A day in the life of an OCDer

The torment of human frustration, whatever its immediate cause, is the knowledge that the self is in prison, its vital force and “mangled mind” leaking away in lonely, wasteful self-conflict.
Elizabeth Drew

The following is a day in my life, it is but one day and the events reflect how my OCD influences that particular day and the events of that day. As all days are different another day would reflect a different pattern of OCD behaviours some more severe others less so. Some days when less involved in social interaction my OCD would present perhaps as more internal, more ruminative. Moreover the account of course does not cover every obsessive thought, every compulsion or ruminative contemplation that occurred that day as such would produce an even more lengthy account than that which follows and would be perhaps tedious monotonous and rather boring. Notwithstanding such shortcomings I hope that this account gives you the reader whether you yourself suffer from OCD, or a carer, a mental professional or simply an interested party, a glimpse of what life is like for people who suffer from OCD. Also bear in my that although I suffer with quite severe and apparently intractable OCD the condition various from sufferer to sufferer, some suffer more than I others less so. Furthermore my OCD is of course personal to me it is effected by my likes and dislikes, my opinions, my world view and other co-morbid conditions. The day in question occurred sometime in early spring.
A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.
John Lubbock

I open my eyes to the familiar claustrophobic effects of our tiny bedroom. The light streams in from the lamp post outside, I peer at the clock in the gloom, its only 3am. My heart sinks, it is too early to get up although on occasions I have done precisely that driven from the warm confines of my bed by aches and pains, particularly headaches and neck pain. (Everyday for the last twelve years I have had some kind of headache, sometimes mild lasting only half an hour or so, others times lasting all day and sometimes joined by a migraine) My entire body is riddled with aches and pains and my mind is taunted with one fearsome scenario or another. In more rational moments I believe the above painful symptoms are fibromyalgia but no the thought comes as it does most mornings that the nature of my suffering is more deadly, more life threatening. With fearful anticipation I concentrate upon the severity of my headache trying to fathom if it will be a significant, even a migraine. Anxiety concerning my headaches are among the first of many worrying concerns that greet me in the morning..

If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.
Dale Carnegie

Today I have to be well, it is like that now most days and this increases this early morning fear concerning the nature of the headaches with which I wake virtually every morning. I feel so pressured to be well and feel overwhelmed by responsibility. This morning though I feel more tired than usual but every morning I wake feeling as though I have been doing a strenuous work out, my aching sore muscles cry out as though I have just climbed Everest! I lay there feeling that I do not want to rise. Usually however I have no difficultly, only too anxious to get away from the fearful torment from within which is more persistent whenever my mind is left unoccupied. Moreover to some extent I appreciate waking so early as such allows me to do work on the computer.

If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.
Dean Smith

This morning however I am particularly exhausted and lie there tormented by one or another of my repertoire of OCD anxieties, my throat constricting along with the usual strange sensation, a kind of rising feeling from the pit of my stomach to the constriction in my throat. Such adds to my misery. Finally returning to a fitful sleep I wake again at 4.30 only to be forced from my bed by fearful and worrying ruminations, ( most ruminations concern death in some way or another, the passing of time, the futility of life, feelings of guilt, concerns about health and so on) and depression which has become profoundly exaggerated by returning to sleep.

I struggle to get out of bed my muscles resisting the necessity. My heart sinks with a heavy despondency at the thought of getting up and facing another day of frustrations and unhappiness My back is itching just awful, a worrying unexplained symptom I put down as part of the fibromyalgia but the thought comes yet again of the possibility of a life threatening illness, cancer, liver disease the same tired well worn thoughts continue to haunt me failing to become desensitised by the passing of time: this itching has gone on for over 18 months.

I occupy myself during these lonely early hours with projects on my computer. While waiting with mounting impatience for windows to load on my very slow computer I struggle down the stairs to prepare my breakfast experiencing the painful reminders of my increasing muscle and joint problems. Having washed my hands and the tap afterwards to prevent re-contaminating my hands when I have to turn it off I prepare my breakfast washing the cereal bowl and cutlery. Yes they are clean, they are drying on the draining board nonetheless I fear contamination and rinse residues of yesterdays drops of water not yet dried, thinking that such may harbour germs or viruses and in particular the legionaries disease. Concerns about the impurity of the water, which has been sitting in the pipes all night necessitates the turning on of the taps in the kitchen allowing the water to flow for a while before filling the kettle. The water tastes odd in fact it tastes vile unless this task is carried out. The water company say the water is okay, it is safe for consumption but nonetheless intrusive OCD thoughts tell me otherwise. I feel guilty of course running such copious amounts of water, it is a shocking waste of a precious resource, one which we here in the UK take for granted, and this haunts me rather. Whenever possible particularly if the water is not to be boiled I use bottled water.

Finally when the computer has loaded, it is time for the click to donate web site visits, a compulsion borne of an OCD over responsibility/ superstitious obsession that some harm may befall me if I neglect this task. Most times it is done with only mild irritation and without the OCD I would most likely do it anyway – yes I most certainly would do this small task as it is a good thing to do and such does help a good number of people, animals and the environment, and it makes you feel as though you are doing something for others in some small way. But its that having to because of OCD’s fearful scenarios that makes the task one of frustrating necessity which has to be done no matter if I am ill, going on holiday during the early hours, or even before going into hospital for a frightening procedure!

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on Earth.
Fyodor Dostoevsky.
…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.
Sogyal Rinpoche

Looking through my e-mail and newsletters I am distressed by something in the news which brings tears to my eyes compounding my depression and filling me with empathy for the profundity of suffering in our world caused mostly by the evil actions of others. But I have to fight the tears. This morning I long to cry. I need so much to cry to rid my system of my own sorrow and indeed this morning the sorrow of the world. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the dreadful events that come upon innocent people and animals perpetrated in the name of greed by the powerful of this world who seem to go through life personally unscathed while they destroy the lives of other people and defenceless creatures. Amongst my mail there is a campaign to prevent the wicked slaughter of baby seals and my heart again wells up with sadness. More tears I have to try and stifle. I cannot cry today I have an appointment. One tear may bring on a significant headache; the flow of many tears may bring on a whole spate. I have to bear my sorrow internally but no the tears just come despite my efforts to stifle them. My husband peers round the door, it is only 5.45 he was woken by the heat in the tiny bedroom, I have absent mindedly turned on the heating at this early hour. I can now only remember doing so by the fact that I recall washing my hands as I do whenever I turn on the heating, another legionaries disease anxiety which presents with anything to do with the central heating. even this switch which is no where near the radiators. I feel irritated by this intrusion and embarrassed by my tears which he fails to notice worried by his own anxieties, namely the waste of money.

Having completed my clicking, even a click to a donate site which I know is no longer functioning so no one is gaining any benefit whatsoever from my clicking, I turn to read and respond to my e-mail. I have two accounts one with AOL and another with Yahoo both are choc a blocked with undeleted e-mail. This virtual hoarding results from an anxiety that someone may have e-mailed me. Again the frustration. I have cheeked several times and I am up to date with the few people who e-mail me yet I dare not delete all the spam and the news letter
e-mail that is not personally directed to me. There are over 600 such e-mails in Yahoo! I know I will spend another exhausting hour or so checking it all again – if only I could click the delete button.

My favourite places list is huge I try in vain to find a website but this list is enormous and like my e-mail I am anxious to delete it should I delete an important website but the list is just pointless and ineffective; I cannot even find the link to my own website let alone anyone else’s and end up typing in the url.

There is an email from friend, it will take ages to respond with umpteen checks for grammar and spelling along with checking to convince myself that I have not written anything that my cause harm or offence. Finally I post but continue to ruminate and check the copy again to see if it is okay, Invariably there is a grammatical or spelling error despite the use of the spell checker. Why had I not seen this? A strange phenomenon: no matter how many times I check a piece of written work, and I have checked some documents dozens of times, there is always a mistake. It is as though something in my brain fails to recognise this at one time but later on it appears to notice these subtle errors usually when it is too late to rectify. Possibly it is an attention deficit disorder ADD thing. I am convinced that I suffer with ADD. In addition to grammar and spelling I may of course see what I have written in an entirely new perspective and may think that perhaps I should not have written this or that and I can see that I may have offended or caused harm when previously such consideration appeared absent. But once its gone its gone and unless I am really very concerned I do not send another e-mail trying to put right the perceived offensive or insensitive contents.

