Living with ‘not quite serious enough to be serious’ OCD

Warning: Contains some description of surgery (from my head) that some might find upsetting.

I have a general fear of being mentally ill. Mostly because I’ve been told by quite a few people over the years that I’m depressed and should seek treatment. I’m not depressed, I’m just a melancholic kind of person. To say I’m depressed would be grossly undermining some friends of mine who have clinical depression and who genuinely suffer.

But I’ve always been concerned that I suffer from something that lies on the OCD spectrum. However genuine information about the OCD spectrum is hard to come across because the internet is full of people who think that OCD is Monica Geller from Friends who likes to be neat and tidy. I’m not neat and tidy, anyone who knows me would testify to that. I mean, I don’t let me house become dirty, but I’m not tidy unless I know someone else is coming round.

I picked up this book a few weeks ago. I was actually looking for one they had in the window about creative industry management. Except that book turned out to be about how to manage creatively, rather than how to manage in the creative industries. But this book was almost alongside it in the new releases section and it caught my eye. It’s called The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the true story of a life lost in thought, and I’m rather gutted it’s now available on Kindle for a tenner less than that I paid for it in hardback.

Anyway, he tells his own story about his thoughts about catching HIV from extraordinarily random places but it’s interspersed with scientific case studies, evidence and stories of other genuine sufferers. He talks about how it’s a spectrum, where you might be able to control things in your daily life, but that at any moment you can tip the scales and suddenly find yourself needing very real clinical help.

But most of all it throws light on OCD and the fact it’s not just about being clean and tidy. I might have read it on a hunch, but I’m now entirely sure that I’m suffering way more than I thought I was. That’s the problem with books like this, you start to have to face your own demons.

So it started a few years ago when I was living with my ex. I was quite unhappy because I’d not been able to find a proper job since moving in with him so I decided to reorder all the books on my rather large book shelf. In colour order. Most disappointingly I don’t seem to have any pictures of this, but they went quite gloriously from white at the top left hand corner to black and the bottom right. I kind of fooled myself into thinking it was because I worked in a visual way and that I could recall books by their cover colour, but honestly, wouldn’t it have been more practical to arrange by subject?

Except that wasn’t the first time I did that. When I was a child I used to arrange all my books in height order. I had several shelves in my bedroom and each one would be arrange in height. But not just on each shelf, across all the shelves. There was a sequence with each shelf being in a particular order, even if it was in a different part of the room. And the magazines that wouldn’t stand up properly were shoved in the desk drawers because they wouldn’t fit my system. I never knew this was weird, apparently it was.

I’m not so sure it was the actual doing it that was weird, but it was the obsessing about them getting out of order that was weird. Being left alone all day was dangerous with my colour coding. I would compulsively remove books, check them on the colour spectrum to make sure I had them in order and then replace them. Sometimes I’d even pull up colour wheels on the internet to check that they were in order. I even considered buying one of those Pantone systems where you put the sensor over a colour and it tells you exactly what colour it is. I probably would have done if I’d had a job and therefore had some money.

The worst bit was though that I hid it from my partner. ‘It just looks nice’ I used to say. Along with some feeble excuse about how having the white books at the top meant that to a short person like me the bookcase didn’t feel so oppressive. I even found validation in the new industrial estate at Milton Keynes. If River Island like colour graduations then perhaps I wasn’t so weird…

2669761_74bc1a1c

 

And then there was the weird counting thing that I developed as a child. I really don’t like odd numbers – except number 7 which is a good number. So I have these stairs at home at my Dads house and I have to go up some of them two steps at a time and some of them one step at a time. I can’t tell you the exact formula, but I do it every time I use those stairs. I went back to live there last year, and even now at nearly 30 years old I still do it. I developed it when I was tiny apparently, when I was just big enough to be able to take two of the steep stairs at a time. But I’ll still do anything to avoid uneven numbers. Now it tends to manifest itself with things like my iPhone volume and my car stereo. I can’t have my iPhone volume at just one pip from the loudest setting – it has to be two. Or an even number away. And my car stereo is the same, to the point where I’ve nearly had an accident on more than one occasion because I just couldn’t leave that fucking dial set at 15.

It got worse when I started dating someone into solitary sports. I would worry obsessively to myself that he was going to get killed on the roads and would check Facebook repeatedly to see if he’d logged in when I knew he was going out for a few hours. It didn’t help that this period coincided with my foray into polyamory and the fact that quite frankly it’s none of your business what your partner is doing when they’re not spending time with you. (Well, not quite so crude if you see what I mean, but none of it helped). At it’s worst, logging off Facebook for too many hours after what I thought should be a short outing meant he was dead. I never phoned the local hospitals, but I was irrationally close on more than one occasion.

