However, when I turned on the radio first thing Saturday and heard that nearly 130 people had died, my stomach flipped and my heart began to race. As the day wore on, and I continued to monitor the news, my distress grew, along with my need to perform compulsions.
My OCD is exacerbated not only by bad news close to home, but also by upsetting events further afield that don't directly affect me. The more crazy and out of control the world becomes, the stronger the urge to order my environment: exerting even a little control eases my anxiety.
Over the years, all kinds of horrific incidents have triggered the same response, including the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris earlier this year. Although natural disasters usually cause more deaths, it's the instances of human evil that disturb me the most.
I'd already had a difficult couple of weeks, with the sudden death of a friend's wife and a burglary at my boyfriend's flat. Factor in my rising anxiety about performing in public and I was in a pretty wobbly state. The Paris attacks were the final ingredient in a perfect storm of mental distress.
By early afternoon, when I had to leave for my talk, my compulsions were as bad as when my OCD was at its worst, 20 years ago: I was unable to leave my flat until everything was exactly where it should be. These days, I usually only find myself in that position when I'm going away for a prolonged period, not for an absence of a few hours.
On the news yesterday, countless people were saying we shouldn't be frightened and should go about our business as usual, or the terrorists would have won. I couldn't help being frightened, though, and as for carrying on as normal...
Only days earlier, I'd been thinking of treating myself to a trip on the Eurostar to Paris. Now I was suddenly scared even to go into central London - into any big city. I just wanted to curl up in a ball in my flat, where I may not be immune to all harm, but would most likely be safe from terrorists.
Then it suddenly came to me: I could fight back, in spite of my fear, by reining in my now rampant compulsive behaviours. The terrorists may have wormed their way into my mind, but I wasn't going to let them take it over.
I began to work on reducing my compulsions to their usual mild level, but soon found myself taking this further, using exposure exercises (ie deliberately leaving things out of place) to tackle my most entrenched - and 'accepted' - habits.
|Image courtesy of 9comeback/FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
RIP to all the victims.