26 August 2013

It's better to give than to receive

Many people don't like Christmas or birthdays, whether due to a dread of spending time with their so-called 'nearest and dearest', a dislike of being a year older, or fear of a surprise party.

I find these events a challenge for an entirely different reason: the presents. The problem is not that I have to buy them, but that I have to receive them.

I know; most people love getting presents. The issue for me, though, is how to fit these gifts into my immaculately ordered life. Each of my current belongings has a designated - very precise - place in my environment, and is integral to the long-established patterns that I've created around me. 

If I introduce a new item, I have to re-jig those patterns to accommodate it, which is hard to do, when I'm so used to them and so unsettled by change.
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Even if I do succeed in shuffling everything around to create a different, but equally acceptable arrangement, there is a mental adjustment to be made. It takes a long time for the new layout not to jar or trigger a feeling of discomfort. This discomfort is the same as I experience if I accidentally knock something out of place, or engage in an exposure and response prevention exercise.

As soon as I've opened any gifts, I make a display of them, devising a unique pattern for each, which provides a degree of integration into my world. My OCD permits these ad hoc displays because it views them as temporary, and because they don't disrupt my existing patterns.

In fact, I often leave these in my living room for months, rather than have to find new homes for the contents. Hidden in a gift bag under a table, I still have a few cards and presents from last Christmas, Valentine's Day and birthday, which I haven't yet managed to put away.

Over the years, I've devised a way of dealing with this dilemma. When preparing the present wish-lists we exchange in our family, I focus on:

1. Things that are replacements for worn-out items - one in, one out, pattern maintained.

2. Products that I regularly use, which are both easily stored - usually out of sight - and quickly consumed, so that they won't become permanent residents, such as wine, chocolate or my favourite face cream. 

3. Vouchers for 'experiences'. Events already tackled, or yet to come, this year are falconry, climbing the O2 and afternoon tea at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. 

Vouchers are my favourite kind of present. After all, whether you have ordering OCD or not, isn't it better to live life and create great memories, than just accumulate material goods?


Jodi @ Heal Now said...

You found a great way to amange it all and yet stay grateful to th people who want to give to you! Brava!

Anonymous said...

realistic and positive - great!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, both, for your comments.

Funnily enough, this practice is now spreading in my family - we all are getting to be of an age where present ideas are harder and harder to come by, so consumables and experiences are great fallback options!

Anonymous said...

the more people I meet and the more I reflect, the more I think that so-called "obsessive behaviours" are on a spectrum-show me a person that does not admit to getting irrationa about something especially when they are anxious -all the more reason for mutual understanding and compassion!i have to confess that my local Oxfam shop does well after Christmas!

Helen Barbour said...

I agree 100%. That's why I've called my novel The A to Z of Normal. We're all on the spectrum, whether our behaviours have a medical name or not. Many of my friends and acquaintances behave in ways I consider 'abnormal', eg constantly buying new clothes or countless pairs of shoes. Having an out-of-control wardrobe or Imelda Marcos size shoe collection is, to me, a sign of some kind of mental or emotional problem, yet, if you admit to that it doesn't make people recoil in horror as they might in response to a recognised mental health condition.