It’s been a long break, but I’m back to share my experiences. What a journey the last couple of years has been.
The saddest time was losing my brother to cancer, within a matter of weeks, when he was really enjoying life in his fifties. He hardly ever saw a doctor and always appeared to me to be a big strong healthy man with a wonderful nature, that didn’t moan or speak ill of anyone – he never argued with anyone ever, therefore he was loved by all family and friends. Life can be so cruel to take people like him, so quickly and so early, but it proves how much he was loved by the amount he is missed every day by so many.
Nothing I can write on this site or in my book about how difficult OCD makes life will be at all significant in comparison to this loss – losing a close family member you love puts all of life into context and the lesson I’ve learnt from this sad event is that I must be grateful for every day I am on this planet.
I recently read a quote by Pablo Picasso that keeps drifting through my mind:
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.
My brother’s gift to me was to remind me that life is very precious and mustn’t be taken for granted.
I have interpreted this to mean that I must not hide away, or be ashamed of having OCD, and I must make my purpose to be that I share my experiences with others that are interested, no matter how embarrassed or uncomfortably exposed I feel. There are many of us that live with OCD, but there is only one of me, with my personal challenges and unique solutions, and if I don’t share them here I may never be of use to anyone else – that would be a waste.
In previous explanations of my OCD I’ve exposed some of the antics of my ‘worry OCD bully’, but not the ‘checking bully’.
I do work constantly on trying to fight back against this one, but the weight of responsibility makes me buckle, such as locking my (valuable) car and (my biggest valuable) house door when leaving, and then returning for a cheeky re-check. I feel conspicuous when I walk back to re-check my car doors, because on CCTV I could look like someone trying to break in to the car!
Leaving my home for more than a few hours means several checks of doors, windows and taps but when I go on holiday it involves far more lengthy checks and double checks of:
1. Are all the plugs switched off?
2. Is the fridge door closed properly? Push it and then stare for several seconds (just to ensure my eyes don’t deceive me).
3. Is the water heater off? This means staring at the on/off switch for several seconds and then touching it to check followed by more staring to ensure I didn’t move the switch by accident.
4. Is the television plug removed?
5. Is the washing machine switched off?
6. Ensure there are no small appliances plugged in e.g. irons, hair curlers etc?
7. Are all the taps in the house turned off and the plugs nowhere near the plug-hole? Now due to my ‘contamination OCD bully’ we now have two bathrooms, shower room, cloakroom and obviously kitchen, meaning 14 taps and seven plug-holes in total!
This takes a great deal of staring followed by my hand underneath to check my eyes aren’t being deceived, by the transparency of water, and then more staring and a counting ritual. Each tap is given a number (which is always an even number) and counting to that number whilst staring e.g. one, two, three, four, five, six. I continue wandering around the house checking and if I’m very whittled I go back to the tap and count through to that number again. My mind has to be comfortable with the level of checking before I can head for the door.
9. And finally … Locking the door? Once locked and the key removed I try the handle whilst counting to a number (2, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12) and if worried return to the door and recount to that same number again whilst trying the handle – this is not helpful for the longevity of the handle and my partner goes potty when he catches me doing this!
I have read many books on OCD, the potential causes, and the most effective fixes, so I am aware that I do not trust the message being sent from my eyes to my brain that for instance the tap is not dripping, meaning I stare, or put my hand under the tap – presumably a trust issue? As I mentioned at the start, I am trying to kick-the-butt of this ‘checking OCD bully’ on a daily basis, but ….
Thank goodness I’m not working set hours for someone else, because when I did have a pressurised job with lots of responsibility I would go through the above checks and then be half-way through my journey to work and start to panic that I’d missed a check, or not done it thoroughly enough. Was I preoccupied when I left the house and the vision I have in my head of locking the door was from yesterday? I would imagine the house being burgled and thieves going through my personal belongings, so I would turn the car around a.s.a.p. to go back and re-check.
I should say at this point, that so far, returning to double-check something worrying me has not been fruitful – I have never found a sink full of water at the point of starting to drip onto the floor and flood everywhere, or the door left unlocked or worse still left open with cats and dogs roaming in, doing wees and poos everywhere and then leaving. Recently the worse thing I have found is the washing machine was not checked (by my partner !!) so it was flashing as finished even though the contents had been removed.
