First of, I feel like I am not entitled to blog about this. I feel wary of labelling this as ‘obsessive compulsive’, despite the fact I’ve been told that’s what it is, despite the fact it is – as recently as two months ago- written in my files. I feel like by whinging about the ‘bits’, the ‘traits’ of obsessive compulsive disorder the consultant said I have, I am diminishing the experiences of those who struggle with the full blown thing.
It dawned on me one night when I paced the garden of the ward furiously after refusing my medication. I’d refused it because I felt like I should be in control of my brain, my thoughts, my mood. I struck my that it’s all about control.
I can probably trace my feelings of loss of control to childhood. The pscychotherapists would surmise that moving from house to house, city to city, country to country multiple times before I turned four caused me to feel a loss of control, a sense of insecurity that would trigger the anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviours that have plagued me since. And they are probably right.
Since then, I’ve felt a need to be in control, for everything to be Right and orderly and neat and tidy and in its place. It does not always manifest itself physically- my room is messy and my underwear draw a tangle of unpaired socks and my bathroom is so filthy I won’t let friends use it.
But by god am I plagued with this need for things to be Just Right. Neat. Perfect. In order, organised, contained, constrained, confined. Just so.
It is a mental feeling more than anything. It all spilled out of me a few weeks ago in therapy. I described it as feeling like my brain was a grid. Or there is a grid in my brain. And there are things- lots of things, from the seemingly trivial (the alignment of foodstuff in the supermarket, the fork I use to eat, the hanger I use for a particular garment) to bigger, more important things (application forms, phonecalls, work commitments…life), that must be organised neatly within that grid. If things don’t align themselves with the lines of the grid, they become tangles. They become loose strands that wrap themselves around the lines of the grid. And over time, the loose strands weave their way through each other and they form a big knot all over the grid. So it looks messy. My brain physically feels messy.
The way it works, is the big things- life- are generally things I can’t really control. I can’t make phonecalls that are making me anxious until places are open. I can’t schedule appointments until people tell me when they are available. I can’t pay my accommodation bills until 24th October, can’t stop worrying about making friends at uni until I get there, can’t look forward to starting placement until I find out if I’ve passed the health check, can’t can’t can’t. I always have a to-do list. More often than not, that to-do list cannot be checked of until it is Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, until people reply to emails or phonecalls or arrangements, until particular dates. At night, I lie awake and worry about all the Things I need to do. I need to get them done NOW, so I can rest. But they can’t be done now, so I hop out of bed and write panicked lists and estimated dates of completion to try and placate my thoughts.
So I end up feeling Not In Control. So anxiety heightens, the obsessive compulsions creep in, until all of a sudden I am near tears when I am asked to close the shop at 17.59 (because it is not 18.00!!!) and I spent hours in a museum reading every.single.caption on every.single.display, even though my family have long since finished and are back in the car, and I become fixated on the dirt, the germs I can feel on my hands and I douse them with anti-bac, and instead of feeling clean, I am rub rub rubbing the dirt further into my skin and I spend my days fixated on this Dirt, fixated on the feeling of it on my hands, experiencing only momentary relief for a few minutes, half an hour, after washing my hands before I am fixated once again.
It is nothing specific. I have no single-minded fixation on numbers or cleanliness or balance. It is just a bit of everything. If I am feeling anxious, feeling out of control, anything and everything can become a trigger. It is obsessive thought, ritual. Not carrying out the required action results in louder obsessive thought, and a fear that ‘something’ will happen. That something can be simply something bad, or something specific- like I’ll wet the bed, my mum will crash the car (taps head to ensure this doesn’t happen, because thinking something bad and not head tapping will make it happen, obviously), a bomb will go off, the plane will crash, there will be a natural disaster (lots more head tapping).
And it’s all just exahausting. It’s feeling and action. Feeling and action. No action= more intense feeling. No action= greater sense of panic, intensified fear, greater likelihood of unfavourable outcome.
It’s ironic, really. My obsessive compulsions are a coping mechanism for my generalised anxiety and longstanding need for control. Yet my obsessive compulsions make me feel more anxious, less in control, as more things get swept up into it- I end up having more things to feel in control of, and feel overwhelming anxiety when I don’t engage in the rituals. So then I feel more anxious, have more intrusive thoughts and a greater need to ritualise more things. Vicious cycle, really.
So it all implodes, explodes. I lose the plot. Scream internally. Air squeezes out from my chest. The whole damn thing just feels like scrambled egg, a black scribble, a loud AHHHHHHHH, a bomb going off in my brain.
I cry when I think about it. The lack of control I have over anything (my bipolar diagnosis, and lack of control over my mood without medication, being a big one recently!) The nevereverneverever ending something else. There is always something else. One thing gets sorted, organised, falls into place, and something else crops up. There is no escape, no release, no letting up. I just can’t let go.
The past few weeks my OCD type symptoms have gotten worse. I’ve never considered them to be overly debilitating- irritating, frustrating- sure, but I’ve grown up with them, and so for the large part never really considered them to be ‘abnormal’. But it’s like. I’m getting tired of tapping, tired of the rising panic when the TV volume isn’t a multiple of five, when my fork isn’t in the drawer, the right hanger isn’t on the right garment, or things aren’t facing the right way. I’m tired of having to ‘fix’ these things, having to compensate for them. It is hard to describe really, this feeling that things have to be right, because it can be as subtle as not touching something in a way that feels ‘right’ or my foot hitting something at the wrong angle. Vague as it sounds, things just have to be, feel bloody right- the past few weeks more so than usual. And I am getting exhausted, feeling trapped by that feeling. I just feel like nothing can ever be ‘right’, feel ‘right’, will follow the lines of the grid.
I just feel like the only way out, the only way for my thoughts to stop nag nagging, the grid to be a grid, the scribble in the middle of it to shrink, is to just stop living. Not in a suicidal way, in a ‘I feel really fucking trapped’, kinda way.