My behavioral therapist told me that OCD is like a broken gear shifter. A normal brain observes a situation, shifts to the worst possible outcome, assesses and shifts to the likely outcome, and then acts accordingly. My brain observes the situation, shifts to the worst possible outcome, and gets stuck there. This causes my fight or flight response to kick in, and it can happen with anything from switching on a light switch, to going out the door.
I had always thought I was a little OCD, because of some of the quirky little things I do, but I had no idea how much it affected my life until after I was diagnosed. I have a few little compulsions that are cute on the surface, like eating skittles based on color, and peeling the labels off of soda bottles, but the thing is that they are not as benign as they appear. My husband has misophonia, a syndrome that affects how he reacts to sound and repetitive movements that happen in his peripheral vision, and the soda bottle thing really sets him off. So every time I eat or drink something with a label I have to choose between setting him off or feeling a sense of dread because I have not completed my compulsion. I love my husband, but I almost always cave. The feeling is so overwhelming and awful. It’s like having bugs crawling around under my skin and the need just gets louder and louder, until I just cannot resist it anymore.
Then there are the obsessions. They make absolutely no sense, at least mine don’t, but it doesn’t matter if I believe them because I feel them. I have a thing about raw meat. It is gross, and slimy, and chicken in particular always makes me think that I will get a disease and die if I touch it. Now, I am not a germaphobe. I believe in the ten second rule, and I have no problem sharing a soda, but I am convinced that touching that piece of raw meat that has been packaged, and kept in carefully controlled conditions to prevent bacteria from growing on it, is going to literally kill me. I have tried wearing gloves, and it doesn’t help. If I wear super thick dishwashing gloves I worry I’m contaminating the meat, if I wear latex gloves I still feel like it’s killing me. I’ve found that the best option is to just rush through it as quickly as I can and then scrub myself with soap and water until the feeling goes away, or better yet, have somebody else touch it instead.
There are also compulsions that are physically damaging. I pick at my skin, and hair, and fingernails. If there is a scab or zit anywhere on my body I will find it and pick at it. This causes me to have open wounds that don’t heal for weeks because I am messing with the healing process. It’s something I do when I am stressed. I find every thing on my body that I can possibly pick at, and then I feel better. If I am really stressed I’ll get a pair of tweezers and pull out my leg hairs one at a time until it feels right. If it gets too painful, I’ll switch to the other leg. I did both legs and an arm one day because I was stressing over going back to work the next day. These are just a few of the things that I do.
So how do I fight the unhealthy compulsions and obsessions that plague my life? Well, I didn’t stick with therapy long enough to find out a lot of things because I got stressed about money, but one of the things I did learn from her is how to change my behavior. For example, instead of checking the lock on the front door, I count backward from 102 by threes until the desire to go check it stops. Singing also helps because I have to think about the lyrics. I still give in once in a while, but I have made some progress, and hopefully some day I’ll be able to go back to therapy and get my OCD under control.