caused difficulties. For example, I could handle “Hi,” and “How are you doing?” separately, but if someone stuck them together and greeted me with, “Hi, how are you doing?” I was stymied. Should I respond to the first part of the greeting, or the second? Was I supposed to respond to both? In what order? By the time my tangled tongue and baffled brain had recovered enough to form a semi-coherent response, the greeter was generally fifty feet away from me already, and my sentence usually stumbled into empty air.
To combat this challenge, I made a sort of mental list of common greetings in every conceivable variation, then devised and memorized an appropriate response for each one. That has definitely helped and I am now somewhat more comfortable speaking to people, but I still find that when anyone throws anything unusual or unexpected into the mix it throws me for a total loop.
Verbal humor, sarcasm, and innuendos are hard for me to pick up on too, unless I'm pretty familiar with the person speaking, in which case I rely on mannerisms and visual cues to tell me what kind of response is expected.
Probably the thing that's helped me the most with my communication block is writing. It sounds kind of counterintuitive, that working on nonverbal communication could help with verbal communication, but it has been beneficial to me. I think the key to it though, was that I had to be communicating with another person in writing.
It started as a brainchild of my mom's. There was some tension in our relationship because of my inability to communicate. She would sit down and try to talk with me, wanting to know how I was doing, if there was anything she could help me with, what I thought of this or that. Understandably, when her attempts were met with shrugs and mumbles, she got frustrated. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to my mom: I did. I just couldn't figure out how, and it was a strain on both of us.
I had had a penchant for writing ever since I was a little girl, so one day, in a flash of inspiration, my mom suggested that we try to communicate through the written word rather than the spoken. So we bought a blank notebook and began writing to each other. It may seem strange, two people living in the same house writing letters to each other instead of talking, but it helped enormously. It's been several years since we started doing it, and recently we've found that we really don't need it anymore. We can talk to each other now. It's still harder for me than writing, but I am able to do it now, so I do. I guess that's what progress is all about, right?
Again, I don't know if verbal communication is a challenge for people with OCD in general, but if it's something you struggle with I would suggest trying to communicate with people in whatever way is easiest for you.
Another thing I've tried, which is very hard but it pays off, is to really make an effort to communicate with people verbally. You don't have to talk with them for hours (unless you want to go nuts), but introducing yourself to someone doesn't take much time, and can go a long way in convincing you that most people are not going to start laughing in your face as soon as you open your mouth.
When I know I'll be in a situation where I'll probably be expected to say something (a date, a meeting, a get-together, any kind of social function) I like to take some time to think about topics or questions that might come up and figure out some responses. I tend to rehearse mine in bed or in the shower. I might forget them otherwise. Though no one else may particularly notice or care that I was able to comment on the weather at the appropriate time, or that I could answer a question about my work in a complete and coherent sentence, it has been a confidence booster for me. And who knows? Maybe it can be for you, too.
Well, it's been nice talking to you!


  1. Hey! I also have OCD and experience exactly the same things that you do, struggling especially with social situations and over thinking. I also find it really hard to pick up and understand sarcasm, I take everything literally and find it super hard to communicate with people sometimes.


  2. I've actually thought about getting my hearing checked, because I seem to have such a hard time understanding what people are talking about! I don't really think that my hearing is the problem, but I thought it might make me feel more intelligent if I could blame my confusion on something other than my brain.
    Sarcasm is really hard for me to understand, too. Like you, I tend to take things literally. I mean, if you're going to talk, say what you mean, right?
    I also find that people laugh at me a lot when I'm not trying to be funny. It's usually when I'm answering a question or saying something as honestly as I can. So I've gotten into the (bad) habit of laughing whenever I speak, that way if I get laughed at, it'll look like I was expecting it.