On occasions I fought this instinct to return home, but it would play on my mind for several hours meaning extra pressure to the job, but obviously when I did take the time to return home it would make me late for work and then I faced those consequences. Even though the company operated ‘flexi’ hours (thank goodness), this generally meant cutting comments like “Morning part-timer” or “Had trouble getting out of bed today”. This is what OCD sufferers contend with rather than face the ridicule of explaining the life they have to live with this condition – it is so sad.
I don’t want to be flippant but my partner has to continually remind me that I have a propensity to purchase a disproportionate amount of firm, wood, plastic, or leather chairs – we have them sprinkled around the house and stock piled in the garage – rockers, antiques, modern, stools all shapes and sizes. The ones reserved for me, even patio chairs, have pretty little ribbons tied on to remind the family not to use them.
I hadn’t realised how obsessed with chairs I’ve become until he pointed it out recently, so I started to wonder why this might be. The best reason I can think of is that I am fixated about “OCD Friendly” chairs whenever I am out of the house, and in it for that matter!
I can’t bear the thought of sitting on a spongy, sweaty bottom, germ-riddened cushioned seat, so I’m always looking for a hard seat that can be cleaned easily and doesn’t absorb nasties from an undesirable part of the human anatomy. I really do remember the wonderful feeling of being cuddled into a fabric armchair, but that was before my OCD bully arrived in my life.
I cringe when I watch people touching the seats of chairs, or sitting on their hands yuk. Young toddlers love to climb onto them and one of my friends has a young son that likes nothing more than having a little nod in our local restaurant whilst kneeling in front of a chair and resting his head and arms on the seat aagghh!
Some unfortunates have incontinence, or haemorrhoids, or are simply just not that clean, and there is only a thin layer or two between that area and the chair. What can be worse than seating down and finding the seat warm from the last person’s backside. You can imagine how doctors surgeries, dentists, pubs, hotels, restaurants and other peoples houses present problems for me – I regularly say “I’m fine standing thanks” but this has lead to embarrassing situations.
I avoid (like the plague) having to go to the doctors or dentists, but when I really can’t put it off, I stand up and read the posters and leaflets dotted around on the walls – for one full hour on one occasion – I must have looked ridiculous, especially when the receptionist said “Please take a seat as there is a long delay”. I made a pathetic excuse up that I was suffering with a bad back! I hope she didn’t check my medical records and find out that was a lie, but this is the kind of pretending us people with OCD need to do on a daily basis.
Public transport, including planes, is too difficult for me to use because unless I can afford first class tickets, they always involve that awful smelly velour covering, so travelling has to be made via my own transport meaning I will never see the USA or anywhere to the left of the UK on an atlas unfortunately. I can do the right of the UK on an atlas by taking my mobile home on the Cross Channel Ferry or Eurostar to Europe, and then keep driving, even as far as the Far East!
Getting a lift (especially to a pub or restaurant so that I can have a glass of wine to relax) with family or friends presents problems because I can’t rudely ask “Do you have leather seats?” so recently I’ve dared to take a plastic rubbish bin liner with me to put down on the car seat. I suspect they are probably offended but I do this in my own car now we don’t have leather seats. Love me, love my bin liner I’m afraid.
Toilets away from home are my worst nightmare, with spongy soft chairs coming in a close second place. My family and friends have latched on to this now and regularly say “You’d like it at xxxx because they have OCD friendly chairs”. My close relatives are patient enough to keep me my own hard chair in their house for visits bless them. So there we have it, I think this must be the reason I spend hours looking at chairs to buy and surround myself with.
Apologies for the lack of blog entries, but I seem to be suffering writers block – hopefully it’s because I’m not experiencing stressful “meltdowns” however a couple of days ago there was an incident I thought might be worth writing about ….
My partner suggested a cocktail (one of our favourite treats) on a rarely relaxing Sunday afternoon – usually it’s chores followed by a last minute supermarket dash at 3.00 p.m.
