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I have OCD, and it's a thing that I struggle with daily. It is a byproduct of another disorder, but that doesn't make its teeth any less sharp. I wanted today to talk about some of the things that I obsess about, and how they affect my daily life, and how I manage them using coping mechanisms, distractions, and behavior modification tactics.
I want to get some Trigger Warnings out of the way, as well as a small disclaimer, before we crack into it.
Trigger Warning: mentions of obsessive behavior, obsessive thoughts, self harm, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders, disordered eating, depression, anxiety, compulsive sexual behavior.
Also a small disclaimer, I am not a mental health professional or expert, I am just a person living with OCD, who is sharing experiences in an attempt to bridge gaps, so that other people who suffer don't feel that they are suffering alone. For more information on resources available, please reach out to NAMI.
1. The Trouble with Touching
I spend a lot of time obsessing about the fact that something is always touching me. I fantasize about ripping all my clothes off, and shoving myself out of an airlock into the vacuum of space. These fantasies are rarely good though, because I then imagine that in all the infinite void, the few atoms that are around gravitate to me and I am still being touched. I mitigate this through my toolbox of "Paige Stop Being So Fucking Weird Hand Dandy Tricks." First off, when available, I do float tanks. I know that there is still something touching me, but it is the closest I will come to the feeling of nothingness, and I find an astonishing amount of peace when I am wrapped in a dark soundless bubble where I feel next to nothing. However because of financial constraints, and time restrictions, this isn't always available. So I focus my obsessions on intention. I intentionally put my clothing on, acknowledging that I am agreeing to have this thing make contact with my skin. I intend for my foot to connect with my shoe, and the ground. It is my intention to disrupt the air I walk through, causing microorganisms to bounce off of me. I intend the depression of each key, and the lazy way that my arms rest on my desk. This kind of taking control of the fact that I am being touched helps. It gives the impression that I could revoke this permission at anytime, even though I logically and rationally know that I can't. The other thing that I do is take breaks, sometimes even sitting at my desk can be overwhelming, and I am lucky enough to have the privilege of an understanding work place. I have a stand sit desk, and if I raise my desk and step away from it and stand on my tip toes, I don't feel so squeezed in by all the things I have to touch in order to function at work.
2. The Telephone Game of Germs
The other thing that I have a lot of trouble with, is thinking about how many other people have touched the things that I touch, eat, interact with, and otherwise come into contact with during my day. This is especially bad with food. I sit at my desk with my salad, and think about the hundreds of people who have touched the things I am about to put into my mouth before I got a hold of them. Planters, pickers, sorters, processors, packagers, the store staff, everyone. As I also have issues with eating disorders in general, this one is a big thing for me. I used to spend hours staring at food in the store, wondering about the personal hygiene habits of people I will never meet. This devolved into obsessive hand-washing, and for almost a full year I wore gloves everywhere I went. This one is still very difficult for me to cope with, I constantly worry about coming in contact with bacteria that will make me sick, especially because on top of everything else, I am immuno-compromised, so a cold to some completely renders me useless. The coping mechanisms I have developed to handle this are questionable, and I am currently working with my therapist to create new ones. I did get a tattoo on my hand, and that has helped a great deal. How? Well, I know that in order to keep my tattoo looking as fresh as possible, I need to not do damage to the skin on my hands, and obsessive and repeated hand-washing often results in cracked and bleeding skin. In this way, because I value my art more than my body I have been able to reduce the hand-washing to a reasonable amount. I also do not touch door knobs in public places. When I am in my home, I tell myself that everything inside of it is covered in me, and me alone, and I know that my own hygiene is immaculate. When it comes to food, I wash everything thoroughly, this includes raw pasta, meat, everything. Everything that goes into my body gets run under the faucet first. Is this completely useless, sure, but it makes me feel better. I still have problems, especially when eating out, and any evidence of anything even remotely foreign in my food, like a hair, or something will immediately render me completely unable to eat, and often spiral into an episode, but in general I have managed to eat a lot of plants, simply because they are easy to wash.
3. I'm Trying To Die Quietly, I Know You're Trying To Sleep
This one is one that I struggle with a lot, in fact probably the most out of all of these. I am sound-sensitive, so I manage most of my day by wearing noise isolating headphones, the problem with this is that it makes me hyper aware of every noise I make. The one I struggle with the most is my own breathing. I am constantly hyper aware of my own breathing. I frequently walk around with one ear bud out, just to make sure that I can't hear myself breathing. This doubles in intensity when I am walking in the city, up stairs, or at the gym. Basically any time where I am physically exerting myself, and it would be completely natural to breathe harder. I know that for most people, while they are awake, breathing is automatic, but I exercise a ridiculous amount of control when I breathe while awake. I take extra steps to make sure that my breathing is always slow, steady, and most of all silent. This has caused some issues, I have made myself near hypoxic holding my breath down flights of stairs, and in elevators. My therapist is largely perplexed by this one, because I am so resistant to changing this behavior. I have started meditating and doing breathing exercises when I am alone, but ultimately if you have ever spent time with me in person, and I was awake, I was taking breaths that I felt would be absolutely silent at all times. If I am sick, this becomes a much more significant problem, as I can't breathe through my nose, and breathing through my mouth makes me cough. I detest being sick because there is no way to breathe quietly when I am ill, doubling my distress over the situation.
