13 April 2015

Time bandit

Image courtesy of Aleksa D/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
'I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.'

So sings the White Rabbit in Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland. He doesn't, however, then compound the problem by stopping to carry out a few compulsions...which is precisely what I do, when I'm running late.

These days, I'm always chasing to get everything done and find it increasingly hard to be punctual. Once I know I'm pushed for time, my stress levels rise, and increased stress leads to an increase in compulsions, which tend to be at their worst when I feel circumstances are out of my control. Running late is, of course, a kind of loss of control - of time - but ordering my belongings allows me to regain at least the illusion of being in charge.

On many an occasion, when hurrying to get ready to go out, I've become sidetracked by obsessing over the angle of the soap, as I put it back on the edge of the bath. Or by making sure that my hair brush, deodorant and face cream are precisely positioned on the shelf. Or that my toothbrush is angled correctly in its holder.

Instead of leaving everything as it is, to make up lost time and get wherever I'm meant to be going, I end up in a vicious cycle of stress (about being late), compulsions, more stress (because now I'm even later), and yet more compulsions. I often berate myself out loud - 'You don't have time for this!' - but it makes no difference.

A friend once arrived so early for a dinner date that I had to let him into my flat, while I finished up in the bathroom, rather than going straight downstairs and meeting him outside. The stress of knowing that he was on the other side of the partition wall - and probably getting unjustifiably impatient - left me unable to position things to my satisfaction: nothing 'felt right'.

In fact, I took so long that he called through to check on my progress, which only exacerbated the situation. His interruption made me doubt my checks and I had to start all over again. Now I was even more on edge, expecting him to interrupt again at any moment, which shattered my concentration and rendered it harder still to be sure of what I was doing. 

Incidentally, this was before anyone knew I had OCD. If something like that were to happen now, I would simply explain what was going on and ask the person to bear with me. In my experience, keeping things secret only adds to my stress levels.

In fact, even when I'm only running late according to my own schedule of 'things to do', the resulting stress leads me to waste yet more time on compulsions. No wonder I usually end up eating 'lunch' at four o'clock on my days off!

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