The sun was shining, but the wind was whipping up as we walked into a coastal bar with a glorious seaview that gave the feeling of being abroad. The barman looked nervous when we requested the cocktail menu (list??) which my partner jokingly commented on as he passed it over to us, and then shot behind the scenes leaving his colleague to do the shaking and mixing.
We drooled over the descriptions and I carefully selected one that we weren’t familiar with, a Long Island Cooler that had vodka, rum, tequila and midori amongst its ingredients, whilst my partner went for a Manhattan. We were relieved that the barman, left behind with nowhere to hide, looked excited at the prospect of not serving coffees or pints of lager and had something he could “show off” with.
Unfortunately I then noticed he had a blue plaster on his index finger, which is a big ‘no-no’ for me, and whenever possible I stop the purchase – this applies especially in shops and supermarket check-outs (I have been known to put my groceries back into the trolley and move along to avoid the checkout person touching my purchases with a potentially bloody wound. However in this scenario I found it hard to say “Sorry I’ve changed my mind and now I don’t want a drink”. I could feel my anxiety rising and my heart starting to beat faster, with my smile quickly disappearing.
The barman filled a tall glass with ice (presumably to cool it, because that got thrown down the sink and refilled before the liquid was added which got me thinking was something wrong with the ice) and then he tossed a stainless steel mixer in the air, hoping to look like Tom Cruise, but unfortunately it slipped from his hands on to the floor.
My already growing OCD warning signs now notched up to a red-high-level – please don’t use it now it’s been on the floor I thought as I desperately looked for another he could use?! My partner immediately spotted my perturbed look and said “Don’t worry, I’ll have this cocktail to save you having to worry, and you order another”. Happily though the barman replaced the dropped mixer with a fresh one – phew.
He then went on to pour the alcohol into the glass from a free-flow spout rather than use an accurate measure but half of it missed the glass and went over the counter. Feeling deprived, I said “You missed” to which he ignored me but I must have ruffled his confidence because he then went on to top the glass up with Coca-Cola from the mixer trigger rather than soda or lemonade, making a dirty brown top to the pretty lime green cocktail below.
He looked mortified at this mistake and said “whoops” as he emptied it down the sink whilst I was saying “don’t worry” but it was too late and the whole process had to start again, but not before he got a notebook out and wrote down all the ingredients that had been spoiled for stock taking purposes – in your own time I was thinking.
Half way through his preparation I also noticed how dirty his finger nails were, so I quickly said “Don’t worry about adding the fruit around the side of the glass” to keep the contact with his hands to a minimum, but the fruit slices and umbrellas do make fun of having cocktails.
At that point another customer interrupted the barman’s show by saying “Excuse me mate have you got any toilet rolls only my son is stuck on the toilet needing one”. What!?! There I was trying to get into the mood of sipping a Long Island cocktail, and all of a sudden I was reminded of poo and toilets. How to completely spoil a moment.
This must have distracted the barman so much that he had to get a sheet out to look up the ingredients that this cocktail consisted of – blimey how much longer I was thinking. I got my straws ready from a glassful of them on the bar but whilst I was saying “I have straws thank you”, he ignored me and grabbed two straws with his dirty-plastered finger tips and man-handled them into a bent angle and added them to the glass. What I found amazing is my partner had been clocking all my expressions of worry and as quick as a Ninja Warrior swooped up the straws from my cocktail and whipped them into his coat pocket so that I could use the ones I had selected and wiped in case of germs. This is what years of living with me has lead to – a type of OCD carer instinct that I was well impressed with. He did it so quickly during the barman turning to make his Manhattan cocktail – there was no chance he noticed this manoeuvre but I was amazed and grateful.
My partner’s cocktail was made with less interruptions but when the barman came to flaming the orange peel and rubbing it around the edge of the martini glass you can imagine it didn’t go exactly smoothly. Singed hair and manky finger tips, rather than flamed orange was added to the glass, but my partner was one step ahead of this when he offered me a taste. “Use your straw to taste my cocktail” he said.
I think this story shows how tuned into my OCD my partner has become after years and years of watching out for me. I am very lucky.