There are those who are so scrupulously afraid of doing wrong that they seldom venture to do anything.
Vauvenargues

I attempt to begin to write an article for my website. This morning I am determined to make this project one of professional perfection such of course is impossible nonetheless anything less induces anxiety. Every paragraph I check again and again. The first paragraph is worrying, I make a mental note that perhaps I will change it feeling as though it may be on some level a detriment to an unnamed unknown number of people who theoretically will read my article and make a decision which will be harmful to themselves or another. Notwithstanding this for once I feel quite satisfied about what I have written – at least from a literary perspective but continue to be anxious about the possible perceived harmful content. Nonetheless as a first draught it is okay but I know I will alter it later on when I check it again as I will do so intermittently for days to come both during and after completion. Furthermore this satisfaction is fleeting as I know that when I open the file tomorrow I will see it in an entirely different way and in a far less positive perspective.

I need to save this work, which has been so exhausting it would break my heart to loose it, on to a floppy disk. A simple task unless you have OCD. I do not have a formatted disk and search through old floppies to find one that I can format, discarding most of them not prepared to delete files which are obsolete, useless. These disks, numbering a few dozen with such things as saved files from AOL organise, favourite places saved to preserve them prior to a reformat are years old. Nonetheless I hesitate! But delete them as it is not so stressful as deleting files from a desk top screen saver now no longer used as it is incompatible with both this and my older computer and most of the other files belonging to it are missing along with the activation code. How ridiculous! I don’t need it but no I cannot delete it and choose the lesser of the two evils and delete the outdated AOL data. But not without some misgivings and as quickly as possible before changing my mind. The frustration of this idiocy drives me crazy I am irritable and feel anger welling up inside.

Love looks forward, hate looks back, anxiety has eyes all over its head.
Mignon McLaughlin

I check the clock, its nearly 7 am, I can see a chink of light between the crack in the blinds. I really can procrastinate no longer and need to face the obsessive compulsive rituals that make my morning shower a nightmare of frustration and anxiety. I am now in the throes of writing an entry for my Blog which is progressing well considering the obstacles I have to contend with to produce any written item from a greetings card to a book! I resent having to be torn away from this also rather compulsive behaviour, albeit positive – well at least I hope so – to the less positive behaviour of compulsive washing. I look in my wardrobe once again to be faced with a dishevelled chaotic assortment of clothing haphazardly hung on coat hangers or draped over the bars, most of it is unwearable , either too small now that I have put on weight or it is not clean, not OCD clean. Most of my clothing comes straight from the clean un-ironed laundry stored in a chaotic heap in the trunk down stairs, so why do I check here every morning in the vain hope that something wearable has materialised over night! Frustrated I have to than rummage though the disorganised pile of clean clothing in the trunk hunting through all the stuff no one wears but cannot throw away mixed with all the cloths that no one wants to iron except until the final moment before wearing. Yes we are all hoarders, my husband son and I, and we are all unorganised and live our lives in a state of chaotic confusion and frustration. I rarely iron my cloths unless I am going out or it is absolutely necessary such as in the case of heavy cotton which would irritate my skin if worn un-ironed. I never iron my cloths before I have showered and changed even if it is necessary; I would be too fearful of contaminating the garments with my nightclothes, which I consider dirty after spending the night in the bed, which I feel is contaminated. Once I have been in bed, I never allow my night cloths to come into contact with my daytime cloths or anything else for that matter. When I get out of bed I always put on my nightgown over my nightdress so it will not contaminate anything else in my environment.

Compulsions are a lousy solution to the problem of having obsessions.
Fred Penzel

Now before showering and changing I need to sort out the washing. The laundry basket is situated in the bathroom, it is a source of contamination anxiety, I try to avoid any of the dirty clothing coming into contact with clean clothing and I always wash my hands after touching either the laundry or the basket. I sort out the laundry to put into the washing machine before I get dressed. I have to open all the doors on the way from the bathroom to the kitchen otherwise I would be anxious about contaminating the door handles on the way through. This activity lets out all the warm heat from the bathroom on to the stairs, which does not have a radiator. I feel irritated, it is a cold day and I will have to shower shivering in an unheated bathroom. These painstaking rituals concerning the washing of the laundry is quite a performance and often takes two or three trips and several spates of hand washing; I will wash my hands before opening the washing machine door, after putting in the cloths I wash my hands again, and yet again after putting in the detergent. After closing the door. I wash my hands again and this of course includes the tap washing ritual, finally after turning the dial I conclude this spate of hand washing and other OCD contamination rituals at least those pertaining to the laundry.

After sorting out these cloths I am still not ready to shower, the blinds need to be opened. As soon as the first chinks of daylight peep through the gap between the blinds and the window my heart sinks, what once made me feel less anxious and heightened my mood, the return of the early morning summer daylight, now makes my heart sink, as I know I have to roll up the blinds. Silly I know but with OCD just about anything and everything can become a mammoth chore riddled with anxiety if such is associated with contamination concerns. The concern here is again legionaries disease. The radiators are underneath the blinds, the cord hangs down near the control switch which in a couple of instances have been close to leaks in the radiator, such leaks have produced enormous anxiety concerning the contraction of legionaries disease. The leaks are fixed now but the fear remains that the radiators are contaminated, a residue of contaminated water may have come into contact with the cord. It does not matter if it was a year ago or even two! The radiators are contaminated and so is the cord and indeed anything the cord touches such as the blinds and the net curtains. I dread opening the blinds but cannot trust the others to do so as they will not take care to wash their hands afterwards and even if they did they would not do so carefully enough avoiding touching the tap if possible or allowing the running water to splash on to other things such as crockery left in the sink. Neither would my husband nor son wash and rinse the taps to prevent re-contamination if they could not avoid touching them. A small and inconsequential job to most but as you can see with OCD it becomes a daunting a task and I dread it! The washing up brush falls into the sink before I can rinse it out after washing my hands after this blind opening ritual. I boil water, scold the brush and the sink a couple of times rinsing the brush again and again in running cold water.

Moreover throughout the entire blind opening procedure I avoid the large yucca plant in the corner, it has recently been sprayed with water. I worry in case the water in the spray was not fresh, had it been hanging about for some days? Who knows, I did not spray the plant and have no way of knowing if the previously used water was replaced by fresh. Even if it was whoever replaced it would not have rinsed the spray out thoroughly and the fear is that molecules of stale water may remain which may harbour the legionaries virus.

Am I now ready to wash? No not yet. It is getting later and later soon my husband and son will need to get into the bathroom and I do not wish to be in my nightclothes any longer? I am now becoming irritated and depressed. My heart is heavy and I am thoroughly fed up, oh so fed up with this pointless misery I have to face each and everyday. It is a bad start to the day, early morning is the worst time of the day when I am more depressed and less able to cope. But these chores have be done and in the manner stated, there is no way of not complying with the OCD demon of un-remitting and persistent torment. But still there is something more to do before I get my showering ordeal over with. Today I have a visitor I need to take extra care to clean the bathroom. I have to do this while I am still in my night cloths. Afterwards I will of course put all my night cloths in the laundry basket, I have clean nightclothes everyday including my dressing gown. If I wait until I am showered and changed to clean the bathroom I will feel contaminated and have to shower again and put on fresh cloths. Organising my time and my chores in this manner helps to cut down the amount of times I wash my cloths and myself and is less exhausting and frustrating. I clean the bath and sink and wash all the shelves and windowsill in much the same way as a normal person would but for altogether quite different reasons. Whenever I clean anything it is nor merely to clean and remove dirt and dust, no I clean to decontaminate. Often cleaning is ritualistic: I for instance use different cloths for different areas of my home to avoid spreading contamination from areas I feel are contaminated to “safe” areas.

The toilet is another chore which needs a particular set of rituals: I use a separate cloth for the seat, I usually use paper towels as it’s easier as I can than throw them down the toilet after tearing them into tiny shreds so as not to block it .Separate pieces of paper towel are used to clean other parts of the toilet in the same manner. I wash my hands between each of these separate toilet washing procedures. I take great pains not to allow my clothing to touch the toilet or it’s immediate surroundings even though of course I will change and shower immediately afterwards. This will be the last task to be carried out in the bathroom. It is cold and I shiver I feel unwell due to all my physical maladies and the need to go through all these exasperating rituals provokes such irritation that my anxiety becomes increasingly more profound. I rush as quickly as possible I want to get back to working on my projects on the computer I resent the waste of my precious life compelled to perform these rituals knowing their absurdity yet powerless to resist. Sometimes I hate myself for my weakness yet it is an illness and right now I can do little to resist and fight it.

