16 December 2013

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

One of the hardest things to explain about OCD is its contradictory nature.

How can a man with severe contamination issues have multiple tattoos? How can another, with the same problem, share his home with a cat? I've seen both examples in recent documentaries.

Photos: Peter Gettins Photography
The explanation is, actually, quite simple: OCD makes up its own rules. It dictates what is, or is not, acceptable.

This can confuse and upset friends and family, and may lead them to believe a sufferer is putting the condition on when it suits them. 

Some of my behaviours exhibit the same illogicality.

Whilst my OCD is mainly about order and symmetry, I also have a number of contamination-related compulsions.

For example, I won't eat anything that falls off my plate onto an uncovered table in a cafĂ© or restaurant - or even a covered one if the tablecloth is less than pristine. However, I'll happily eat food that has fallen on the floor at home...providing it happens in the living room, rather than the kitchen. My OCD tells me that the carpet is clean, but the tiles aren't, in spite of the fact they get cleaned with the same (in)frequency.

And, as mentioned in a previous post, I wash the cutlery and crockery in holiday rental properties before using it, yet have no concerns about the silverware and plates when eating out.

Such contradictions are epitomised in my relationship with my boyfriend's cat, Bandit (pictured above and below, with me). 

I'm happy to have her sit on my lap, and to stroke her, but will then be compelled to wash my hands before I touch anything else. My clothes don't feel contaminated - although they're covered in fur - yet my hands do.

I also love to receive her damp, velvety nose rubs, but have no urge to wash my face afterwards. Incidentally, this is a form of greeting between cats who are friends, so is a real honour. 

Stranger still is the pleasure I take in burying my face in her fur, given that this is groomed by a tongue that regularly wraps itself around cat food (and mice and bugs). Without the aid of any fancy products, her fur is wonderfully soft and smells lovely.

I don't understand why I have to wash my hands after contact with Bandit, but not my face or my clothes. Or why I don't worry about 'germs' when I'm rubbing my nose and mouth over her fur. If I don't understand, I can't expect anyone else to.

What I do know, is that the rules and boundaries are different for each and every one of us with OCD.

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If you have OCD, do you exhibit any contradictory behaviours? Or, if you know someone with the condition, perhaps you've witnessed this?


Anonymous said...

Great post, and once I just accepted the fact that OCD makes no sense, I wasn't bother by these contradictions. My son's OCD revolved around harming obsessions (hurting himself or others) yet he has taken up rock-climbing and skis black diamonds. Go figure!

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Great insight, Helen. I never thought I could live with an animal, but then I got my first cat (long story how that came about) and so many of my contamination and responsibility issues went away.

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Oh I forgot to say how pretty Bandit is! He looks like a sweetie. :-)

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, thanks for your great feedback - and it's interesting to hear about your son's experience of the condition.

Helen Barbour said...

Tina, I've thought about how I would cope if I had a cat myself and suspect that I would feel the same as you. Being a pet owner would probably have a positive effect on how I manage my OCD. PS Bandit is a girl, but, yes, she is a very pretty cat (and looks very similar to your dear Sam, I think) - I will pass on your comment to her 'dad'! She was a rescue cat - found abandoned with two kittens - and took a little while to settle, but is now a very happy, loving girl.