17 June 2013

Annus horribilis

The Queen declared 1992 an 'annus horribilis' for her. My own 'horrible year' came two years later and was also when my OCD first became an issue.

That year I experienced redundancy, marital difficulties leading to separation - and ultimately divorce - and, as a result of that separation, a house move. On 4 February 1994, I was made redundant. On 4 February 1995, I moved into my new flat. Three major upheavals in the space of a year - the stress had to manifest itself somehow and, for me, it was in OCD.
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

The condition had, in fact, begun while I was still with my ex-husband, no doubt as a result of my increasing unhappiness. 

He left for work before me and came home after me, giving me time to put things right in our flat, ie to apply my rules of order and symmetry. From the moment he returned, he'd gradually undo my work, but I'd just bide my time until his next absence to reinstate my patterns. At least I could leave for work with the flat perfect and know that it would be the same when I got home. Weekends presented a problem, but, at that stage, I could tolerate the 'mess', provided I could fix it in the short term.

I'm still friends with my ex and he's told me that he had no idea I was doing all this. To him, the flat simply looked tidy; he didn't notice the precision with which I placed objects. And I certainly never let him witness the effort it took.

Looking back, it seems logical that I felt the need to exert control in my life in response to the events I'd experienced. The key elements of my world - relationship, home and job - had all crumbled. I could no longer be sure of stability in those areas, so I created it where I could: in my immediate environment.

When I finally moved into my flat, I thought I'd be able to stop. With no one to disrupt my surroundings, surely there would be less for me to do? The opposite proved to be true. Now that I had my own sanctuary against the world, I was driven to preserve its status quo. It quickly reached the point where I wouldn't have anyone else in my home. I was concerned not only that they'd move things, but that I'd have to, to accommodate them and provide the requisite hospitality. Even the idea of moving a chair from one room to another was traumatic.

That was when I realised I needed help. 

I was fortunate that my GP provided a sympathetic ear. In those days there was even more stigma, and much less openness, about mental health issues. Nor were there yet any NICE guidelines* to steer her, or me, in my treatment.

Nevertheless, so began the journey to recognising, understanding and tackling my condition.

* * *

*National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (previously known as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence): OCD guidelines at http://www.nice.org.uk/CG31

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