4. The Worst Fit In The Universe
Do you ever notice that there is no way for your tongue to rest comfortably inside your mouth? Probably not, though after reading this you might for a while. The fact of the matter is, your tongue is too big to be in there, and I am constantly aware of this all the time. There is never a waking moment when I am not aware that my tongue doesn't fit inside my mouth. It is always touching my teeth, the roof of my mouth, something. My jaw is never relaxed, because I am constantly trying the same million positions for my tongue, trying to get it to sit in a way that is comfortable or that it fits. Like trying to fit one of my kid's puzzle pieces into my 50,000 piece Polaroid jigsaw. I have a list of affirmations, that I say inside my head, that range from "My tongue is exactly the size and shape it is supposed to be," to "My tongue allows me to form the words I need to, to protect those with no voice." I also have found that holding it between my teeth with my lips closed helps me feel as though I have tamed the wild animal in my mouth.
5. Food and Other Nightmares
When you struggle with eating disorders, food can be the darkest corner of yourself. I have obsessively counted calories, and am constantly coming up with excuses and rationalizations not to eat. To feel empty, to shrink. I am still working on this, and have started doing things like counting vitamins, and telling myself that I have to fuel my body to be a weapon in the coming revolution. To read more about this please read this article.
6. Hypothetical Hell
I play the what if game a lot, and it usually has to do with intrusive thoughts. Most of my hypothetical and intrusive fantasies are disturbing, but not all of them. I also have the greatest hits of my most embarrassing moments running loops in my head at all times, where I play the "What if I was a normal person and didn't behave in this awkward, terrible way" game. I have found that my greatest weapon against this is spite, and protectiveness. If I act on this intrusive impulse, who will stand up for the powerless? Who will shout into a megaphone that all of this must change? Who will fight the wheels of capitalism? It helps to argue with my intrusive thoughts, using myself as a tool for other things. I struggle with placing value on myself for being myself, but I recognize that I am useful as a whole to The Cause. My therapist thinks this is circular and non-helpful, but it has kept me alive 32 years, and I suspect it will keep me alive 32 more.
7. Lyme Bites
My father died at 52 because of complications from Lyme Disease. I am an avid adventurer, and love nothing more than to be one with nature. That means hikes, camping, kayaking, walks, beach trips, and more. Even just walks around the city, with the sun reflecting off buildings, and the light Seattle rain making the trees seem to speak and weep, this is my happy place. But after every time I leave my house, I obsessively check for ticks. I run my hands over every inch of my body, through my hair, more than once. I have rubbed myself raw looking for them. My cat is an indoor cat, but he has gotten outside a time or two, and on every occasion where that has happened, I have also obsessively checked him too, much to his chagrin. It is so bad that I have to physically stop myself from doing it to other people that I am outside with. I always mention it, that everyone should check themselves for ticks, and that if they find one, they should take it and themselves to the doctor to have the tick and themselves checked for Lyme. I constantly read medical papers about Lyme, and am wildly active in advocating for treatment. My aunt also suffers with Lyme, and watching it render my brilliant, fierce, unstoppable, fiery aunt completely helpless on more than one occasion has been utterly devastating. This is one of the few obsessions I don't actively try to curb, because while I realize it is a form of hypochondria, I also recognize the real dangers of Lyme disease and other associated diseases. If you want to get involved in the fight against Lyme, please check out the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Educational Foundation (ILADEF)
8. Microcosmic Maladjustment
I have mentioned earlier that I have a very difficult time placing value on myself as a person. And I am constantly spiraling into apologetic thoughts about all the cells and microorganisms living on and in my body. I spend hours of everyday, for example, wondering if the dead skin cells that I exfoliated off myself died knowing they fulfilled their purpose, if their lives were enriched for being a part of mine, of if they felt that I wasted the gift of their existence. I dye my hair pretty frequently, and I constantly find myself apologetic to my hair for doing the damage I know this obsessive need to dye my hair is doing to it. I am sure that some people also have sympathy for the the parts of them that make up the sum, however, I also recognize that I take it too far. My therapist has stated that I need to focus on how these aspects of me as a person work together to make me a person, and I try. But most of the time, I find myself just feeling apologetic that of all the lifeforms in the universe, they got stuck with making me into a person. What bad luck. My therapist has me go through a list in my nightly meditations, each night thanking different groupings. "Thank you to my intestines, for creating an environment in which biomes can thrive, and for allowing me to absorb nutrients from the things that I consume.
9. The Raw Truth
I don't eat a lot of animal bi-products mostly because of this, and The Telephone Game of Germs, but when I did, it was incredibly difficult for me to get over any signs of under-cooking. Eggs in particular were hard for me, as was meat of any kind. I often would burn my food in order to make sure that it was completely cooked, and more often than not, I would still insist that it was not done, in order to not eat it. Moving to a more plant based diet has helped, but every time there is e-coli in spinach I lose it for weeks at a time. I have found the phrase, "If I die, I die" to be useful, much to the annoyance of my therapist. I have started saying it after I have washed and prepared my food with utter precision so I can at least try to eat it. I have gotten better about this one, but I still think about it constantly.
10. The Writing Thing
I have written extensively on my problematic behaviors and obsessions when it comes to writing, and I feel like this list is long enough that you don't need any more graphic detail. If you want more information on how horrible I treat my body during my creative process, you can read that one here.