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau

A dilemma however exists and adds it’s complication. A clash of obsessive thinking occurs concerning the toxic nature of cleaning materials and their potential harm to the environment, to people, to other creatures and their continuing ineffectiveness as germ killers due to general overuse and the resistance of bacteria to such products as disinfectants and bleaches. Mostly however my predicament is due to the more immediate concerns that such products may poison my family, other people and other creatures. For example when I clean the bin I think that the toxic chemicals of the cleaner will harm creatures such as rats when the garbage gets to the tip. Yes I have the notion that one molecule of a toxic substance may cling to the plastic bin liner and bring about the death of an animal or even a person foraging about in the garbage dump. Should I use such chemicals or should I use natural cleaning products, such as vinegar and alcohol mixed with aromatherapy oils. Vinegar is apparently an excellent germicide and kills eighty percent of mould and germs. Ummmm what about the other 20 present I inwardly cry. However vinegar will not harm anyone, neither other people who will come into contact with whatever it is I have cleaned nor the council tip rat. I worry though about the aromatherapy oils as the labelling says: Not to be used internally so I worry that the odd molecule picked up from surfaces cleaned in this way will cause someone to die. Such of course is the case with chemical cleaning products such as bleach and disinfectant. What a dilemma my mind whirls in tormented turmoil. Mostly now I use only the vinegar and avoid the aromatherapy oils, most certainly to clean the bin, as this will be safe for other creatures. I clean the toilet bowel with an environmentally friendly cleaner and the seat and elsewhere with vinegar. But there is the worry, the nagging doubt, but in such cases when obsessions are in opposition to each other, whatever course of action I have taken I will invariably think it is the wrong one.

Finally I can wash. Oh how I just want to get this over with, I dread it each and every morning procrastinating for as long as possible. I cannot simply turn on the shower and step in; no that would be just too easy and too normal. I stand at the sink shivering in the cold, I do not feel justified to turn the heating up to compensate for the heat lost during the laundry ritual so early in the morning in order for the bathroom to be warm. I have to wash various areas of my body prior to actually showering, after which the taps are washed over and over. I cup my hands filling them with water and rinse the taps again and again finally spraying them with disinfectant or vinegar. I wash the sink and the soap. Yes I wash the soap in running water leaving it the sink so the water can flow over it hopefully flushing away any contagion. I feel that by washing myself I have contaminated it for the next person. I allow the taps to run whilst washing my hair over the bath. I dry my hair but the towel smells damp as a consequence my hair has become contaminated again and I rewash it. I try and resist this compulsion and make one of those oaths (see chapter seven of my memoir) not to wash it but this appears not to work as the thought comes into my mind that some will die as a result of some unidentified germ if I do not rewash my hair and as a punishment someone I care about will be harmed. What a dilemma as yet again in the space of only a few minutes one OCD thought vies with another. I quickly wash my hair before I have time to ruminate further and make more oaths to try and mitigate the thoughts. I now shower carefully following a set pattern of washing myself, after which follows more tap washing. I spray the taps with water from the shower attachments and finally washing the shower attachments themselves I complete this exhausting frustrating procedure. With careful mindfulness I select a fresh towel: I wash my hands after turning the handle to open the door to the cupboard before removing the towel – I have the notion that the handle is contaminated I would than contaminate the towel if I did not wash my hands after touching the door handle. I am than very anxious and take great care indeed not to allow the towel to become contaminated by certain areas in my bathroom which I in general throughout the day avoid touching, such as the toilet, and the laundry basket. Contact by the towel with either means I will have to shower again and get another fresh towel.

I put on the cloths I have painstakingly selected from the trunk and which I have left in a special germ free area of my sitting room. I have no OCD safe place in the bathroom where I can leave them. I had finally selected a rather crumpled blouse and skirt, one I have had for years and which is comfortable – another important criterion in my unusual selection process that needs to be considered. I find I am hyperaware of the uncomfortablness of my cloths, oftentimes feeling as though I am constrained in a straight jacket particularly by more smart fashionable clothing. I take little concern now of such matters as fashion, my main criterion for selecting my clothing being that my cloths are clean – OCD clean – and that they are comfortable. I had selected my cloths being mindful not to allow them to contact my night cloths extending my arms in such an awkward manner sometimes holding my cloths at arms length to put them down in a suitably contamination free area, usually the sitting room, to put on after showering.

No human being believes that any other human being has a right to be in bed when he himself is up.
Robert Lynd

Finally my husband and son get out of bed. When you get up so early yourself you often consider that others should not be lying in bed wasting precious life and often I shout up the stairs informing them of this fact in an irritated manner and today is no exception. My son now takes residence in the bathroom – at least it appears so. He takes over forty five minutes most days to shower, the bathroom resembles the Amazon jungle as steams swirls in thick clouds. He has some traits of OCD, and this may be the reason he is in the bathroom for so long, although thankfully at this stage it is not full blown. His problems lie else where and presents as anxiety, depression and he also most likely has Asperger syndrome.( At the time of writing he is awaiting the outcome of an assessment although his psychologist thinks the results are a foregone conclusion and he does indeed have this disorder.) All the while my son is in the bathroom I am considerably stressed. I have IBS and irritable bladder. I get angry and upset it appears that as soon as the bolt slides too, indicating my son is in the shower for the duration, I need to use the toilet which infuriately is in the bathroom. My heart sinks each and every time either of them go into the bathroom because of my anxieties that I will need the toilet.

I search frantically for my curlers and coomb, it seems sometimes as though certain things completely disappear. I can never recall were I have put them or my glasses and hand cream – the last is a necessity when you have OCD. Because of all the hand washing my hands are dry and feel taunt like parchment, it can be considerably uncomfortable at night. During the day however I wash my hands so often it would by pointless to apply hand cream simply to wash it off minutes, sometimes moments, later. I run my fingers through my hair unable to find my coomb this will have to suffice and I wander why I get odd looks when I am out and I hope that it turns up before leaving the house. I do rather look a bit unkempt at times. It seems as though I am thoroughly unorganised on every level.

After dressing I frantically work on my course material for my computer course, as today is the day I usually attend classes. I have left it to the last minute as I am rather overwhelmed now with what feels like a continual increase in feelings of responsibility towards others and towards various pressures imposed upon me by society in general and by my OCD over responsibility commitments. This aspect of my OCD gives me the notion that so many things are my responsibility despite the fact I am myself very ill. The torment of the guilt if I neglect the needs of another person or another creature are sheer torture. It is amazing how I try to carry on and not let others down even though I am quite depressed, anxious and racked with considerable aches and pains. It is only an unexpected attack of migraine that finally makes me say no if I do not have time to take my medication before a commitment. For instance if we are going out with my brother-in-law who is disabled I will feel just awful if we cancel. Oftentimes I avoid cancellations even though I am not well with a significant headache as the torment of guilt is dreadful. However the torment of anxiety that I might get a migraine when I am out is equally dreadful and the anticipation that I will not meet these demands, which sadly I have imposed upon myself due to my OCD over responsibility thinking, is anxiety provoking. I do not of course imply for one moment that I would not help others. I am very fond of and care about my brother-in-law and wish to do all I can to help improve the quality of his life and also for others with whom I have associations. However without my OCD my attitude would be different and when things did not work out I would not feel so guilty or so responsible and under so much pressure.

Neither in this world nor elsewhere is there any happiness in store for him
who always doubts.
Bhagavad Gita

It is now 10.30, my headache has taken a turn for the worse but I am unsure if it is a migraine. This situation drives me crazy. Although mostly I get concerned whenever I have to let someone down I nonetheless feel such a strong compulsion to meet the needs of any commitment such as the computer classes. Yes to the rational mind this is ludicrous particularly as there is no set timetable in which to complete the course and no obligatory exam, hence no pressure. Except for the pressure that exists within my mind, the pressure of fulfilling any commitment. This is a familiar scenario: The have I or have I not got a migraine dilemma. The dilemma is that my medication is only effective for a migraine, it has no effect on a tension headache. It can only safely be taken every eighteen hours. Now the fear here is that if I take it for a tension headache by mistake than if a real migraine turns up I have no way of getting rid of the pain for at least eighteen hours. The pain of migraine is dreadful. Yes a tension headache can be also very painful and in some instances almost as severe but not quite. However the difference can be subtle and this is what causes all the confusion and worry and indecision as to whether the headache I am presently suffering is a migraine or a tension headache. I need several hours sometimes to be in a position to tell the difference. This is okay when I am at home and have nowhere to go however if I have to go out for some reason or another I feel compelled to meet my commitments and feel pressured into making a quick decision.

