For the most part, I’m aware and tolerant of my obsessions and compulsions (hence, obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD), but there are still times that they stand in my way, make things more challenging, and if I’m not careful, take over my life.
On good days, I can manage myself and chase away my bad thoughts. Even laugh at some of the silly things I need to do to feel better. But on bad days, my obsessions and compulsions can make every move too risky. Because of the things I need to do surrounding each move. Because of the patterns I have to follow. Because of the rules in my head that I cannot break without a crippling fear taking over. It’s exhausting. My poor husband can’t even be near me on these days because the slightest object out of place or crumb on the floor will send me into a complete panic. Or worse. And that’s without even leaving the house.
So without getting into some of the more extreme ways my fascinating mind works, here are 20 rules that govern me:
- Only touch things with my right hand when in public places. That way, I can touch my face or my mouth (if I have to) with my left hand without panicking thinking about all the things my hand has touched. Avoid touching things in pubic when it can be helped. Never touch handles in public restrooms.
- Keep things even. If someone touches me, either on purpose or by accident, on one side, I have to touch the other side an equal amount of times. If I have to rub where they touched because it hurt my skin, I have to rub the other side even though it doesn’t hurt. (When applying this rule, my husband lovingly calls me Even Steven.)
- Be careful about sharing objects with others and only let certain people touch my things. I used to not let my cousin into my bedroom when we were younger because I couldn’t bear the thought of him touching my stuff. For this same reason, I have writing utensils that I lend my students separate from the ones I use. Stored in a separate case.
- Keep things nice and like new. As a child, I used to keep my toys in their packages because I didn’t want to mess them up or to not read books because I didn’t want to bend the pages. Now, I try to use my things, but I still have a difficult time thinking that I am altering them. Sometimes it’s better if an object comes with a flaw, that way, it isn’t my fault. Other times, the flaw prevents me from using it.
- Make sure I keep chemicals away from my body, specifically, my mouth and my eyes. For example, I take my contacts out before doing things like cleaning the bathroom or taking off my nail polish to avoid touching my eyes after using such chemicals. Because, even though I wash my hands multiple times, the chemicals could still get into my eyes. Cause an infection. Make me go blind.
- Do things in the same order every time I do them. Like when showering, I always wash my face, then my hair (when I wash it), then my body. In that order. And I never change it. For fear I will forget to wash something, but also for fear it will throw off my entire day.
- Keep unnecessary objects to make sure things go right. Like keeping food packages on the counter until the item is cooked to ensure it cooks properly.
- Keep unnecessary objects to make sure things don’t go wrong. Like not throwing away pictures, cards or invitations. Especially ones with people’s faces on them. Because if I do, something bad could happen to them.
- Read things repetitively until they sound right. (I actually think this one helps me with my writing!)
- Keep myself in check while in social situations so I don’t blurt out something confidential or inappropriate. Try to control my impulses.
- Start over if someone or something interrupts me. Whether it’s a movement I’m making or something I’m saying.
- Only use certain numbers. Like three and eight. Or even numbers (even though the number three breaks this rule). Hence why this needed to be 20 rules when there could have been 21. And why I don’t mind turning 38, but I don’t like being 37.
- Count steps and breaths or any repetitive movement.
- Do things eight times or in multiples of eight. Like doing eight or 16 sit-ups. That way, nothing bad will happen.
- Try not to notice my breath too much. Not to focus on it. Because then it will speed up or stop short.
- Do things the same way each time I do them. Like use the same machines at the gym or go down the same aisles from the same direction at the grocery store. Park in the same parking spots. It’s a good way not to lose my car, but it also means my appointment or meeting will go well. It’s probably why I have such a difficult time parking at the university I teach at. Because, depending on the time of day, I typically don’t get the same lot let alone the same spot. Which increases the risk of something bad happening.
- Make sure items are in their spot and lined up properly. Including, but not limited to: towels, blankets, shower curtains, remotes, furniture, shoes, etc. Countertops need to be free of clutter. All objects need to be where they belong at all times. If used, they need to be put back in their place after use. All to prevent something bad from happening. (Notice the pattern.)
- Check repetitively that things are done. Like checking that the doors are locked three times before bed. Twice while the lights are on and once when the lights are off. To ensure nothing changed since the lights were on.
- Always be aware of entrances and exits. Whether at home or in public. So if something bad happens, I’m prepared. This is where my fight-or-flight impulse actually helps me feel prepared. And safe.
- Chase all the bad thoughts out of my mind throughout the day. Thoughts like getting stabbed in the eye with a needle or chipping my tooth. Accidentally hurting others or myself. Say, ‘Let it go,’ or, ‘It’s just a thought,’ repetitively until the thought lessens and try to distract myself until it’s gone. Try not to hold my breath while obsessing over the thought. Try not to let the obsessive thoughts take away my concentration or take over my day.