Does anyone else with this frustrating OCD condition have certain clothes for their ‘safe zones’? My favourite comfy clothes are saved for my Safe-Sofa-Zone – an oasis in the house that no one else (not even my gorgeous grand-children) can go near. This is my living area to relax in and the OCD bully has a job to reach my thoughts.
The cushions and throw on my safe-sofa are welcoming, cheerfully bright, and only ever been marooned on my white leather sofa. If, and it’s a big if, they should drape or fall off the sofa, they are immediately swooped up into the washing machine, and then dried on my own clothes-dryer, in my bedroom. No one touches these items, and I always wash my hands before touching them, or sitting on my sofa. There is one other Safe-Zone, and that is my white leather bedroom chair, next to my desk where I write this blog.
This obviously presents problems when I have guests in the living room because I have to guard my sofa to minimise stress and cleaning/washing. However it is so worth it! I can sit on my sofa with my safe-items at hand on a small side-table – they have all been scrubbed clean, such as my iPad, note book, pen, box of tissues, hand sanitizer gel, and hidden behind my large cushion, a packet of anti-bacterial wipes (just in case of an emergency contamination such as someone touching me or my sofa and it’s clean contents).
The above ritual is complicated by the fact I can only wear my safe-sofa-clothes in this area, so housework has to be done in another set of clothes, and then going outdoors is yet another set of clothes, with bedtime meaning a further set of clothes (usually pjs). This can even play with my mind, let alone the people around me.
So often my family look baffled when I nip upstairs to change my clothes after making them a drink upon arrival, but if we’re to have a relaxing chat on sofas in the living room …. well it’s all explained above. However, if we then move into the dining room to sit and eat, or decide to visit the shops or pub, it will mean another change of clothes (or two).
Family (but not friends) know of my indoor/outdoor clothes rule, and bless my children for abiding by this rule since they were small (I think it started when my son began school and wore a uniform), but over the years a third category has infiltrated my ritual – indoor AND safe-sofa clothes.
It is a bizarre world I have manufactured for myself but I do obviously blame the OCD bully and envy the simplicity of normal changes of clothes e.g. when they NEED washing. Another thing I am jealous of is when people enter their home after a long day, put the kettle on, and then flop down to enjoy a cuppa whilst kicking off their shoes. My routine is enter, take off outdoor shoes, wash hands, upstairs to change clothes, wash hands, make cuppa, wash hands, then flop down.
I signed up for Twitter at the same time as starting this blog, but I still need to “get into doing it”. Today I made an effort to increase the number I follow and although it is easy to find organisation, it is harder to find individuals.
I typed ‘OCD’ into the search facility, but too often find I’m reading Tweets that skirt the main daily issues we go through. Below are some examples:
I found one Tweet about a person doing a charity run, with the distances involved, in aid of raising awareness of OCD (great work, but running distances without a toilet is unimaginable to me).
Another Tweet was trivialising the subject by worrying about the perfection of her decorated fingernails (going to a nail parlour and having someone else messing with my hands is out-of-bounds in case the instruments/nail polish was used on another person).
However, I did find one Tweet that was on my wave-length and made me smile to know someone else thinks in the same way as me, it said “When I say please remove your shoes, I don’t mean your socks as well”.
I would really appreciate being sent a Tweet that really gets down to the daily nitty-gritty woes of having OCD. Please send yours to Twitter @OCDexposed and I’ll follow you – you could then encourage me to get into the habit!
Hooray, this is a great day for those of us with OCD!
I wonder how many people know that today 5th May 2015 is World Clean Hands Day? More importantly I wonder how many people will take notice and wash their hands more thoroughly and more frequently today?
I am imagining all the coughs, colds, and viruses that will be prevented today if this event is taken seriously – great news for all concerned.
I was using a hotel rest room one evening during our works Christmas ‘Do’ and whilst washing my hands a lady asked
“Excuse me but are you a nurse”?
“No” I responded puzzled, thinking it is the least likely occupation with my OCD condition, and why would she say that when I was dressed up in my very best evening frock looking as glamorous as I could?
“It’s just that I noticed how thoroughly you are washing your hands, so I assumed you have a job in medicine”.