I get in quite a state concerning this quandary, oftentimes I end up taking my medication too early simply due to the pressure imposed upon me by my OCD thinking which compels me to meet my mostly self imposed responsibilities and commitments. This is a frequent cause of anxiety and today I am simply at a loss to know what to do and take my migraine medication. I am angry and feel overwhelmed as though I now can no longer be ill in peace. Despite my headache I become tearful and shout and rant. With tearful frustration I go into the bathroom and take my medication, which is taken anally as a suppository. I do not mind this minor inconvenient way of administration, this medication is for me a life saver, my life would not be worth living at all without it. Some weeks I can get as many as four migraines. However due to the method of administration it does pose OCD contamination issues. After taking my medication and when the symptoms have been relieved I know with a sinking heart that I will be compelled to shower, wash my hair and change my cloths all over again. I am so frustrated with my life, the battle with my body and my mind I feel resentful and lie on the coach with feelings of frustration. I am fearful should my medication not work, this fear I have to some degree every time I take it. It is another of the reasons I would prefer to wait to be sure that I have the right headache, the fear being that the more I take my medication the less effective it may become.

I have to lie down for forty-five minutes for the medication to take effect. I fall into fitful but very brief sleep lasting only moments, waking suddenly with an anxiety attack: difficulties swallowing and feelings of extreme anxiety along with a strange sensation not easy to explain involving a rising sensation from the very pit of my stomach. Thoughts crowd my mind as fearful scenarios pass through in rapid succession including
overwhelmingly anxious feelings concerning the guilt I feel about moving here and the detrimental effect this has had upon my son. Yes all this seems to flash through my mind upon waking with such rapidity, most thoughts presenting as merely an essence much like those experienced when one has those moments of existential terror – an indefinable feeling not easy to relate in so many words. Normally I avoid sleeping during the day due to these awful attacks but lying here waiting for my medication to take effect it is not possible to stay wake. I would image this tendency is due to my on going sleep deprivation. These short naps continue off and on the waking thoughts are different but the anxiety is profound and sometimes accompanied by feeling of choking, difficulties breathing, swallowing and gasping for breath.

I am greatly relieved having taken this medication to find that most of my pain has been relieved and I assume that I have made the correct decision. However often both a tension headache and a migraine present together and many times a significant tension headache heralds a migraine. More often than not I continue to suffer with the tension headache, as the medication does not relieve this pain. I now have to face another shower and wash my hair and have a complete change of cloths. My heart sinks at the thought knowing that others most likely would not bother and that such actions are compelled by my OCD fears. I still feel rather groggy, depressed and irritated after those naps but must get the showering over with and I follow much the same routine as earlier. I resent the loss of precious time spent not only showering and changing but the need to style my long hair yet again drives me crazy. It is after all only two or three hours since I last showered and suffered this frustrating routine. Many times if I am not going out I will just wash my hair leaving it as it is to dry naturally with out bothering to style it. But as I am going out I have to make some effort not to look too wild and unkempt. Finally having found my curlers and coomb I struggle with great irritation to curl and dry my hair in an attempt to look as though I am a reasonably normal functioning person. When I found my coomb it had fallen onto the floor, with irritated frustration I wash it under hot water and washing up liquid I dare not use it otherwise it would contaminate my hair. Both it and my curlers are kept in a plastic bag in a contamination free area usually near the computer but not today it seems I finally found them on top of a pile of books and somehow my coomb seems to have fallen onto the floor and it was now contaminated. Well at least my curlers are not. Often they have to be washed having become accidentally contaminated when I have been using them.

I can’t find any cloths to wear this time and my anger mounts but I keep a tight reign on this rising tide of frustration as going into one of my tantrums and crying will exacerbate my headache and may bring back my migraine.. It is hard to keep down my pent up anger. The clock is ticking; the time to leave home approaches adding to my mounting anxiety as I rummage in desperation through the trunk of laundered clothing. I look for someone to blame. It must be someone’s fault!. I bemoan my misery to my husband and son expecting them to do something! Anything! I feel angry and resentful I have no outside help and have had no therapy as such for years and feel abandoned as a hopeless case. I see the few remaining years of my life pass by as a dream or rather as a nightmare as deep inside I know I most likely will never be normal and able to cope. Finally I find a rather tatty blouse and a rather well worn skirt, but both are clean. Although a stain on the blouse causes some concern I wear it anyway. I have to or stay at home. I reason that it is more important to go and the fear of not meeting this commitment and the one later on with my visitor overrides the concerns over an unidentifiable stain on my blouse. However it worries me somewhat and OCD thoughts present anxious scenarios that the stain is due to some toxic substance although I cannot imagine what. It is most likely a food stain but my OCD mind seems to think otherwise and is persistent given frightening momentum by my increased anxiety.

The drone of the vacuum cleaner as my husband vacuums the house in preparation for our visitor drives me crazy. Noise of any kind is becoming more and more difficult for me to cope with. I resist the urge to scream and cover my ears as I once did as a child. My husband does all the vacuuming. If I were to do this now I would have to change my cloths again or risk hurting my back trying to avoid contact with the hosepipe and wires. As with cleaning the bathroom if I wish to vacuum this chore has to be done before I am dressed in the morning. Professionals call this enabling, but what choice do I have I cannot get any help or so it seems – at least not right now. Besides both of us are at home and my husband does not mind doing this as it makes life easier for all of us.

To be alive at all involves some risk.
Harold MacMillan

It is now time for a hurried lunch. I often feel as though it is one continuous race against time. Yes I do have quite a lot to do most days but because of my OCD it takes much longer. I feel frustrated. I feel as though a constant battle rages in my mind and I would just like to let go and live! Live a more fulfilling and satisfying life. But no not today it would seem. I hurriedly prepare beans on toast. I cannot cook without someone being there. If I cooked alone most of the food would be thrown away. It would be easier if, like the vacuuming, someone else did all the cooking but I would feel guilty about that so I try. As long as someone is in the house it is easier although of cause not easy or normal. I open a tin of beans they smell metallic. I ask my husband and son to smell them. Neither smell anything different. If I were alone I would throw this away but after some encouragement I cook the beans. Sadly though sometimes even with encouragement and reassurance food does get thrown away. My cup of tea smells of bleach. I buy tea in unbleached teabags but still I have the notion that my teas smells of bleach – I mean it really smells and tastes like bleach. No way can I drink this and even with encouragement – no one else can either smell or taste the bleach – I pour it down the sink. After my beans on toast I have a bag of crisps. I feel so guilty as I know I am eating too much, it is comfort eating I know. But I need to lose weight I should not eat the crisps. Feeling guilty and a failure I open the bag anyway. Ironic but I feel so depressed by my weight increase that I eat something more for comfort, its rather like when you are broke and you go shopping and buy something you do not need but want just for comfort, just to make you feel better because you are depressed and worried because you are broke. But later on you regret the expenditure knowing your quick fix solution to your despondency has only made matters worse. But do we learn by our mistakes, no. And the next time for both those reasons above I take the same destructive quick fixes.

The crisps do not pass the squash test. Yes I joke about the squash test and writing about it here I feel some amusement in telling you as often when we tell others about the things we do our activates suddenly appear even to us to be amusing – at least this is occasionally my experience. Unfortunately this tendency to laugh often does not help others to understand our pain. And now if the person is a mental health professional I try not to laugh when telling them of my OCD problems. I recall talking with a psychologist many years ago concerning my fears that food in the supermarket may have been poisoned. Now when I told him it was the first time I had told anyone. I felt silly and embarrassed and relating to him my fears the situation suddenly appeared amusing and I laughed. I had the impression that because I had laughed he failed to realise the fear and anxiety and the limitations that this particular obsession had and how disabling it was. The fact that I tend to laugh from embarrassment or simply from the knowledge that others will laugh does not mitigate the fact that such thoughts and consequent behaviours – in this case throwing food away – have a very traumatic effect upon my life.

