13 October 2014

Guest appearance

The most recent query from one of my readers began 'I've been reading your blog and I'm worried...' before going on 'How do you manage when Pete [my boyfriend] stays at your flat?'

It certainly must seem strange that I can cope with his fortnightly visits - we alternate weekends at each other's homes - when I need to have order and symmetry in my environment, and view any object that is so much as half an inch out of place as a 'mess'. Guests are bound to have an impact on how I usually maintain my space, even if they don't actually make a mess.

Image courtesy of nuchyless/
When Pete comes over, in fact, I need to rearrange things just to accommodate him physically. I only have a two-seater sofa, so items that live on the spare seat - including the TV guide and remote controls - go onto the floor, so that we can both sit comfortably. After all, I can hardly make him perch on a dining chair, just to avoid relocating my belongings - which would be no solution, anyway, as I'd have to shift the chair from its usual spot...

I also have to bring the bathroom stool into the living room, to act as our snacks' table, and even sacrifice my neat lines of products in the fridge, in the face of all the extra food (and beer).

In spite of the fact that Pete is very respectful of my home, it takes me as long to put things right after he's left as it does for him to travel back to his flat: about 45 minutes. The need to reclaim my territory is so strong that I even feel obliged to wash the crockery from our afternoon tea and cakes, which could easily wait until I clear up after dinner. 

But it's the tiny adjustments that are the most time-consuming element of restoring order. These include correctly positioning the slippers that Pete keeps on the rug in the hall - which have to be centred to it, with the toes up to the edge - and ensuring that the sofa is parallel to the wall, by using the length of my hand and forearm to measure the distance between them at various points.

How is it, then, that I can defer effecting these compulsions, when they drive me to such nit-picking lengths? It's because, during Pete's visits, there's always an end in sight: I know that within 24 hours or so, I'll be able to get everything back to normal. Like running a race, it's easier to find the stamina to keep pushing on, when you know where the finish line is; I'm able to draw on my mental strength, but only for a finite amount of time.

The occupational therapist I saw 20 years ago suggested I adopt a similar approach to help me during treatment exercises, ie exposure and response prevention. Remember, he told me, nothing is irreversible: I could always clear up any mess I made, whenever I chose, if I really couldn't handle the anxiety it induced. That way, although the 'finish line' was moving, it was always within my reach. 

Perhaps next time Pete visits, I should try to push that line back a little more; see if I can stand to wait, say, another 24 hours. If I keep pushing, who knows how far I might get?


ocdtalk said...

That's the first thing I thought of as I read your post, Helen: Just keep pushing back the time! I'd love to hear if you try that and if it actually works.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for your support, ocdtalk - I'll be sure and report back...

helen said...

As an OT, my suggestion is to move the boundaries (if you want to) by a 'do-able' time, for example half an hour or an hour at first. 24 hours is a big jump. all the best, Helen E x

Helen Barbour said...

helen, wise advice, indeed - I shouldn't try to run before I can walk!