3 June 2013

A matter of time

Two of the key elements in differentiating someone who has OCD from someone who doesn't - but who may exhibit OCD-style behaviours - is the degree of distress their compulsions cause them and the amount of time they spend on them.

Professionals in the field regard someone as 'cured' if their compulsions occupy no more than an hour a day. That might sound a lot, but many sufferers - pre-treatment - spend every waking moment on them. For people with such extreme OCD, reducing the time lost to compulsions to an hour or less a day is a great achievement. 

But think about what else you could do with that 365 hours a year - not forgetting the bonus hour in leap years. I love reading and, at the speed I devour books, could get through an extra 36 300-page novels. Or maybe even write another one.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
So how long do I spend on my compulsions? Even at my worst, 18 years ago, it would have been hard to quantify, as they've always been so integral to everything I do. Most add only a few seconds to a task, such as when I unplug the TV and put the plug on the floor: it takes only a fraction longer to ensure it's lying parallel to the skirting board.

On the other hand, putting away clean or ironed clothes - usually a once a week job - can take 30-45 minutes. I have to fold items a certain way and ensure that there are no wrinkles in them, then lay them squarely on top of one another in the drawers. I hang clothes in the wardrobe in categories, with the arms folded in neatly, and adjust the hangers to face the same way, and to sit straight on the rail without touching each other. I'd guess most people could do the same job in 5-10 minutes.

The professionals' target of an hour gives me 360 seconds to play with, but an extra 2 seconds here and 5 seconds there, dozens of times a day, quickly eats into that 'allowance' - never mind the whole minutes I fritter away on bigger chores. My sense is that I probably do spend at least an hour a day on my compulsions. I certainly seem to accomplish less in my spare time than other people.

And even if my OCD behaviours do fall within that time frame, I'll never see myself as cured. I'll always have the condition, but sometimes I'll manage it better than others. It's a little like being a recovering alcoholic. You have to keep fighting the battle every day.

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