I found that a huge compliment – at least I was doing something correctly but little did she know I’ve been taking this activity to its extreme conclusion for way too long.
I think too much time on your hands can be unhelpful when trying to keep OCD thoughts at bay, here is an example of this. Italic text shows my peck-peck OCD thoughts.
Feeling cold whilst sitting on my sofa, I pulled on a cardigan from my wardrobe and returned to the sofa. Simple you would think, but no, far from it. As I sat there feeling the benefit of the extra warmth from the cardigan I started to doubt whether it was freshly washed when added to my wardrobe (I’ll do a separate post about the complications of my wardrobe rituals). I smelt the arms, which smelt of washing powder, but that wasn’t enough because the peck-peck of my contamination OCD thoughts were not through with me. I tried hard to ignore the thoughts, and distract myself knowing that the warmth was improving and I mustn’t let the OCD win.
I tried but failed to beat it, so I took the cardigan off to see if there was any creases that would indicate it had been worn previously – no, the opposite. There was signs that it was washed and put away without being ironed, as this cardigan was for casual wear around the house, so no creases on the inside of the elbow, or creases on the back to indicate I’d sat in it.
So I put the cardigan back on and tried hard to relax and ignore the next peck-peck of OCD thoughts. This time they played hard-ball. When was the last time I wore it? Could it have been in a public place where germs were transferred to the back or the arms? Did I wear it on a public chair where someone else’s waistband had touched the chair, and that person had been to a dirty toilet and passed germs from the toilet to the public chair that I sat on? I was now rubbing the germs I’d picked up off the chair onto the cushion behind my back, the leather of the sofa I was sitting on, and the throw on my lap? I pictured the scenario of later resting my head on the contaminated cushion, dirtying my hair, that would then contaminate my pillow on my bed. That is an ‘Ultimate No-No’.
Stop thinking like this I kept telling myself, relax. I tried thinking about something more interesting and pleasant, but the peck-peck of germs being on my cardigan and transferring to my “safe” environment would not go away.
I know from the CBT workbooks that I’ve read, that I need to ride out this storm and last as long as possible before caving in to the OCD thoughts. Remind myself the cardigan smells and looks perfectly clean from the section of the wardrobe that I add ONLY clean clothes to. Try to relax.
After five minutes more, the cardigan came off and was put into the washing machine. The leather sofa was sprayed with Dettox and rubbed clean (a frequent activity that does no harm). Then the cushion I was leaning on was sprayed with Dettox, rubbed furiously with kitchen roll, and moved to dry out – I managed not to put that into the washing machine because it was “out of site and out of mind” to dry. Luckily the throw had not been contaminated because I took the cardigan off in time, but I headed into the wardrobe and pulled out enough clothes to make up a load for the washing machine. I feel sure the clothes were already clean, but I didn’t want to re-enact the above situation in the future. My rationale is get rid of any doubt and reassure myself, but I was weak.
So in conclusion, because I wasn’t busy and was trying to relax, I ended up being busy, and OCD won (this time)!
I was working on a Word document today and looking through the ClipArt facility, when I came across the attached quote. It gave me encouragement to continue with this OCD Exposure venture I am about to begin, on a day when my confidence is low and doubt is over whelming that there is any point to my book or blog.
It’s a first for me. How have I managed to get to this age and avoid having work done to the house that interrupts the sanctuary of my bathroom and bedroom?
The window installers are doing a great job, and being totally obliging, but they can’t possibly know how stressful it is for me. Like a serene swan, I am trying to give off the air of calmness without making ripples in the water (or making their work processes awkward), but underneath the surface I am getting as exhausted as the swan’s webbed feet, thrashing around to keep moving forward – in my case my leg is doing a nervous twitch/dance, my hand-washing is excessive (even for me), and I’m continually clock-watching to count down to their home time.
My bedroom and bathroom looks like a forensic crime scene – covered in plastic sheeting and bin liners in an attempt to hermitically seal my precious belongings from human (strangers) contact. I have a shocking amount of “floof” as I like to call it in my bedroom – all the knick-knacks from birthdays, Valentines, Mothering Sunday and Christmas presents. They make every surface look pretty and home for me whilst I relax in my bedroom, and stop the living areas from getting clogged up with girly dust-catchers. The trouble is I’ve had to collate them all into the smallest space I can make in my room, to give the workmen the maximum amount of room to walk and work in without getting anywhere near my stuff – I don’t know if it’s damage limitation for them, or me?
