14 October 2013

Cruel to be kind

The friends and family of OCD sufferers can often end up pandering to their compulsions, in a bid to relieve their distress. Sometimes, this even leads to the non-sufferer enacting these themselves.

One television documentary about the condition featured a woman who engaged in constant checking to avoid losing things. Her husband spent hours going through the contents of bins with her, to reassure her that she hadn't thrown away anything important. He was completely embroiled in her OCD behaviours, which occupied so much of their time that neither of them was able to work.

Providing reassurance, at a lower level, may seem the kindest, most expedient, course of action: how could it possibly do any harm, for example, to reassure someone that a door is locked? In fact, it's the worst thing to do, as OCD feeds off reassurance. The condition makes its victims constantly doubt what they see, believe or are told, and drives them to seek an absolute certainty that can never be provided. Reassurance only leads to the need for more reassurance.

As I live alone, there is rarely anyone available to provide this, even if I were to request it. In fact, I have to trust my own eye as to whether things are symmetrical or ordered correctly, as only I know my 'rules'. 

I do, however, also suffer with some contamination issues, and my boyfriend, Pete, complies with a related compulsion that I engage in to deal with one of them.
Image courtesy of patpitchaya/

We take a lot of self-catering holidays in the UK, always staying in good quality rental properties. Yet, no matter how clean our holiday home is, I can't bring myself to use the crockery, cutlery, pans etc until I've washed them. Otherwise, I'm plagued by the worry 'What if that knife/glass/plate is dirty? What if it makes me ill?' 

Before we can even have our first cup of tea after our journey, I'm up to my elbows in hot water and washing-up liquid. Pete will then also wash subsequent items we use, knowing how I feel about this. I'm still likely to ask 'Have you washed that?', if I see him cooking, or laying the table, with something new.

As with many OCD compulsions, this is quite illogical, as I happily use crockery and cutlery in restaurants, where I have no way of guaranteeing their cleanliness.

It wasn't until our last trip, in June, that I realised there was an obvious solution to this problem. As most of our cottages have a dishwasher, why not simply load it up as soon as we arrive? 

So, that's what we did, filling it with a large selection of items we were likely to need. We left the machine to do its work, while we enjoyed our first dinner in the local pub...with me happily using their plates and cutlery.

As I opened the dishwasher at the end of its cycle, the steam billowing out was all the reassurance I needed.

This time-saving tactic will make it hard - if not impossible - to give up this compulsion in future, but it will, at least, reduce its impact on my nearest and dearest.

By the time you read this, we'll be on our next holiday, in Dorset. And, yes, the cottage is equipped with a dishwasher.


Anonymous said...

This is such an important post, as it is our natural instinct to "help" those we love. But as you say, enabling those with OCD is the worst thing we can do for them, and it only helps the OCD get more entrenched. That's why I think it is so important that family be involved in the treatment process for OCD; so we can all learn the right way to help our loved ones. Enjoy your holiday!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. It can certainly be hard for our nearest and dearest to know what to do for the best, unless they have a good understanding of the condition. Comments and questions I've had since starting this blog have made me realise how difficult it is to convey exactly what OCD entails and how best to help someone living with it.

Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic blog and as somebody who is in a relationship with a person with OCD it really touched home with me. There is nothing worse than watching him redo what I have already done around the house lol. Please keep posting, it is a wonderful insight that has helped me to understand my other half better. X

Helen Barbour said...

Thank you so much for your comment. It's great to receive such positive feedback and encouragement, and I'm really pleased that my blog has helped you. I do hope that you and your partner have been able to access some professional help? Recovery is possible and lives can be reclaimed from this horrible condition. The best of luck to both of you.