In my own experience, I have found OCD to be alienating and distancing. I feel separated and distracted, as if I was out of sync with everything around me. My mind is always on something else, even at important events, at my cousin’s wedding, I was worried about a mark on my skin, at my graduation, I was anxious that this headache might be a sign of an imminent stroke, on holiday I was so scared that I might have picked up a disease from a public restroom that I don’t remember much of the trip at all.
Sure, I see other people not Dettol-ing every surface before they touch it (then cleaning the Dettol bottle, then washing their hands afterwards) and I wonder, “how are they doing it? Are they not scared of the possible diseases they could risk getting?” The best I can describe it is like you are walking across a tightrope – way high up, far away and separated from everyone else. You are scared of falling because the floor is everything you are afraid of and trying to avoid (for me, disease, dirt and contamination). Walking the tightrope is hard, and complicated, and exhausting, and you can’t move very fast or very far. But it is necessary to avoid the floor. Now, imagine you can see people strolling along the ground, they walk easily, and they do not struggle. They do not worry about the floor, and yet they do not get sick. You can’t imagine what it is like to be so carefree. But you could never join them, because you KNOW! You “know” that what they are doing is risky, and you “know” that your way of doing things is the only way to avoid getting ill, and you continue to struggle along this completely unnecessary tightrope, because you “know”.
I often find that I feel like I am right and everyone else is wrong, and what I do is necessary. When confronted with the evidence that other people don’t clean things like I do, yet they do not get sick, I always put it down to luck, or the fact that I already cleaned it, or they are just immune, or one of the other countless reasons OCD gives me as an excuse to rationalise my behaviour. I try to explain to my family how illogical my thought processes are, as a way to make them understand why I won’t wear clothes that have touched my bed, but that only makes things worse.
“If you realise its illogical, then why can’t you stop doing it?”
Christ, if only I knew.
That’s what makes this disorder so frustrating, you are at war with yourself. Say, I put a pair of freshly laundered socks on the bed, and in panic realise that two days before hand I had put a bag in the exact same place, and that bag had been outside and touched bus seats, public restrooms, restaurants and park benches. Now I imagine most people would think that those socks are fine to wear, there was no visible dirt on the bed, and they are only going on your feet anyway. That’s how one half of me would see it. The other half, the OCD half, would tell me I was an idiot, and that those socks now carry germs that will infect my skin. That infection could spread, ad your body could become riddled with disease (this is called catastrophizing, it’s a trait of OCD and anxiety – I’ll come back to it in a later post).
Now, I look at these socks, and see two completely different outcomes at the same time; they are clean, and everything is fine, but they are dirty, and something bad will happen. Both sides argue against each other in my head – I want so desperately for things to be ok, but the fear that everything could go wrong because I wasn’t careful enough is what pushes me to compulsive behaviours. Sometimes these internal arguments are so intense that I can start to cry. From the outside it looks like I’m crying over nothing, but my head in in a frustrating turmoil of panic and anxiety.
Is at this point that I usually go back to bed and stay there for the rest of the day.
To anyone going through this, I promise you, it’s going to be ok. It’s scary, but you are going to make it through this. Arguments and disagreements are times of heightened emotion and agitation; no one likes to be in a room when two people are arguing, but you can’t hide in the bathroom when that conflict is going on in your own head. When the two sides of your mind are shouting at each other, it is understandable to be overwhelmed, so forgive yourself, take the time you need. I tend to find that forcing your way through times like these isn’t that effective, and pleasant distraction is usually much better, so read a book, watch a film or paint a picture. Let yourself calm down at your own pace. Gather your strength to fight back harder. With either therapy, or medicine, or both, you will get through this. You will be able to climb down from that tightrope, and walk freely with everyone else again.