27 May 2013

'Joey doesn't share food!'

Friends' fans will probably remember the storyline that quote comes from. Joey Trebbiani, one of the lead characters, makes the comment after a woman takes chips from his plate during their first date. Her action leaves him hesitant about seeing her again. In Joey's case, his unwillingness to share is a result of his great love of food.

I'm equally unwilling to share, though for a very different reason. My reluctance stems from my desire for perfection, which often manifests itself as a need for 'wholeness'. In the case of food, it means ensuring I eat the whole bag of crisps, or chocolate bar, or fruit... This can make things difficult in social situations.

At lunch with a colleague in one of our office cafés, I elected to have a sandwich and a bag of crisps, while he chose just a sandwich.

'Can I have one of your crisps?' he asked, pushing his hand into the bag and helping himself. The crisp was in his mouth before I could even shriek 'No!', let alone lunge across the table, rugby-tackle him to the ground and pin him down in a half-nelson.

For anyone with contamination isses, he'd probably have ruined the whole packet. I'm more careful than most about hygiene, but my concern with germs isn't that severe. It was the simple loss of the crisp that niggled: he'd spoiled my lunch by destroying its wholeness.

It's one of those indefinable, it-just-doesn't-feel-right reactions that drive so many of my OCD compulsions.

And my reluctance to share is nothing to do with being mean. I'd gladly have forked out 95p to buy him his own bag - it was one of those exclusive, 'garnished-with-sea-salt-harvested-by-mermaids' varieties of crisp (price tag further inflated by the café's on-site monopoly in stocking that brand).
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

Likewise, a former boyfriend once declined my offer of an apple. No sooner had I cut mine up, into eight pieces, than he asked for a segment.

'I thought you didn't want an apple?' I said.

'Well, I didn't want a whole one, just a bit,' he explained.

Well, sunshine, I didn't want just a bit, I wanted a whole one. Besides, they recommend five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, not four and seven-eighths. Where was I going to get the missing eighth from?

I'm just as irritated with myself if I drop what I'm eating on the floor. If I'm at home, where I feel (illogically) that I can trust the cleanliness of the carpet, I'll probably pick up the dropped item and eat it, rather than 'ruin' my meal. 

Oh, and by the way, whatever you do, don't go out for a Chinese meal with me and choose dishes 'for the table'. There's no such thing in my world.

20 May 2013

Lost and found - and lost again

One of my OCD behaviours is checking, which forms an integral part of many of my ordering habits: the precision with which I arrange items means I can simultaneously check if any are missing.

It was while sorting the contents of my handbag that I spotted a gap where my mobile phone should be. Cue panic - until I remembered I'd taken it out in the car to check for messages on the way home from the supermarket. 

I went back out to our car park, in the dark, and found the phone lying on the passenger seat of my car. Crisis over. 

Until the next one ten minutes later.

Having unpacked my shopping, I carried out a final check of my handbag - only to discover that now my car keys were missing. I rummaged around in my flat for a while, assuming I'd put them down somewhere on the way back in. Finally, I admitted defeat, went outside again, and found them dangling in the car door. 

I'd averted two crises in one night - the possible theft of both my phone and my car - thanks to my checking.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
But what would really have happened if I hadn't scrutinised my handbag so carefully?

The likelihood of anyone seeing my phone was practically non-existent. The likelihood of anyone who might see it actually bothering to steal it, zero. It's ancient and has all the functionality of a carrier pigeon. In fact, probably less - it's likely there's a pigeon somewhere that could be trained to take a photo, which my phone can't. 

And, as our car park is secured by spike-topped gates, the only people who can access it are fellow residents. Now, some of them might put their recycling in the wrong bins, or play their music too loudly, but I'm pretty sure none of them would steal from a neighbour. 

As for my car, it's a 15-year-old, 1-litre Micra, which needed an expensive amount of welding to get it through its last MOT. It's served me well, but it's hardly a prime candidate for resale, a joy ride or use in a bank robbery.

However, none of this logical analysis persuades me that I should give up my checks. Quite the opposite. Never mind theft, I don't want to risk losing my phone or keys, because I can do without the associated hassle.

Perhaps I could verify their location without spending five minutes putting my bag in order. The ordering and checking are inextricably linked, though: if my things don't have a designated home, how will I know when they're missing? I know that's how most people operate, but that's why most people lose stuff all the time.

All this experience has done is reinforce the 'value' of my habits - and left me a little bit more lost to OCD.

13 May 2013

Don't look down, girl

I hate shopping, but I particularly dislike buying bras, jeans and shoes.

