19 January 2015

Strange ways

Although I've spoken openly about having OCD for many years, it isn't always easy to explain to family, friends or colleagues that I'm dealing with a serious illness rather than just being a 'neat freak'.

The initial response of many people is to share some of their own ordering habits; probably through a desire to demonstrate that they identify with me and to make me feel better: the inference is, I shouldn't worry too much, because they do the same sort of thing.

As I've written before, this kind of comment can be a useful way in to discussing the disorder and may well predispose the listener to a better understanding. And, of course, I would in no way wish to denigrate a genuine attempt to empathise.

I've often found, however, that it's only by revealing some of my strangest behaviours that I can persuade someone I really have OCD; but that's not easy to do, either.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
We sufferers usually have insight into our condition and are aware that our behaviours are irrational, so keep them hidden as far as possible. We know how crazy they must seem to others, because they seem pretty crazy to us, too. It takes a lot of courage, therefore, to expose yourself in this way. 

Open as I am, even I have sometimes hesitated mid-sentence, unsure whether I'm actually prepared to reveal that much of myself. Articulating my compulsions only makes me even more aware of how ludicrous they are, and I find myself prefacing every revelation with 'I know it's ridiculous, but...'

So, yes, I know these are ridiculous, but...

I like to make sure that when I settle down in the living room of my flat, I've left the bathroom and bedroom doors open by the same amount. Standing in the living room doorway - which sits between them - I look quickly left and right a couple of times, to check that the gaps are the same, and also that the size of the gap 'feels right'. Getting them perfect usually means skipping backwards and forwards across the hall several times to adjust them.

And when my compulsions were at their worst, I used to touch the front of every cupboard door and drawer in my kitchen before exiting the room. This meant carrying out 12 taps, moving in a circuit from left to right, and zigzagging up and down between those on the wall and those below. Or, at least, it was 12 taps so long as I wasn't interrupted and I 'felt right' at the end of the process. Otherwise, I'd have to do it again...and again, and again, taking it up to 24 taps, or 36, or 48... You get the picture. Sometimes, it seemed I'd never escape.

The reason I use these examples is that they have no basis in practicality or common sense. While many compulsions are an extension of normal acts that we all perform, such as locking our car or washing our hands, people don't usually adjust doors or tap cupboards.

It's important to remember, though, that it's OCD that's strange, not the person - please judge it, not them.


Anonymous said...

Love that last paragraph, Helen.............that it's OCD that's strange, not the person who has it. So true!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for the comment, ocdtalk. The fact that sufferers themselves recognise that their behaviour is strange is significant. We can't be that strange if we have such a degree of insight!