11 May 2015

Big deal

My need to position objects with military precision increases the time it takes to complete even the smallest job and can create the impression that I've actually accomplished a major project.

Take, for example, a simple repair that requires the use of glue. The glue is in a small toolbox on the top shelf under the kitchen sink, wedged between other household items. I have to shift some of these to reach the box, and then remove a number of things from the box to get to the glue. 

It's not moving all this that's the problem, though: it's putting it back. I have to replace everything in the box exactly as it was, restore the box to the same position on the shelf, and align the items around it just as before.

A two-minute repair job can lead to five minutes lost to compulsions, as I adjust and readjust things until they look - and feel - right.

Image courtesy of Keerati/
I try to move as little as possible in the first place, in order to minimise this wasted time, but somehow this never goes to plan. It seems the more careful I try to be, the more likely I am to create an even bigger 'mess'.

To reach the glue, for example, I'll try to extricate the tool box without dislodging the Tupperware container to its left or the two hammers sitting on top of each other to its right - like some weird version of Jenga. Inevitably, though, the box bumps the hammers, which knock over an aerosol, which brings down another canister, which falls off the ledge and scatters half a dozen things on the shelf beneath. And then it takes me ten minutes to put everything right, instead of five! 

These ordering compulsions interfere with whatever I undertake, and, as a result, my day can easily fill up without achieving anything of any significance. Every tiny task becomes a big deal, from cleaning the bathroom mirror to putting out fresh toilet rolls - yes, even they have to be stacked 'just so'. By the end of Saturday - my usual day for chores - I may feel as if I've done a lot, but it's just an illusion created by my OCD.

This is often driven home when my boyfriend and I get together later and compare notes on what we've been up to. He'll have completed the same kind of small-scale chores in his flat, yet also fitted in a 30-mile bike ride, spent an hour playing his guitar, taken his cat to the vet for a check-up, washed his car and established world peace. All right, I'm exaggerating a little - he might not get to world peace until Sunday - but he's certainly far more productive than I am. 

While he can look back on a day well spent, I've wasted half of mine on restoring a very rigid and completely unnecessary order. Any satisfaction I get from my fake accomplishments is both hollow and fleeting - whatever I do in the name of this horrible condition, it always demands more.


ocdtalk said...

At least you have a sense of humor about it, Helen! Wish the World Peace comment was true!

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk, you have to keep smiling! - looks as if my boyfriend was too busy last Sunday to achieve world peace...maybe next weekend...