Now the squash test – what is the squash test. Most food such as crisps are packed in a sealed bag. When you squeeze the bag you can feel the air inside and you know that it has been securely sealed. If however this does not happen in just the right way or the air escapes I fear that the bag has not been securely sealed and the food may be off and I may as a consequence get food poisoning. Which of course may be the case. Now the bag has to be just right. If the air inside is only minimal I discard the bag. Oftentimes when there is not much air in the package I have squashed the bag so much trying to ascertain if it is sealed that I in fact break the seal myself with all the squashing. Now conversely if there is too much air in the bag and it is practically inflated like a football I discard this also. Some years ago a friend told me that such highly inflated bags when they contained meat or other highly perishable products were a health hazard and indicated that the freshness of the food had been compromised although in quite what way I was not told. Such packages were removed from the shelves and not sold. I know I do not eat such products but now whenever the bag, regardless of it’s contents, appears to be too full of air I discard it also. So it’s getting it just right and this causes a lot of problems and anxiety. It irritates my husband as yet another bag of crisps ends up in the bin. I can’t of course test before buying if I did I would have to buy the product anyway as I could not leave it for another unsuspecting person to buy.

Finally we are almost ready to go. I am so wound up and tense. I am anxious, any social commitment is stressful. I mentally prepare something to say when I arrive other than hello. Whenever I have to socialise I have to mentally prepare something to say. If I did not do this I would really come over as awkward. In social situations my mind goes blank I have no idea what to say to anyone. Small talk is always impossible unless I know the other person extremely well and even than often I am stuck for something to say and what I do say appears contrived. Often things I say are inappropriate and I am left feeling awkward and keenly aware of the odd look that I sometimes get. Impromptu social interactions leave me looking alike an idiot, as mostly my conversation appears muddled and uncoordinated the words not flowing, the right words just not coming natural to me.

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.
Henry David Thoreau.

Check, check, check and more checking. My son is also going out and wants a lift into town therefore all electricity appliances except the fridge have to be turned off and the plugs removed from their sockets. The modem needs to be disconnected from the phone socket all windows closed and locked. Yes to a degree this is reasonable however locking windows that open at a width of less than six inches seems rather over the top. My son points out that no one could possibly get through. I check again. Fire is the fear concerning electrical appliances. There is some delay in leaving the house so again I check. I get irritated. The longer the delay the more I check. My son like myself seems unorganised and for reasons known only to himself has his own problems getting dressed and getting ready to go out. These days it is as though we all live in a maelstrom of chaotic confusion Have you turned off the cooker I ask my husband as we sit in the car waiting to go whilst my son fiddles around doing goodness knows what absorbed in his own anxieties? It’s off he replies. No have you turned it off. Yes it’s off again the same response. I get more irritated He should know he has to say it the correct way. It’s off is not the same as saying I have turned it off. It’s off implies some doubt at least in my mind. I have turned it off indicates he actually recalls doing so. Not satisfied I go back and check.

Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.
Gertrude Stein

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.
Leo Buscaglia

Finally the checking appears to be over – or is it? No. The checking of the aforementioned is rather a stereotypical OCD scenario however checking does not stop at electrical appliances, doors and windows. All the time I am out I check my handbag, reaching inside the doubts torment me: is my medication there, do I have my glasses, my purse. I check my medication the most often, feeling inside I can feel the coldness of the steel tin; it’s a large tin, a tea caddy! There can be no doubt it is there as it takes considerable space in my handbag. But no just to feel it is not enough I have to look inside to see it with my own eyes, open it and check my pills have not fallen out. I take out at least a dozen doses of my medication. No I will not need them if I took them all I would be pushing up the daises. No I take them with me fearing that if the house burns down I will have to endure an unaborted migraine! Can you imagine how this is so frightening for me? Some years ago a psychologist looked rather non pulsed when I told him this. He responded: “Surely if your house burnt down you would have more to worry about than your migraine.” Yes true, but matters would be much worse wouldn’t they if I had to endure the excruciating pain of migraine as well as the trauma of my house burning down! Yes irrational to take so much medication out with me, but illogical? Not really it is not always easy to get medication just like that in an emergency. My logical is: why compound dire circumstances by other dire circumstances if such can be avoided. However I guess the crux of the matter is that normal people would not think of such disastrous scenarios in the first place at least not to the extent of the OCDer.

As we get nearer to the learning centre my heart is in my throat. Although I am not as anxious now as when we first went this is still no easy matter. Both my husband and I are enrolled in a computer course. My husband is not really interested but comes along, as I cannot leave the house alone. No I cannot even go for a walk in my local village I certainly could not cope with the two bus trips involved in getting to the learning centre. Fear of getting a severe headache or migraine are amongst the problems involved in taking the bus, fear of being alone with such and unable to get back home quickly. Moreover I could not cope with my OCD alone which in certain circumstances would compel me to pick up glass in the street or litter that I think is dangerous such as empty pill packets and packets that I think on an OCD level are empty pill packets, but which my common sense tell me are not but are in reality only sweet packets. But nonetheless I treat them as such because the voice of OCD is more powerful than my common sense reasoning. My fear concerning pills and empty pill packets is that a child or an animal such as a dog or a cat may eat the contents and die, yes even the minute residues of an empty packet1 Yes I know neither a dog or a child will lick an empty pill packet. I know it’s illogical but logic has little to do with OCD. I worry about glass in the road should it cause an accident and glass on the pavement should someone’s dog or a child become injured. Tiny shards of glass could easily get into a dog’s paws. Also if I have to confront any serious contamination scares alone I would not be able to cope. There are any number of reasons that I cannot go out alone, with out the support of another person the above obsessions and compulsions would escalate out of control.

So finally here we are. The familiar feeling of anxiety borne of memories long past greets me. The course centre is within the precincts of a secondary school; such brings back painful memories of the difficult life that I lead at school. I get that sinking anxious feeling as a lump rises to my throat: I am relieved to enter the learning centre. I get irritated with my husband who from force of habit steps backs to allow me to enter first. I just hate to have to walk into a room full of people. Every one looks up – well the four or so people who are there all look up from whatever it is they ‘re supposed to be doing. Not to greet us, rarely anyone does except for the two tutors. These classes are drop-ins, this means you can come and go as you please on any of four days. We being creatures of habit – I like routine and lack spontaneity to the extreme that any change in circumstances or plans leads to significant anxieties and effects my ability to cope – always go on the same day each week and at roughly the same time as early as possible before it gets crowded. It never is really crowded but sometimes more than two or three people in a small space feels crowded as the noise of conversation, the hum of computers, the rattle of printers and other noise including sometimes music from other rooms becomes increasingly more significant as more people arrive throughout the afternoon. However compared to some social commitments it is not as uncomfortable. Both tutors are friendly but not overly so. One feels that one can relax and that one is not expected to hold conversations about matters not relating to the course or engage in insignificant small talk. So in many ways it is just about right for me; it gives me the feeling that I do have some social life but without the embarrassment of being aware that I am different or out of place. There have been a couple of occasions when someone has spoken at length and I have not really been able to respond appropriately. But this is unusual. Everyone is doing a different course; it is rather like a home study course but with help and advice available. You sit by the computer and go through the course asking for assistance if and when it is required. Occasionally the tutors ask how you are getting on and that is it.

Today I finally ask a question. I have rehearsed the phrasing and content over and over. I wanted to ask this question last week but for reasons difficult to define, mostly anxiety concerning the actually process of asking, I did not. It worried me that I would not be articulate enough and so on. I also feel concerned about my inability to make eye contact. I try but never know when to look the person with whom I am speaking in the eye and when to look away. I really need the answer to this question, finally I ask. Despite my preparation I don’t feel this person has understood and the answer really does not cover the problems I am facing. However such difficulties exist within my mind and oftentimes I actually know the answer and it has become an OCD doubting thing. Often I get the idea that I do not understand something when in reality I do. Often I spend considerable amounts of time trying to understand something, I am persistent if nothing else but waste time and energy obsessing that I do not know something when in fact I most probably do. I feel frustrated knowing I will go home and search for a more clear answer on the net or else where

Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Today I have to complete an exercise in my course which requires the use of a certain number which for me has superstitious connotations – well actually it does so for most people but not to the extend that it does for me. I cannot now write here this number although you will most probably guess by the previous statement which number this is. I have written it down in both my memoir and my shorter version My story but now, today it would seem I cannot write this number down for superstitious fears of dire consequences and I have not in fact done so now for many months even years. I have the notion that any association with this number is unlucky. I cannot ignore this anxiety and use another number hoping the exercise will be completed correctly regardless. Fortunately for me this is the case.

