Do you ever feel like you just can’t? Like you have a mental block preventing you from diving into a particular task. It’s more than procrastination. More than “don’t wanna and you can’t make me.” We feel like Audrey Hepburn playing Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady when Professor Higgins has driven her unmercifully for hours and she cries out, “I cawn’t. I just cawn’t.”
Whenever I hit a block, there’s something I always say: “Damn my OCD!”
I first developed OCD when I was fifteen. Overnight, my family went from nominally happy to kablooey! Yes, it was that sudden. My family never recovered and never told me what happened. My OCD developed organically to help me cope with that sudden onset of massive stress.
Somehow, when I squeezed a blocked pore (dermatillomania) or plucked an errant eyebrow (trichotillomania), it felt like I was removing the new, incomprehensible troubles not just from my skin, but from my life. Momentarily, I had control. I could make everything right. Maybe if I plucked or squeezed long enough, all the bad would be squeezed out of our lives and our family would go back to normal.
It wasn’t healthy nor logical, but my OCD kept me sane. No, it didn’t fix my life. It didn’t fix my family. In fact, it gave them more reasons to obsess, lecture and shame me. But it did keep my psyche from shattering from the worry and pressure to be happy, behave perfectly and never cry or react to the years of inexplicable rage and trauma. If I had obeyed my parents and stopped picking and plucking, I would have suffered a breakdown of some kind. OCD kept me from shattering and for that reason, I’m grateful for my OCD.
OCD, like Pink Elephants, thrives on attention. They can only exist if we think about them. The more we focus on OCD as The Problem in its own right, the worse it gets.
I prefer to see OCD as a servant, not a problem. By ignoring it, it loses its power. But in moments of extreme stress, the slight pain of plucking my eyebrows will soothe me. Obsessively cleaning will keep my mind occupied. Our grandparents were right: in times of grief and pain, work your ass off. It’ll take your mind off your troubles and it’s the “lesser of the weevils” compared to other forms of self-soothing like drugs, gambling, alcohol or reckless sexual encounters.
But there’s another side to OCD: the Blocks. That feeling that you cawn’t, you just cawn’t tackle a certain task, large or small, common or unusual. Not now. Not today. It just doesn’t feel right.
That’s not always a bad thing! There have been many times when I felt a “block” about doing something, buying something, fixing something…and later I found out why. It was a blessing that I just couldn’t get myself to do, buy, fix at that particular time because of what happened later. Call it “intuition” or the “Still Small Voice,” but not all Blocks are bad. Heed them.
But sometimes, a Block is just annoying. I first noticed the domestic kind of Block in 2013 while I thrashed in the maelström of cult withdrawal. Suddenly and inexplicably, I developed a Block about vacuuming. Now that’s just weird because I love cleaning. I had to force myself to vacuum despite the Block but it wasn’t easy.
In time, the Block about vacuuming resolved itself by transferring itself to the laundry. Again, I’ve been doing laundry since childhood and it’s one of the easiest of all household chores. Throw it in! Come back 25 minutes later. It’s done! So why the Block?!?
Over time, I traced my Blocks to a silent, hidden assumption that I had to feel a certain way about a task in order to begin it. Specifically, that I had to feel good or motivated or happy to begin the task. Back in 2013 prior to my hypothyroid diagnosis, I had just one feeling all the time: exhausted to the point of tears. I wasn’t happy about doing any physical task but I did them anyways.
But it was even more complicated than that.
I traced it further back to mom. She and I always had a terribly codependent dynamic. Because she felt guilty for asking me to do any housework, responding “Okay” in a calm or monotone voice to her request wasn’t good enough. She needed my tone of voice to be happy-happy-happy when I acquiesced to her request. While I didn’t mind doing household chores, I did mind having to don the happy voice to assuage her codependent guilt.
In the privacy of the basement laundry room, I coped by gritting my teeth into a horrible grimacey-smile and whispering, “Why, yes, Mother. I’m thrilled to be doing the laundry. Thank you for this incredible privilege of washing your husband’s dirty work shirts which you saved up for me all week while I was at my own full-time job.” That wasn’t nice of me but it did relieve my angst about being forced to be happy-happy-happy all the time.
Maybe the Blocks have some of their roots in the pressure to be happy about doing tasks. A good attitude and a good work ethic are okay. Being forced to be faux happy-happy-happy is not. It planted the idea that I had to feel positive and happy about a task before beginning it, hence the Blocks.
My mother had a theory: if a child/teen hates doing a chore, make them do it all the more. In time, they’ll get over it. It’s a sound theory because Mom knew the shock and pain of suddenly acquiring an adult life but not having adult skills or an adult work ethic. Her Mamma had treated her like a Princess, protected her from housework and even made her bed for her. It was incredibly unkind.
Children and teenagers need to hone their skills. They need to realize that chores don’t hurt. That in time, their clumsy hands will develop muscle memory making the job go ten times faster. That the best way to get rid of a job is not procrastination, but just getting it done!
So I tried this method when my Block shifted from the Laundry Room to the Kitchen. I didn’t just make our daily meals, but I went whole hog! I canned, made jam, brined pickles and kneaded bread. I even started a food blog, Reluctant Cook, Cheap Foodie!!! I hated being in the kitchen but I did it anyways.
Unfortunately, no matter how many loaves I made, that ol’ Block about bread baking just wouldn’t go away. So I took it one step further.
For one Summer, I forced myself to make 12-18 loaves of bread every Friday 100% by hand. I’d finish at 11 p.m. and by nine the next morning be setting up my little roadside table to sell my bread. We needed the money. I needed to bash through my Block.
Did it work?
Do It Anyways
No, it did not work. Forcing myself to do the thing I hated did nothing except irritate my carpal tunnel. I still dislike cooking, avoid baking and loath canning. But I did learn one important thing:
Do it anyways.
In time, most Blocks go away if you ignore them and do it anyways. But one or two may linger. That’s when you can wield your OCD and make it your servant.
What OCD habit excites you and distracts you from your troubles? For me, it’s cleaning. Cleaning gives me energy. So I use cleaning to catapult me into doing a Blocked Task. I started scrubbing the stove and sink with Barman’s Friend and, before I know it, I’m putting together a meal and starting a batch of bread. It’s like the OCD catapulted me over my Block and right into the task I hate.
In addition to using your OCD to pole vault you over your Blocks, what other sneaky little tricks can you use to hoodwink yourself into doing that hated task?
Perhaps you just hate making The Same Old Recipe time after time. Creativity is a huge energy boost! That’s why I’m always making new dishes. I dislike cooking but enjoy the creative challenge of new recipes. (Michael always rolls his eyes when I say, “We’re having something new for supper,” but usually he raves after he tastes it.)
Maybe you’re just bored with the Blocked Task. Try playing music or movies in the vicinity so your head won’t notice what your hands have to do.
And if that doesn’t work, you can outsource most tasks. Sometimes “desertion is the better part of valor.” 😀
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. OCD sucks. But if you’re very clever and “tricksy,” you can wield it as a tool.
Thank you for reading. My family and I are going through trying times right now (click here for details.) If you enjoy reading Narcissism Meets Normalcy, your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!