I have been meaning to go to therapy for a long time, but I think I put it off because I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. For 10 years I have handled OCD on my own. That made me feel sane. It made me feel in control. I felt like going to therapy would be like giving up on myself. I finally realized that it’s quite the opposite. Needing help doesn’t make me weak. It makes me human. And asking for help takes more strength than suffering quietly does.
The first appointment was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. It did, however, make me feel a bit more neurotic than usual. The hour consisted mostly of cataloging my symptoms and then my therapist explained the treatment. I live with my obsessions and compulsions and see most of them on a daily basis, but listing them off all at once was rough. But I promised myself I’d be open and honest on here, so here we go:
Obsessions > Compulsions:
- Contamination > Cleaning
- Order > Exactness
- Superstitious Beliefs
Contamination > Cleaning
I obsess about contamination, meaning I obsess about getting germs or dirt or something on me. This obsession triggers the compulsion to clean a lot. For most people, they only have to worry about this after going to the bathroom or after working outside or something. That’s normal. In my mind, almost everything is dirty and warrants a thorough hand washing or at the very least, sanitizing.
This is probably the fear that causes me the most stress and the symptom that I have had the longest. It used to not be as noticeable to others, but now people ask about it more frequently. I have carried a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse for years, but have been using it excessively the past few years. For awhile, I was going through a 2 oz. bottle every week. Lately, though, I have been refilling it every three or so days.
I wash my hands a lot, too. That used to not be a problem, just an annoyance. A few months ago, though, I noticed damage to the backs of my hands. They started getting red near the wrists and around the knuckles. They got redder and itchier. I already carried lotion around in my purse to counteract the excessive cleaning. I bought some gloves to wear at night after applying a large amount of lotion. My hands started to heal. The skin on my hands is definitely still really dry, but you cannot tell just by looking at them how much I clean them. So I can hide it for now, but who knows how long that will last.
Sometimes I can convince myself that some things aren’t very dirty and can get away with just rinsing my hands in water and not using soap. These are things like the refrigerator door handle, cabinets, etc.
Order > Exactness
I feel better when things are symmetrical, organized, aligned, etc. When something is out-of-order, most people might notice it and move on. For me, though, it bothers me. I start feeling anxious. Correcting the problem quiets the emergency alarms sounding in my head. To avoid disorder being stressful, I organize everything. In my previous post, Beginning, I recounted how when I was little, I used to organize the groceries in the cart as my mom and I shopped and how I used to organize my crayons and markers in the color spectrum. I still organize everything. I like/need things to be alphabetized. My book shelf has been stressing me out lately, because I have more books than will line up neatly. I have to lay books on top of those already there. This poses a serious problem to my alphabetical system. I try to ignore it, but sometimes it drives me crazy. Maybe now that it’s summer, I’ll finally have time to tackle it and get it all sorted out.
To put it simply, I like the number 4. I feel like this has more to do with my obsession with order than it does any kind of superstitious beliefs, but that’s how it’s classified. The number 4 is not simply symmetrical in one direction. It’s a square. It’s calming. This used to be more prevalent than it is now. Now, it mostly comes out when I’m petting my cats. I always pet them four times or a multiple of four times. When I was little, I needed to touch everything four times. The whole reason we found out I have OCD is that my mom wanted me to see a doctor because she thought I had Tourette Syndrome. I would touch something and then feel compelled to touch it three more times.
Just as the number 4 allows me to relax, an odd number can potentially stress me out. To be clear, it’s not that I feel that 4 is a lucky number or that odd numbers are unlucky. I just like 4 and dislike odd numbers. I do not know why. I know someone else with OCD who likes the number 3 and other odd numbers and hates even numbers. There’s no logical explanation.
I’m glad this symptom has slowly faded over time, because it’s probably one that people find the weirdest. I know it’s the one that embarrasses me the most. I take pride in being a very logical, rational person, so this attraction to the number 4 and aversion to odd numbers frustrates me. I know it’s completely irrational and unfounded, but that does not change anything.
The compulsions that go along with this are things like not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. I used to really obsess about this when I was younger and I used to count my steps, feeling a need to always have an even number of steps. It had nothing to do with the rhyme “Step on a crack. Break your mother’s back.” I did not avoid stepping on cracks because I thought doing so would bring my mother harm. I just didn’t want to step on them. Stepping on a crack caused me anxiety for no particular reason. Luckily, I don’t do any of this anymore. I completely ignore the number of steps I take and whether or not I step on cracks. I’m glad, too, because doing so used to really bothered me. I knew it wasn’t normal and I so badly wanted it to stop.
I am a perfectionist and I hate it. I am a harsher critic of myself than anyone else could ever be. Obsessions of Perfection include things like a fear of forgetting certain things, fear of saying something wrong, fear of making mistakes, and noticing and obsessing about the smallest imperfections. These fears lead to checking and re-checking for mistakes in even the smallest of tasks, like writing a check. Everything I write down has to be reviewed for errors. I constantly worry that I have made some huge error while cooking, doing schoolwork, driving, etc.
These fears can also be classified as nonsensical doubts, but I lump them in with perfection, because for me, the concern is making a mistake. The fear that causes the most frustration for me is the fear that I somehow failed to close my garage door upon leaving. Most people would be able to dismiss this fear, but it causes me so much anxiety that I frequently have to turn around — even if I am a few blocks from home — and drive back home to check that my garage door is, in fact, closed. This is just the most annoying example. I frequently doubt that I have done one thing or another throughout the day, regardless of how responsible I am.
I told my therapist about my anxiety about treatment. She assured me that it would be slow enough to cause as little stress as possible. It isn’t about jumping head first into the cold deep-end of the pool. It’s more like slowly easing down the steps of the shallow end, letting yourself slowly adapt.
My homework for this week is pretty simple to start out. I chose a few household objects that I usually wash my hands after touching, but would cause me little stress if I did not clean (things like the TV remote). I am also supposed to try to keep track of how long the stress lasts after not washing my hands, so that we can gauge where to go from here.
She also suggested I try a couple of supplements: Inositol (extract from bran) and Theanine (extract from green tea). Inositol is supposed to specifically help with OCD symptoms. Click here for more information about Inositol. Theanine calms you down. You can get plenty of it from drinking green tea, but green tea also has caffeine. I don’t drink anything with caffeine, so I’m going to try the supplement. Click here for more information about Theanine.
I have another appointment next Monday and I’m looking forward to it!