With shoes, my anatomy is partly to blame. Being 5'9" (and a bit), I hardly ever wear heels, as they leave me towering over most people. I also have unstable ankles, which makes it physically impossibile for me to wear anything higher than a 2" heel - and a chunky one at that - without repeated sprains. With heels out of the question, choice is always limited, and the current trend for wedges and 5" spikes doesn't help.

Like a lot of people, I also have one foot significantly bigger than the other, which means one shoe always slips off, unless secured by straps.

It's not only the way I'm built that presents problems, though. When shopping, I have to ensure I choose the perfect item: not just one that looks good on, but one that isn't flawed. Once I've found something I like, I spend ages in the changing room, checking for holes or wonky seams or someone else's make-up smears. With shoes, I'll scan the leather for scratches or scuffs or discolouration. 

It's just one of the ways my perfectionism manifests itself. 

Taking all of the above into account, have a look at some shoes I bought recently (thank you, Clarks, where shoe sense still prevails). 

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
Flat, velcro straps and not completely frumpy. Perfect.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
Or are they? Look closer.

Can you see it? - the vertical line of stitching doesn't follow quite the same path on each shoe, as it connects with the horizontal. Once that had caught my eye, I couldn't help noticing the tiny, out-of-place stitch in the vertical stitching on the right shoe.

Finally, when I put them side by side for them to be photographed for this post, I realised the straps weren't in exactly the same position: you can see the gap between the strap and the front of the shoe is bigger on the right one. Well, you can if you have eyes like a hawk and nothing better to do than pick metaphorical holes in a pair of £39.99, Made-in-China shoes. Mind you, I reckon I could find equal fault with a £300 pair of Jimmy Choos, which is a very good reason not to waste that amount of money covering my feet.

The bad news is, once I've found miniscule - and unimportant - faults like these, they'll niggle for ages.

The good news is, the same faults make it more likely that I'll actually wear the shoes. I'm always reluctant to use new items, because I know that as soon as I put them on, I'll spoil them; based on past experience and my inherent clumsiness. So, I leave them in my wardrobe - sometimes for months - where they won't get stained, or ripped, or scuffed. I bought these shoes more than seven weeks ago and I still haven't worn them, 'imperfect' as they are.

At least it's a long way from my eyes to my feet. I can't forget the flaws are there, but maybe if I just don't look down, I can pretend they're not.

6 May 2013

Lights, camera, action

'Would you mind taking some photos around my flat for my blog?' I asked my ever-obliging, freelance photographer boyfriend, Pete.

'Sure, no problem. I'll bring my kit over next weekend,' he replied, ever so obligingly.

'I don't need many. It shouldn't take long,' I assured him. I thought all I had to do was open a few doors and drawers for him to shoot the precision-arranged contents. Minimal time involved, minimal disruption caused. 

How wrong I was.

His first target was my drinking glasses. Easy enough - except the cupboard is so near the sink that Pete couldn't position the tripod straight on. You can't show off neat lines, if you're coming at them from a 30-degree angle.

'I could move them to the other half of the cupboard,' I offered, hoping he'd say, 'Don't worry, I'll work something out.' I was less than keen to re-order my world just to demonstrate how orderly it is: the prospect of putting things 'right' later was daunting.

'Thanks,' he said.

That was only the start of it. I had to remove the top shelf of the fridge - and its contents - to photograph the one underneath. I had to shift the vacuum cleaner to open the door wider for the tripod - which then knocked the rubbish bin out of position. And, somehow, in the middle of all that, I bumped a still-life-perfect bowl of fruit and turned it into an ordinary, jumbled pile of apples and bananas.

Then there were the props. We needed something white to reflect more light. Pete rejected the pillowcase I offered - too floppy - so I left that on the bed and dug out a file with an A4 notebook in it. That was too small, so I abandoned it on the living room floor.

And so it went on.

By the time we'd finished with the kitchen, my flat looked as if it had been burgled, and we still had the living room - now also covered in Pete's camera equipment - bedroom and bathroom to photograph. 

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

At this point, I realised the photo shoot had turned into an 'exposure and response prevention' (ERP) exercise. In ERP you have to face your fears until your anxiety reduces, without giving in to your usual compulsions. In my case, the fear is disorder and the compulsion is putting things straight. By facing your fears and not responding to them, you get used to them and the fear and anxiety subside - it's known as habituation.

I'm not sure I was facing my fears, so much as having them thrust upon me. Still, I managed to carry on with the shoot without clearing up as we went along, so I'm counting that as some kind of success.

Pete told me afterwards was that the afternoon had been 'fun'. I confess, it'll be a while before I'm ready to have that much fun again.