Later on another fear comes back to haunt me. My husband notices a tourist information poster advertising ancient churches in the area. More churches! Yet more churches to trek around. Sometimes but not so much nowadays such visits can be anxiety provoking. Churches of course can ignite my religious OCD such as intrusive blasphemous thoughts, the intrusions of oaths and thoughts that pop into my mind that I have somehow asked God in some way to harm someone. The last being a type of thought which is not at all easy to define and present mostly merely as an essence of a thought, a fleeting but nonetheless powerfully frightening notion. I am anxious that what I am thinking while in church will have more consequence than it would otherwise. I am also compelled by my fears of Devine retribution and the fear comes to me that perhaps some one might die if I do not leave a monetary contribution, despite the fact that my rational self now really does not believe in a creator God. Or does it, still now when overwhelmed with fear I will revert to compulsive repetitive praying. Sometimes I ignore the compulsion to make such a donation but sometimes the anxiety is too strong. Moreover I find old churches, although they are of an historic and aesthetic value and are of interest nonetheless promote morbid thoughts. Graves and tombs are a particular grim reminders of one’s mortality and my mind calculates the amount of time which has passed since the person died. Such contemplations may precipitate feelings of existential terror.

Religious OCD is perhaps not the problem that it once was -at least not in quite the same way- since I am now not really a Christian as such and have adopted the broader perspective of new age thinking which includes some beliefs of most religious traditions in a kind of pick and mix fashion. ( however this is not to say that OCD religious obsessions do not interfere with any and all religious endeavours regardless of religious belief and this of course includes new age. The obsessions are however different. A lengthy explanation of which is perhaps better suited to another article) Nevertheless old churches continue to induce these awful and upsetting thoughts. And intrusive blasphemous thoughts among others still distress me enough to cause me to leave shortly after arriving on some occasions. For a more detailed explanation of my religious OCD please refer to chapter seven of my memoir.

I try to avoid using public toilets whenever possible but unfortunately today I cannot escape this dire necessity. The toilet at the learning centre is always clean – maybe not OCD clean, a public toilet no matter how scrupulously clean has been used by goodness knows who, a sufferer such as myself would find using it anxiety provoking notwithstanding it’s clean appearance. However because of my medical problems it is either use public toilets or stay at home. I need to prepare the toilet by lifting the lid using tissue, lining the seat with more tissue so that my skin will not come in contact with the seat. Afterwards I use more tissue to touch the handle to flush the toilet. Washing the taps after washing my hands and than washing my hands again is easy here as the wash basin is in the toilet cubicle, a large compartment designed also for disabled people. Normally one has to be rather surreptitious when performing these contamination rituals when the wash basin is not inside the cubicle.

More than OCD anxieties are bought to the fore here. I linger wandering if anyone notices how long I have been not only coping with all the usual rituals and behaviours but reading all the rather depressing but informative notices, I know I should not but I cannot help myself. A large poster with a stereotypical young thin and attractive women peering round a shower curtain reminds users of the facility that it is important to check ones skin for signs of skin cancer. Another poster less prominent list the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, another testicular cancer, breast cancer and advice about the avoidance of AIDS and just about every disease known to man along with. advice about where to go for help if you suffer from domestic violence or child molestation. In fact the walls are covered with posters of all kinds, phone numbers of help lines, contraceptive advice, information for carers and numerous other organisations. Many years ago when my hypochondria was at its height I would have freaked out, today it still made me feel somewhat nervous and I took a leaflet concerning testicular cancer from the pile on the shelf suddenly feeling an anxious concern for my husband and son. I leave sliding the blot again using a tissue which is than thrown down the toilet. There is not where else to put it, the tissue is now contaminated. The concern here is that a good number of people use the toilet without washing their hands afterwards so if I did not use a tissue to open the door I would have to wash my hands again. For similar reasons I open the long vertical door handle by holding it right at the bottom having to trust that few people would open the door this way and instead hold the handle further up.

There is now the loud thump of music coming from the room further down the corridor. Few of the other students appear to notice. No one comments. Perhaps they are used to the continual onslaught of noise we have to endure day after day in modern society. Perhaps it does not bother them. Perhaps they are simply afraid to complain for fear of seeming a killjoy. Who knows often I feel so alone with my hypersensitivity to noise. I still have a significant headache and find it difficult to think. No I do not complain, as I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feels or make life difficult.

Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.
André Dubus
I anxiously watch the clock, we need to be home by 2.30 to receive my friend. Feeling awkward for reasons I cannot define we say our good byes. I feel conspicuous even just getting out of my chair and shouting out goodbye aimed at no one in particular. I have poor body image and hate the way I look. I hate being overweight and old. I feel embarrassed, awkward. When one is young being shy or socially awkward is more or less expected often considered endearing and nothing unusual. However at late middle age it is quite another matter. I am aware that I come over as strange and awkward I try my best and that is all I can do. Some how I try to accept the way I am, I just do not have the strength to try and change. I have tried in the past but conversing with others is mostly an enormous strain and is now one which I tend to avoid. Although I do like coming here to participate in this course I am nonetheless relieved to be outside again.

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.
Emile Zola

If we hold genuine moral principles about animals, these will not differ in substance from those we hold about human beings … If humans have natural rights, then so do animals.
Roslind Godlovitch

However such relief is short lived as no sooner as I step outside I am confronted with another OCD problem – or is it? As we make our way to the car a large earthworm is crawling across the path, if I leave it there it will most likely be stepped upon. Unlike myself most people do not walk with their eyes glued to the pavement scanning for dog mess or other signs of contamination including unidentified stains which are perceived as possibly being a toxic substance and so on. No most normal people look where they are going, or they are chatting or simply immersed in their thoughts and there is a good chance this worm will be trodden on. Looking round fearful of being thought weird I try to pick up the worm. I asked my husband for some tissue. He has none so I have to pick it up with my bare hands, no easy matter for an OCD sufferer. It wriggles and squirms as I hurriedly I move it to a safe place peering again to see if anyone is watching. Why doesn’t my husband pick it up. Indeed why not? He simply hesitates and I have no patience and want to get the matter over with quickly and without being observed. Why be embarrassed? Silly I know, most people would think me either an eccentric perhaps neurotic . So what! Others might simply think I am a kind and considerate person. And you know it might actually be little of both. Yes this action may be the result of OCD over responsibility or a superstitious compulsion; it may simply be that I care about the welfare of all beings. It is after all a part of my philosophical beliefs that all creatures have a right to life and therefore all creatures are important. Like the click to donate this action is part of me the real me who wants no creature however lowly to be harmed and if I can prevent such this is what I would most likely do even if I did not have OCD. However like the click to donate it is the OCD thinking behind it the neurotic thinking that makes me anxious that some ill fortune may befall me if I neglect this task and it is such fears that cause the problem and turn a kind deed that I feel is right to do into an OCD anxiety provoking ritual. After rescuing the worm I naturally need to wash my hands and sneak back inside the learning centre in order to do so following a similar routine to that described earlier. This time I want my husband to follow the rules of old fashioned politeness and open the door for me to enter so I do not contaminate the door handle. I should point out here that my main fear of becoming contaminated not only involves my anxieties that I will contract a disease but my overwhelming fear is that once I have become contaminated I will than spread this contamination to others. This causes concern on two levels: firstly concern for others fearing that they will die because I have passed on some awful disease such as rabies, legionaries disease, and other vague contamination possibilities. Moreover there is a superstitious component, a kind of karmic thinking as it were that if I cause harm to others however inadvertently than some ill luck may befall me or those I care about.

