27 January 2014

Last Christmas (I gave you my flat)

It's hard to get through Christmas without stress, but for those with mental health problems, this can be an especially difficult time.

Last year presented a new challenge for me, as, for the first time, my boyfriend, Pete, and I spent Christmas and Boxing Day at my flat. 

Photos: Helen Barbour
Before...
I'm used to Pete staying overnight at weekends, and can always hold off until he's gone to put things 'right'. All that distinguished this occasion from an ordinary weekend was that I'd have to clear the dining room table, so that it could actually be used for dining, rather than writing - usually we manage with trays, but that's hardly festive.

I only had to remove a few items from the top of the table and replace the office chair with the dining chair that lives in the bedroom. Not a big deal for most people, but I might as well have been moving house, for the emotional turmoil this caused. 

I concealed most things down the side of the table or behind the sofa, but couldn't forget that they were out of place, even though I couldn't see them. As I took the precaution of doing this on Christmas Eve, to avoid hassle on the day, I also had to live with the disarray that bit longer.

...and after
Setting the table was the big challenge the following morning, because, of course, it had to be perfect, with everything positioned symmetrically. I got so stuck doing and re-doing the layout, that Pete had arrived before I'd finished all of the other preparations...and then my OCD found additional ways to kick in.

I hadn't got around to making the bed, so when Pete dumped his coat on it, the outside of that was touching the inside of the covers, which he didn't realise was a contamination issue for me. I tried to put out of my mind what his coat might have been in contact with - Tube train seats being the worst of my imaginings.

Then I realised that I'd forgotten to put any Christmas music on. While the table looked beautiful, the tree lights were lit, and an orange and clove scented candle was burning, I still felt as if I'd ruined the morning. I nearly despatched Pete back outside, to come in again, so that I could start things over properly. 

Finally, I dropped a chunk of parsnip down the side of the cooker, while serving lunch, which meant we had 31/2 pieces each - not at all in line with my need for wholeness in my food.

It took me 21/2 hours to put things straight the following evening, including arranging my presents neatly next to the tree; a tidy display being the only way I can cope with new items in my home, until I find a permanent place for them. 

While I was doing all of that, I had the BBC 24-hour news on, with its reports of flooded homes, power losses and lengthy flight delays. For thousands of people Christmas had genuinely been ruined. It was a salutary reminder that my OCD can easily make me lose perspective.

At least I'd managed to host the festivities at my flat - albeit on a small-scale - and tolerate the ensuing 'mess' for 48 hours. And, do you know what, I even enjoyed myself!


Before...
...and after

PS The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that one knife and fork are set incorrectly - in fact, I'm left-handed and that's just the way I like my cutlery!

6 comments:

Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Good for you, Helen! I think it's great that you were willing to have Pete over for Christmas even though you knew it would produce anxiety. It's so much easier to avoid doing something we fear than to go ahead and do it.

Your table looked so festive for Christmas! I'm glad you were able to enjoy yourself, too. :-)

hopeforanxiety said...

It's funny because I noticed at Xmas that I kept having worries about if I didn't do things in a certain order etc or if I didn't' follow usual tradition then Xmas wouldn't be 'perfect'. I realised for the first time that these were likely intrusive thoughts related to my OCD. It's not a main component of my OCD at all but interesting to read your article on your own experiences with it and see that I relate to it.
Thanks Helen!
Emily x

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Tina

We were driven to have Christmas at my flat by Pete's noisy neighbours, so I have to confess that him coming mine was probably a lesser cause of anxiety in comparison to them spoiling the day.

Re the table, what is perhaps not obvious from the photo is that it's covered in 'table confetti' - little metallic festive shapes. Even with my need for order and symmetry, I was never going to do anything with those other than roughly spread them around!

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Emily

Since starting this blog, last April, I've reflected a lot on my lifestyle and my OCD, and come to realise that many aspects of my behaviour are offshoots of the condition. Often they aren't too intrusive/damaging, so I just hadn't seen the link before.

Rosie Canning said...

Well done for facing your fear and doing it anyway and I bet Pete had a lovely time.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Rosie, yes, we both had a great time and it was also nice to be able to see some of my own neighbours over the festive season.