Microprocessing

What It’s Like Using the Internet When You Have OCD

’When I’m not on [Twitter]… I have literal heart palpitations’

Angela Lashbrook
Published in
7 min readMar 27, 2019

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Original Photo: Oleg Magni

In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today, to give you a better tomorrow.

This week’s column contains frank discussions of mental illness and stigma against those with mental illness. If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder or another mental disorder and need support, you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-NAMI or via text at 741741. United Kingdom residents can call OCD Action at 0845 390 6232. Canadians can find contact information for local support here.

MMorgan was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 20 years ago. While a combination of medication and therapy has kept it mostly under control, she says, it still comes back occasionally in an incredibly frustrating manner.

“There have been flare-ups that have slowed me down because I had to type a sentence, erase it, and type it until it was ‘safe,’” she says.

What Morgan is experiencing is an emerging manifestation of OCD: When symptoms express not in the physical world (for example, when a patient repeatedly, and in a way that interferes with their life, checks their oven to ensure that it’s off), but on the internet instead.

There’s no name for this phenomenon. In many ways, it’s merely another venue for OCD to articulate. But for some people with OCD, it can make the internet an incredibly stressful, unhealthy, and, in some cases, dangerous place to be. It can also make it easier to access care, as a hospital in Sweden is finding in its ongoing research on internet-based therapy for people with the disorder.

The term OCD and its components, obsessive and compulsive, get thrown around a lot, and in contexts where they probably don’t belong. I’m not actually “obsessed” with the latest book I read, and I don’t have a true “compulsion” to check Twitter, even though sometimes it certainly feels that way. Similarly, people use the term OCD when, for example, they like to keep their kitchen…

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.