A quick stop off at the local supermarket for salad, bread and donuts, it’s getting late and we need to hurry. Shopping can be stressful at the best of times and even this hurried and brief shop takes a while. I check the best before dates on everything that I buy and check to see if the packaging has been tampered with. The noise of loud music as we pass through the electrical equipment section of the supermarket makes me feel as though I would like to cover my ears and just scream. I feel angry and irritated. Music – for want of a better word, and I can think of plenty but none of them very polite – is everywhere nowadays and for those of us who are hypersensitive to noise due to headaches, stress and various other reasons are given little thought or consideration. This assault upon my senses makes me angry and irritated. I tell myself I must write and complain. I keep meaning to but the days pass so quickly and beside nothing ever really is done and all I will receive will be a polite letter most likely stating that the majority of customers like the music in the background – if only it were in the background it would be something but in some supermarkets its like a disco you can barely think! At least in this supermarket once you get into he food section there is an absence of music. However the manic hustle and bustle of fellow customers, bright lighting and the moving about of stock every now and again meaning you having to search high and low to find what you want and when you are in a hurry this of course adds to my irritation. The more sensitive you become the more other things seem to effect you and than become increasingly more sensitised to everything in your environment Although noise for me has always been a problem, however just lately this appears to be increasingly significantly.

Again I need to use the toilet! I try to resist but often nowadays my anxiety sets of an attack of irritable bladder and sometimes even within minutes after using the toilet I feel the need to do so again. Here the toilet is not as well looked after but is reasonable. I go through all the rituals mentioned earlier with frustrated irritation. I struggle to turn off the taps I hate to leave taps running, although this type turn off automatically after a certain amount of water has passed through, however I worry that this will not happen. Yes this is not my responsibility I know but I have OCD which gives me the notion that everything is indeed my responsibly. I have found that on many occasions and with similar devices if I lift the top of the tap the flow of water will cease but no not here and I have to leave it running. I know it will stop, I have shopped here before but still I feel the familiar doubt despite my knowledge to the contrary and again as on many occasions I try and stop the flow. Finally I abandon this pointless futile endeavour with mounting irritation. I get weary and utterly tired of such stupid and senseless compulsions of which for the most part I am unable to ignore or resist. I just want to get home way from the constant influx of anxiety provoking situations and the hyper sensory stimulus of noise, bright lights and the general manic comings and goings of hurried impatient people.

Fear is a feeling stronger than love.
Pliny the Younger

Arriving home I see a neighbour I know approaching, he owns a dog, which always strains at the lead in my direction. My heart sinks its another awkward moment one of many concerning this person and his dog. This person knows I do not like dogs – well no actually that is not quite accurate: It is not that I do not like dogs it is that I have OCD and see dogs as source of contamination. I perceive dogs as carriers of the rabies virus. Yes I know that all mammals can carry the rabies virus ,even man, if so infected but somehow my fear is centred upon dogs and bats but I do not have much of a problem concerning the avoidance of bats. Why these particular creatures? I still have anxieties concerning all mammals but the most strong anxieties are connected with dogs and bats although I avoid direct contact with all animals. Who knows I don’t but many OCD suffers feel similarly concerning dogs but conversely others sufferers do not and have themselves a dog as a pet. OCD is a very individual illness, no two sufferers present with exactly the same manifestation of the disorder.

The problem with dogs of course is very difficult for dog owners to understand. Many take it personally. Often I have to tell people that I have an allergy, it seems simpler for me and is less offensive and hurtful for pet owners, many of whom love their dog or cat as much as they would their child. However as odd as this may seem few understand this either. This person has mental health problems himself but seems not to recognise the difficulties of another but nonetheless keeps his dog away. I feel very sad about this problem with animals, a lump borne of anxious regret comes to my throat I would love to fuss this man’s dog I am at heart an animal lover and I am interested in animal rights. I am also a vegetarian, well to be precise a lactose free vegetarian. No not for health purposes but for ethical reasons as I do not wish to cause harm to any creature. OCD of course presents in situations which will cause you the most pain and for me the fact that my OCD alienates me from animals is one of the most painful. After a socially awkward moment between three people with social contact difficulties, mostly eye contact, I escape further awkward conversation and retreat indoors waiting with anxiety for the next round of social interaction.

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.
Alfred Adler

There is little more than half an hour until my friend arrives. During this time I frantically clean the kitchen, wash all the crockery I will use, rinsing in scalding water. I prepare the food bought earlier and cover the settee with a throw. In short I make everything as OCD friendly as possible for you see my friend also has OCD however hers manifests differently from mine in some ways, what might cause me anxiety may not necessarily do so for her and vice versa. I am anxious that there will be something in my home that will cause my friend anxiety. I clean everything the best I can but I am mindful that like me her OCD may not always manifest in the way other people expect. This often occurs and is the most difficult aspect of the disorder for non-sufferers to understand. The most usual example of this is the stereotypical idea that people with OCD are continually cleaning, the house reeks of disinfectant and bleach and, smelling like a hospital, it is sterile. This of course may be the case for some sufferers but contamination OCD also manifests in ways not expected. For instance the homes of some sufferers may appear dirty and may in fact be dirty. Some sufferers avoid contaminated areas of their home rather than wash and clean them. Certain areas of the home may become no go zones. Cleaning these zones spreads the contamination and therefore such areas are never cleaned simply avoided. In fact it is now thought that Beethoven may have had some form of OCD. He was apparently very scruffy, wore filly cloths but compulsively washed himself. So you see all OCD sufferers are not the same? What may be an issue for one is not necessarily so for another. Also lets not forget that although OCD contamination obsessions and compulsions are the most common they are not the only type of OCD.

As I have previously mentioned preparing food alone is impossible, as a good deal of it would finish up in the bin. I would either have the notion it has seen tampered with or that it has become contaminated in some way or another; perhaps I consider that I did not wash my hands thoroughly enough or I suddenly notice that the crockery is not as clean as I had thought. Both notions are borne most likely from a distorted OCD perspective, an exaggerated perspective for the most part. Even though my vision is not what it once was somehow on some level I will immediately notice a blemish on the plate indicting that perhaps it has not been washed properly and so on, there are just so many instances it would be impossible it cite them all. After washing my hands thoroughly and drying them on a clean tea towel taken straight from the cupboard I finally check the plate by running my hands across the surface. This assures me that there are no tiny set particles of the previous meal. Today it was easier than I had expected, I find it enormously difficult to cook for family members, preparing a meal for a visitor is even more problematic as it presents a number of additional fearful scenarios, among them the following: If I am preparing food for a non family member and I make a mistake and cause harm to another than there is the fear that some kind of divine retribution / karmic comeuppance will be my lot. The nature of this anxiety has changed over the years nonetheless there is this innate fear – at least for me – that I will be punished in some way or another for having done something wrong, unethical or potentially harmful even though I had not meant to so. I rinse the crockery and cutlery and wash my hands between each stage of the cooking. The meal is simple just a salad, a veggie burger and a bread roll. I would not be able to cook something more complicated for a visitor, as the worry of causing harm would be so overwhelming.

Making the tea I rinse again the cups under the tap the fact that they have been scalded fails to mitigate my anxiety that they are clean. I have to open a fresh carton of milk even though there is one already open as anxieties crowd my mind that the opened carton may be off although I carefully monitor every item of food in my fridge by checking the sell by date making no compromises. Once the sell by date has been reached the food is thrown away. Often times this can be problematic I obsess and ruminate on the exact wording on the package. I prefer the phrase best before…. rather than consume by….. I ruminate over the word by: does that mean before or on the day? For instance if the label says consume by 10th June does this mean consume on the previous day the 8th at the latest or does it mean it is okay to eat on the 9th. I err of the side of caution and throw the unused food away on the previous day. I have looked up the word “by” in the dictionary and still I am not sure of the exact meaning, it does make me look like rather a sad person as in pathetic but such is the extent of my fear of causing harm that I need to know the exact meaning of the word by.

…..we need to feel the cheer and inspiration of meeting each other, we need to gain the courage and fresh life that comes from the mingling of congenial souls, of those working for the same ends.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

With mounting anxiety I finish all my preparation as my friend arrives. After the meal we sit and chat my friend, my husband and I, later on our son comes to chat also. He likes this lady and feels reasonably at ease with her otherwise he would remain in his room. He like myself finds socialising very difficult. Indeed although I have known my friend since we came to live here nearly three years ago I continue to find conversation difficult. It is not her fault she is a friendly and outgoing extrovert therefore this problem is not a symptom of OCD as such. My social difficulties may be the result of one or more of the following: social phobia, avoidant personality disorder or I may even have Asperger syndrome. I have several symptoms of this disorder but not all.

