by SAMANTHA MAWDSLEY
Do you feel the urge to straighten pencils on a desk? Do you have to eat your Froot Loops in multiples of three? Do you have to have your stereo or television volume on a multiple of five? Yes? Because you have OCD, right? It’s no big deal. Everyone is a little bit OCD, aren’t they?
Well actually, no. You’re not. You’re “a little bit OCD” like I’m “a little bit pregnant”. And I’m not pregnant. But I do have OCD.
There is a pervasive misconception that preferring things to be alphabetical equals suffering from OCD. This drives me to desperation because, like I said, I do have OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, if you’re out of the mental health loop. Both a psychologist and a psychiatrist have diagnosed me. And it’s hard. It’s a lot harder than many people would believe.
Everyone who knows me in real life knows that I need to have volumes on an even number. I mean, I have to. I nearly killed my whole family leaping from the back seat to the front seat because my brother (who was driving) decided to test out just how badly I wanted the car stereo volume on an even number. I will ask complete strangers to please change the volume.
I politely ask them to change the volume to an even number because I have OCD. To date, people have been nothing but accommodating and slightly bemused. But the level of anxiety I feel knowing that a volume is on an odd number is quite simply unbearable.
But I have to have my cruise control and my alarm set for a number that ends in a three or a seven. If I have to wake up at 8.30am I set the alarm for 8.27am. If the speed limit is 100km/kr I set my cruise control for 103km/hr. Because those numbers are my dad and myself. And doing this somehow keeps us both safe. I associate other numbers with people too. Four is my mother, five is my brother and six is my best friend.
If I am stressed or worried about something that may happen, I make complicated bargains with reality to prevent bad things from happening. When I was younger and my dad was late coming home, I would hold a locket with his picture in it and make the deal that if I didn’t let go of the locket for a whole hour, he would be safe. So I would hold up my end of the agreement that I had made and inevitably, Dad would come home.
Or if I was worried about an exam result, I would tell myself that if I counted every stop sign on the way home and didn’t miss one, I would pass my exam.
Logically, I know this doesn’t help. But for me, not doing these rituals feels like driving towards an intersection with your eyes closed. It’s stupid and dangerous. Yes, there’s a chance the light may be green and you’ll sail through unharmed but you should check if the light is red anyway, right? And then check it again.
As far as compulsions go, I am extremely thankful that I have got off lightly. I do not have the debilitating need to wash my hands over and again or to open and close doors a set number of times. I do worry if I have left my hair straightener on but I’ve only gone back home to check a normal number of times, as most girls do (I hope?). But once I know it’s off, it’s off.
For some OCD sufferers, checking is not enough. I am lucky that I just need the stereo to be on an even number and my compulsion is appeased. But even still, this bizarre way of thinking about numbers and the illogical deals I make with nobody are not my OCD. These compulsions are simply the symptoms that manifest on the outside and that people around me can see.