I did this “new plastic dust sheet wrapping” yesterday prior to them working on a window downstairs in a room that family and friends use, but was horrified to see that they had then attempted to be even more efficient by throwing over fabric dust sheets themselves. Now that might sound efficient, but consider the fact that these sheets are so incredibly manky, with mud (or dog poo), and stains of unknown substances, from goodness knows which other properties they’ve worked in. I’d actually prefer to take my chances on what might get walked in on their shoes than see my carpets/floors covered in these contaminated fabric sheets, but I don’t want to “be a pain” and have to explain myself to them. This is the unfortunate part of OCD – you have to put up and shut up as much as possible, or sound weird.
The same grotty dustsheets have been placed all the way through the hall and stairs leading to my bedroom and bathroom, and I entered my bedroom just in the nick of time to prevent them draping these horrors over my newly purchased plastic, colour-coded (50p extra cost to the clear white ones, but they look prettier), dust sheets. Obviously they think they are doing what is wanted, so they look quite offended when I politely said “Would you mind leaving my dust sheets as they are, and only use your sheets on the floor please”. That is bad enough, because I’ll have to bleach the original Victorian floorboards once they leave – the vacuum cleaner won’t be sufficient for this job.
They must be getting a clue that I have issues though. The sink and toilet has been embedded in black bin liners and secured in place with heavy duty white duck tape. I worry they might be tempted to use my facilities instead of the toilet/sink used for the rest of the household. Sealing my toilet and sink adds to my anxiety because asking for a quick toilet break whilst they are working in the bathroom isn’t really viable as I’ll still need to bleach-clean the area before being able to use it, and then I’ll have to envelop it all again in plastic before they’re able to resume work.
No toilet breaks from 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. means no liquid intake, but just the right amount of food to absorb the fluid (urine) in my body, but not so much I will need a number two. I expect you think food won’t absorb urine but it’s a theory I use to comfort myself when my toilet isn’t freely available, e.g. when I have visitors or leave the house. Today I’m hoping the sponge part of Jaffa Cakes will absorb unwanted body fluid? Another precaution I’ve taken to wanting a ‘number two’ whilst my bathroom is out of bounds, is taking a double-dose of Imodium, but that may leave me with an issue in the morning as I prepare for an 8.00 start to day three of the window installation saga. I resisted the Imodium yesterday, but succumbed to it today, during a mini-panic.
I think I’ll be sleeping on the sofa tonight because the window installers are bound to want to finish off the windows tomorrow, and I dread the rigmarole of removing the numerous dust sheets in a way that they don’t touch the floor or anything other than the item I’m covering. How do you fold a 12x12ft plastic sheet on your own without it falling on the floor? If that happens, I’d have to go out to a DIY shop to buy more sheets to recover everything tomorrow morning before 8 a.m.
One thing that keeps freaking me out is seeing the house toilet being used by the workmen, hearing the flush, and then there’s not enough time elapsing for hands to be washed before the toilet door is being shut. Not-washing-your-hands-after-the-toilet syndrome is horrid enough in any other situation, but I know that those dirty hands are going on to touch my door handles and stair handrail on the way up to my bedroom and bathroom. I left them a kettle with tea and coffee making facilities (and biscuits) so that they can help themselves to a brew, but anything left will clearly not be going back into my kitchen!
I bought in two bottles of bleach in readiness for the big clean-up after the windows are installed and although my hands are already dry, cracked and sore (like numerous little paper-cuts), I think rubber gloves are going to be needed to prevent the cracks becoming crevices. Cracked skin on my hands puts a stop to food preparation for my family and opens up another “can of worms of worry”.
I’m sure having windows that actually close, and don’t let the wind and cold whistle in will be worth it, and I will not take my bathroom and bedroom for granted ever again, but right now I can’t wait for those longed for immortal words “Right love, that’s us finished, your windows are in, and we’re going to get off now”.