It wasn’t just him either, I started to get other fears related to relationships. Manifesting itself in a sports injury was an easy one to deal with, but the real fear came when I worked out that some people I dated were trying to get me to become monogamous. And then it started. Now I obsess before dates, during dates and after dates that someone is going to attempt to force me to become monogamous, which isn’t what I want. I will turn people down outright if they express even the hint that they enjoyed monogamy and I now have to physically force myself to go on a date with someone who is single – like me. It’s becoming a problem. It’s a problem because while you can to an extent control your own internal obsession, it’s not fair to start projecting it onto other people. In fact, I’m reasonably sure that my OCD-like behaviour was the downfall of a particularly favourite relationship. Not directly, but almost certainly indirectly.

Anyway.

The latest one is super weird. I’ve always been a bit funny about my body image, possibly because I worked in the fitness industry for a while. Where everyone else sees ‘normal’, I see ‘fat’. If I ain’t got a six pack then I consider myself a fat mess. (And before anyone starts accusing me of fat shaming again, please, lets remember that this is a real problem that exists within my brain and isn’t healthy for me but I’m not projecting this onto anyone else. Additionally, it’s probably caused by the media to some degree, which I actively campaign again.) It tends to express itself in pretty ‘normal’ ways like upping the exercise level, tracking calories precisely and religiously taking photographs in the mirror to compare week in and week out. You know, the things you’d expect a qualified personal trainer to know better about.

This time it’s different though. Last year I was supposed to have some day surgery (specifics not really required here) but for reasons of there being an industrial accident on the day I was scheduled for surgery, it wasn’t possible. Because I moved to Oxford I had to then change NHS trusts and start the process again. But the problem was that I was afraid that the surgery would go badly because I have too much fat on my stomach for the Laparoscopy to be done. That my surgeon would not be able to get his tools and instruments through the layer of fat covering my abs in order to do his stuff.

There are four reasons I know this is dumb.

  1. I’m an intelligent person who understands that fat is easy to slice through. I have prepared meat before, I know you can cut through that stuff with virtually a blunt knife.
  2. For a while I worked with morbidly obese people to try and get their weight down so that they could have life saving surgery for things like cancer. Their problem was that at their weights they would most likely die when put under general anaesthetic. When we sent them in for surgery they were still massively overweight, thus proving that surgeons in fact can find their way through body fat.
  3. I’ve watched disgusting documentaries on tv that contain surgery.
  4. I’m not fat. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I have perhaps an inch of tummy fat above my abs. That’s it. And it’s probably not even an inch.

Last year it resulted in me going running a fair bit and to be fair I did lose almost all the tummy fat before I was due in for my surgery. This year it’s got worse.

I don’t even have my date yet and I’m already panicking. There’s nothing logical about this. I look down at my stomach and I see it huge and I have to stop eating in order for it to deflate (I suffer quite badly from bloating after eating, so I’m used to this in theory). And I’ve joined the triathlon club. I’ve actually joined a sports club to help make my fears of dying on the operating table go away.

Actually it’s not a fear of dying on the operating table. Why be scared of death? You don’t know you’re dead – that to me is totally irrational. My fear is that what will happen is that he’ll try to insert the tools into the skin either side of my belly button, but that he won’t be able to get them through the fat. So he’ll have to hack away at the surrounding area until I’m just left with a disgusting mess where my abs used to be. And then they’ll sew it up and it’ll never heal properly. It’ll never look like it does now. In fact I even have tattoo’s planned just in case it goes wrong and I have to cover the extensive scarring up. That’s how far this obsession has taken me. To design tattoos to cover extensive scarring that will never happen.

In reality I know if they had a problem with the laparoscopy then the worst that would happen would be that I’d get a larger scar extending perhaps six inches. Or they’d abort it. Either way, not so bad really.

But another problem is manifesting itself this time around, a year later. During previous consultations I was told to get a special type of skin wash and wash with it daily for the ten days prior to surgery. I think it’s to stop MRSA and other nasties. I have no fear over infection generally. I’m a really healthy person and I can fight infection as well as anyone else. But there’s this niggle. A niggle that tells me to wash my stomach with this vile smelling pink surgical scrub every day. I’m not going in for surgery for another two months. Of course this then leads to the fear that this scrub might wash away my skin and scar me horribly. But that doesn’t stop me using it.

Fuck me, I’m so fucking weird.

If you know me, you probably never even knew these things go on in my head. That I exercise for fear of extensive scarring, that I am paranoid of people I care about getting hit by cars, that I religiously wash my stomach. And most weirdly of all, that I line my books up in colour order. Actually I’ve not done that in my current place, because I don’t have a suitable bookshelf for it. But when I buy myself a bookcase you can be entirely sure that those damn books will have to go in colour spectrum order. And I might even treat myself to the Pantone gadget.

  • TomG

    It may interest you to know that the University Library in Cambridge organises books by height. They claim it’s for reasons of efficient storage (they do, in fairness, have a *lot* of books), but now I wonder.