7 December 2015

Good twin, bad twin

It can be very hard when you have OCD to know what constitutes normal behaviour, ie how most people behave in a given situation. Often obsessions and compulsions have become so ingrained that sufferers can't remember life before them.

In Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, David Veale and Rob Willson introduce the 'as if' principle as a strategy to help tackle the disorder: trying to think and act 'as if' you didn't have it. A case of fake it till you make it.

Image courtesy of radnatt/
One of the associated techniques is to imagine that you have an OCD-free twin - who is identical to you in every other way - and then imagine how they would act and follow suit.

Of course, this isn't as simple as it sounds. 

Since the start of my 'f**k you' rebellion in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, it's been a lot easier to resist my compulsions. Every time I've gone to place an item carefully, I've reminded myself 'If you do this, you're letting the terrorists win.'

Not only does this provide a solid reason for modifying my behaviour, but it also means that I'm no longer battling myself: it's now me against them, instead of me against me. 

I've heard of sufferers anthropomorphising their OCD as a means of fighting back, treating it as a real-life bully and sometimes even giving it a name, but I've never tried that trick myself. Directing my resistance at the terrorists - an actual third party - seems to have had the same effect.

Nevertheless, I'm still sometimes stumped as to the right way to do things. 

In my bathroom, for example, I started plonking toiletries on the shelf without arranging them, initially choosing not to look at what I'd done - or, rather, not done - but just walk away.

I began to worry, though, that I was simply avoiding the 'mess' rather than facing it and dealing with the resulting anxiety, which is the tenet of exposure and response prevention, the recommended treatment for OCD. 

So I decided to continue putting things down without any thought, but then deliberately look at them. However, I quickly realised that this wasn't the correct approach either, when considered in the context of my OCD-free twin. Would anybody who didn't have the condition stand looking at something after they'd put it down? Of course not!

Besides, it's impossible to place items with millimetre precision by accident, so even if I don't look, I know that I'm leaving things in what I would consider disarray. While I might not know exactly how bad that disarray is, I can visualise it and that alone causes me discomfort.

My twin is still silent in some situations, and that's where Veale and Willson recommend the 'survey' technique: asking your family and friends what they do. So, if I suddenly start quizzing you about how you put your socks away, please don't be perturbed, it's all in a good cause!


Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me, Helen! Sounds like you are really moving forward.Good for you!


Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk!

Lisa Scott said...

I can relate to everything you say here. I pretend that I have a "coach" following me around telling me not to check. And sometimes that works. But sometimes, especially when i have PMS, it is so HARD not to do it.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I'll try the 'coach' approach if my 'twin' lets me down!