Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Living with OCD

When I was younger, say the age of eleven or twelve, I remember running to my mom in sheer panic because I was overcome with stress and worry. She asked what was wrong and my response was “I can’t stop counting in my head”. She didn’t fully understand what I meant when I said that I used to count every step that I took and that my right foot always had to be on an even number, so she assured me that it would go away eventually. Yet here I am eight years later and I still count my steps every now and again.

I’m sure no-one thinks of counting their steps when they’re wondering whether they suffer from OCD, but for me it was only one of many factors that impeded my everyday life. Others included chewing food equally on both sides of my mouth, not stepping on cracks on the footpaths, always putting my left shoe on before my right shoe, etc. The list could go on.

As I progressed through secondary school my OCD got increasingly worse. If I was carrying books, the largest had to be at the back, followed by the smaller copies, then my school diary and then my pencil case on top. But all of the books and the pencil case had to be facing the right way up and with the pages/zip to the right. Okay, I’m not great at describing what I’m visualising but you get the point. Also, I frequently checked my pocket (which had a fucking zip, btw) to make sure my swipe card, phone and lip balm were still secure. But the swipe card had to be behind the phone and the lip balm. Obviously.

At lunch, I always had to go to my locker first before I could even think about sitting down and tucking into my sandwich. Only when all of my books for the next three classes were in order could I even consider relaxing and even then my relaxation was timed because I had to be at the swipe machines at 1:20pm every day, on the dot. And once that first bell rang at 1:35pm, I was en route to class five minutes early.

There are other obvious things that trigger my OCD that are more common, such as dirty mugs being left in the sink or needing to check to make sure I have everything in my bag before I leave the house (even if it’s my third time checking), or making sure the volume on the TV is on a multiple of five. On top of those habits are the more pressing impulses like needing to empty my clutch bag immediately when I get home after a night out rather than leaving it until the morning, or only being able to start studying on the hour/half hour.

Last year I feel my OCD really got the better of me. It was my first year in college and rather than letting loose and experiencing everything that came with the freedom of living with friends away from home, I let my OCD consume me. I couldn’t walk into the kitchen without getting worked up by one dirty plate on the counter. I got frustrated when the hot water didn’t work and I needed to have my shower at that particular time. I even had anxiety not knowing what time people would be home from college during the day because I felt like their routines somehow interfered with mine.

I probably sound like a psycho but that was my way of thinking. I couldn’t control it. Now though, for whatever reason, I feel far more in control of my tendencies. I’m far more relaxed and able to enjoy myself without stressing over ridiculous things. Now I can walk into my kitchen and the sink full of dirty utensils doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Well, okay it still does bother me a little bit but now I can walk away and forget about it. Last year I would’ve had a full-blown meltdown.

Although I still ask what time everyone will be home from college, it doesn’t impact my day as much whether I know or not. The reason I constantly needed to know where everyone was and what they were doing for the evening was because of my obsession with making plans. I couldn’t get through a single day without first planning it to death. Thankfully I no longer have that urge to plan the shit out of life. I’m far more comfortable letting things happen in the moment and not freaking out because it wasn’t scheduled into my mental diary. I guess you could say I’m more spontaneous now than ever. And it’s doing me the world of good.

I can’t say I’ll ever be free from OCD, but I can definitely guarantee that it won’t ever have the same hold on me that it did for the past eight years. It’s something that I’ve grown accustomed to and that I’ve learned to manage. Because why the hell not get a later bus home on a Friday and go into the city for ice cream right now? And why the hell not get a tattoo in a few weeks if it makes me happy? And why the fuck shouldn’t I stand outside in the rain if it makes me feel alive, even if I’m risking getting a cold and needing to have another shower tonight even though my diary has only scheduled another shower for tomorrow evening?... YEAH.

*If you want a longer, more light-hearted list of instances where my impulses have gotten the better of me, head over to College Times and check out my article "21 Signs You Suffer From OCD".