The OCD Fidget, Caught on Video

by Bill Brenner on March 22, 2011

I went back and forth with myself on whether I should do this. Sure, I’ve made this blog about exposing my quirks so the masses can get a better understanding of disorders like OCD. But did I really want to show a video of me showing the signs in a work setting?

Well, yeah. Not because I want you to see me as a freak or feel sorry for me, but because there’s something for you to learn in all this.

I recently wrote about some of these quirks, most notably my need to put the feet up on the desk when I work. It keeps me still. When I sit like a normal person my legs start to bounce up and down as if I had a couple bass drum pedals strapped on. The feet on the desk started with a crippling back problem several years ago. I found that was the only way I could get comfortable. The back pain is long gone, but I still can’t seem to sit normally. In work meetings it would obviously be rude of me to put my feet on the table, so I sit with the feet on the ground.

I’ve also written about the windmill hands. Those who know me well have seen it at one time or another, usually when I’m sitting at a desk engaged in a project. My face gets slightly contorted and I start shaking my hands around like they’re on fire.

I call it my Windmill Hand Syndrome.

When I’m doing it, I don’t realize it, though I just noticed myself doing it just now. It tends to happen when I’m sketching or writing. Sometimes it happens when I’m editing.

So in the following video, recorded when I participated in a panel discussion at last month’s RSA security conference in San Francisco, the stuff I’ve written about is on full display. I tug at my shirt a lot. My head bounces back and forth. I have to shift positions after a few minutes.

If you were there, you probably didn’t notice it, and when it was my turn to speak, the words came out in a coherent fashion, so it’s all good, really.

Usually when I do a speaking gig I stand up and pace around a bit so the fidgeting doesn’t happen. I simply feel more in control when I’m in motion.

At the Fortinet event I was sitting in a chair that didn’t allow for putting the feet up. Doing so in front of an audience would be rude, anyway. I also spent a lot of time being quiet as other panelists made their points. When that happens, the itch starts, then the fidgeting. It’s the same when I’m in a long business meeting. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not because I think someone is saying something stupid or blathering on for too long. It’s simply my inability to sit perfectly still for more than a couple minutes.

I have no complaints. If looking like a restless knucklehead is the worst that happens after some of the deeper, more painful OCD incidents I’ve lived through, it’s all gravy.

View this more as a scientific case study. Next time you see someone do weird things with their head, mouth, nose or limbs in public, you’ll be less inclined to stop and look in puzzlement.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

rybolov March 22, 2011 at 4:33 PM

Hey Bill, I’m 10 times worse with the hand stuff, especially when I get nervous. I think we were just made to be rappers, throwing down lyrics and hip-hop hand signals all day. =)

Jim June 10, 2011 at 10:05 AM

So how the heck do you get it under control?

I have a problem with brow crinkling and shoulder shrugging. I start to become terribly tense after fidgeting for an hour or so. My shoulders become knotted up and my brow actually starts to hurt from all the fidgeting.
Deep breathing and meditating just seem to make me more conscious of my body (and therefore more prone to fidgeting).
The only thing I’ve found that sort of works is to redirect my attention, but then I inevitably do a check on myself to see how I’m doing and the fidgeting starts again.

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