23 September 2013

Four steps forward, three steps back

In mid-April, I posted that I was going to tackle some of my compulsions and report back on progress. Five months on, I'm sorry to say that this has been almost non-existent.

I started small: with the wooden light pull in my bathroom. You might recall that I'm compelled to turn this pull around so that a particular pattern in the grain faces me. The first time I resisted doing this, it was surprisingly easy to walk away. That single, tiny mutiny against my OCD felt good. 

For about five seconds. 

As I settled down in front of the TV, a vision popped into my mind of that teardrop of wood hanging any old how. I managed to fight the urge to get up and adjust it, but the image kept coming back to me and I could hardly concentrate on what I was watching.

Over the next few days, I took on my compulsions in three other areas: the way I put clothes away in my sock drawer and my wardrobe, and how I store my keys.

For the sock drawer, I replaced my 'fingertip ironing' with a 'pair-'em-up-and-drop-'em-in' approach. In the wardrobe, I kept the hangers facing the same way, but didn't tweak them to ensure they were sitting straight on the rail without touching each other (as in the photo).

Photo: Peter Gettins Photograghy
My keys, which are held on three fobs and kept in an internal pocket in my handbag, are subject to even more fiddly rules. I usually lay them out along the pocket, with the keys facing the same way, and a specific one in each bunch resting against the back wall. The connecting metal ring is also rotated so that the fobs sit at the notch. I gave up all that palaver and settled for checking only that all three sets were in the pocket.

Unfortunately, I've resumed all of these compulsions, except for those relating to the keys.

My failure to resist the others has mostly been down to lack of effort. Sometimes, though, I've engaged in them deliberately, as a treat. I find myself thinking, 'Go on, you've been doing so well. Turn the pull around, just this once. It'll make you feel better.' Because, the truth is, everything still feels wrong when I don't apply my usual order to my environment. 

Exposure is supposed to reduce anxiety, but, so far, mine has never completely disappeared. I may be able to walk away from the so-called mess I've made, and even leave it like that for several days, but the consequence is a constant niggling in my brain. My mind is left as frayed as my environment looks. 

And then there are those days when I tell myself, 'Hey, don't worry, you can start another day/week/month. You can give this up whenever you choose.' Like a smoker or overeater, alcoholic or drug addict, who doesn't realise the hold their vice has on them.

It's true that I can give up my OCD behaviours, but only if I really try. Recovery won't happen just because I say it can. It also won't happen easily, or without some discomfort and anxiety.

So, I've resolved to start again. This time, I'll focus on the bathroom - until I'm up to taking the battle further afield - and I promise to post about this again by the end of October. That pledge will, in itself, help me to stay on track.

And next time you eat a doughnut, telling yourself 'the diet starts tomorrow,' I hope you'll think of me trying to resist my compulsions.


Janet said...

Helen, I look at that 'messy' wardrobe of yours and then I look at mine... I removed all of the contents of one wardrobe yesterday morning and tried everything on with a view to getting rid of any items that no longer fit. There must have been over 50 hanging garments all crushed in together. It took a while to sort, but the charity shop has done rather well out of me. Despite keeping just 17 items, it still doesn't look anything like yours, but I do feel much better for having a clear out. Still another wardrobe to go... Being messy takes up a lot of time too!

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Janet, actually the photo is of the 'pre-messed-up' look, but frankly most people wouldn't notice the difference - only me with my strange rules.

It sounds as if, with only 17 items left, there is enough space for you to hold a party in your wardrobe now!