It is not that I do not wish to be friendly and chat with ease. Quite the country in fact I would love to be like others, to have my conversation flow to know what to talk about and to engage in small talk as well as in conversations on a more serious level. I would love to joke laugh and generally mess about as many others do. But no this will never be for me not now. I have struggled with this disability all my life and make no mistake it is indeed a disability. I have lost jobs, I have failed to make myself understood and have been lonely. I practiced conversation skills in group therapy and made an enormous effort to talk to others such as people in shops and so on but still my conversation does not come easy and is often contrived sounding unnatural as I struggle for something to say. The tension this causes often brings on a headache. I cannot sit for too long making conversation as the strain of listening to the other person and mentally rehearsing a response which when I finally speak often is not appropriate as the conversation has moved on. Most people I know with one to two exceptions talk rapidly, the conversation flows from one thing to another and I can’t keep up and often I have not understood what has been said and when I finally try to speak there is nothing to say. I cannot think quickly enough and there are than long gaps of silence and to fill it the other person begins another conversation and I am left sitting there tongue tied.

I have been told that I am a good listener, I was told this many years ago, it was a thoroughly patronising statement which drew my attention to my disability and made me feel uncomfortable. Yes I appear to be a good listener simply because there is nothing to say and besides what may appear to another as listening with undivided attention may actually be an indication that I am struggling to prepare a response concentrating on what I should say rather than actually listening with the rapt attention people assume. I like everyone else have interests and opinions, the problem is I cannot express them verbally and have developed over the years certain responses, templates if you like for basic conversation. However when I become closer to another person and the need arises for more complex conversation this is insufficient and I feel lost. Yes I have had friends and there are a few people with whom I am at ease and this person is one of them nonetheless I still have to struggle for something to say. Initiating a conversation is often the most difficult aspect of social interaction, however most people tend to talk with some ease so rapt in what they want to say that they sometimes do not notice and often I muddle through. Another problem I have is that I do not know when a conversation subject is finished and when it is appropriate to move on to the next topic and leave this up to the other person to do so usually long after the conversation has grown tiresome. Eye contact is still a problem with people I know, even my own family.

We often give this friend a lift back to her home which is two bus rides away. I am pleased to do this but worry should I get a headache and am unable to do so. I am too nervous to let my husband take my friend home as I do not like being left alone and I worry if my husband is not with me. This is difficult for him and may make him feel rather trapped nonetheless he never complains and most times he insists that he does not want to go anywhere without me anyway. Tonight notwithstanding my headache we are able to take my friend home

You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
James Allen

It’s around six o’clock I prepare dinner. No we do not normally eat twice in the afternoon and early evening however as I had promised my friend I would make a light meal I felt inclined to do so but I regretted this as it is difficult to cook for other people. The previous meal had been nothing more really than a snack yet it had been an anxiety provoking endeavour and one that perhaps both she and I would have been happier and more relaxed without. My husband son and I take it in turns to cook the evening meal but even when it is my turn I have to have another person in the house and within easy calling distance for the reasons previously stated. Meals are fairly simple nowadays, it is just too difficult and anxiety provoking for me to cook complex meals. Tonight I am too stressed and tired to cook much of anything and we have a quickly prepared meal consisting of oven chips, the rest of the salad and veggie burgers not having really eaten much of the previous meal too anxious really to do so and besides to be honest I need a food fix as it where. Often I use food for comfort and eat most days more than I actually need. Whenever I am stressed which of cause is most of the time I feel the urge to eat.

It is finally time to sit and veg out which is pretty much what we do each night. Often I fall into an exhausted sleep just too tired and depressed to do much else. Most times after such impromptu bouts of sleep, which I am unable to fight off, I wake feeling more depressed, quite profoundly sometimes, along with feelings of anxiety and sometimes either a headache or an increase in the severity of an existing headache. To avoid falling asleep I would like to involve myself in my art work but no for the most part I simply seem to wind down as it were and feel lethargic and apathetic except if we have to go out, which we do on one evening each week to Tai Chi classes. This is mostly the only time I do not fall asleep in the evenings. Occasionally I may involve myself with some project upon the computer but most evenings I simply feel just too tired and depressed to even do this.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
Mary Anne Radmacher

We retire to bed it is around ten o’ clock, I am anxious if I not do so as often if I go to bed much later I cannot sleep despite the fact I am tired and exhausted. Nearly every night, and tonight is no exception, there is the quiet hum from the factory in the village, a low frequency sound that is sheer torture. It is a sound I cannot ignore and despite my fear of leaving on the CD player all night because of the possibility of fire I have to have a nature recoding CD on repeat play throughout the night to mitigate and drown out the torment of this intrusive and unremitting low frequency hum. I do not like to leave my stereo on at night or any electrical appliance because of my fear concerning the possibility of fire yet I have no choice. I cannot cope with this noise that few others appear either not to hear or are not disturbed by it. After a fidgety and restless start due to an increasing feeling that my cloths are uncomfortable I finally close my eyes for a few hours of fitful and unfruitful sleep from which I am often woken during the night by bizarre attacks which I have some difficulty actually describing to you although I have attempted to do so earlier when recounting my migraine attack. Such attacks feel to me as though I am choking and yes indeed I am chocking I have the sensation as though I have swallowed something which after waking and becoming fully conscious I know I have not. Others episodes feel as though I am not able to breathe after waking suddenly with a jerk, gasping for air. A most frightening experience indeed although it lasts but a few seconds. Some attacks I cannot compare with anything at all and these involve strange consuming sensations starting from deep down within my abdominal region finalising in the familiar lump in the throat and difficulty swallowing and frantically I reach for water. Fortunately such experiences do not occur every night but when they do they re most frightening

I will wake from such disturbed sleep more exhausted than when I retired mostly with a headache, muscular aches and pains and stiffness tormented by OCD thoughts to begin another trying and challenging day living with not only my OCD but various other life spoiling maladies.

Summarisation:
The above of course does not give an account of every time I washed my hands throughout the day as such details would be tedious. With the usual obsessive-compulsive perfectionism and need for detail I was of course tempted to do precisely that but thought that such would be thoroughly boring. Therefore reader please bear in mind that in between all the aforementioned activities I am washing my hands again and again dozens of times each day. Mostly this occurs after contact with areas both indoors and outside of my home which I consider to be contaminated. Such areas in my home include: the toilet, the laundry basket, the floor, plants both inside and outside, any type of chemical and its container even washing powder and other more benign everyday chemicals. Also included are certain items such as books, letters and other correspondence, indeed anything which may have been touched by a person whom I have the notion is some how contaminated. For instance a person who has regular contact with dogs or who handles toxic substances, for example a gardener who may have handled weed killer or pesticides. Light switches, door handles and suchlike touched by others compel me to wash my hands after contact if I know that whoever has touched them has a contamination issue. For instance if he or she has been in contact with something I consider is contaminated, light switches and door handles in public toilets being the most obvious. I never touch anyone whom I feel is contaminated in some way or another. This could become also a long and tedious list of what I can and cannot touch without washing my hands and sometimes my cloths. Often now such behaviours have become so routine and habitual that I do not always pay much attention to when I wash my hands and why. For a full account of my behaviours in this regard see as already mentioned my book, my story and my blog.

Also no mention is made in the above account concerning areas of my home which are sterilised after feeling that such has become contaminated: Perhaps my husband has come in from the garden and absentmindedly put down the watering can onto the table. The table will than need to be wiped with disinfectant or other germicide. Again the instances are numerous and vary according to circumstance and yet again would be too tedious to mention in detail in the above account.

You will not find peace by avoiding life.
Virginia Woolf

In addition to overt and obvious obsessive-compulsive behaviours, such as washing, cleaning, checking and other more familiar decontamination rituals, I have not given account of another obsessive compulsive behaviour: avoidance. I sometimes try to avoid contamination rather than keep washing and cleaning. Gradually as one becomes so overwhelmed with washing one’s hands, clothing and showering you seem to quite naturally replace some of these time consuming and stressing compulsions by avoiding the contamination in the first place. For instance I am mindful to avoid either myself or my clothing coming into contact with for instance the toilet, the laundry basket, plants and so on. This behaviour most certainly applies when I am out. More so in fact. When I am out for instance I am vigilant and watchful for the approach of a dog or other animal in order to avoid contact. I will step out into the road or cross over the street. When I am talking to people in the street I am always turning my head to look up and down for the approach of a dog. I realise that to the person with whom I am speaking my behaviour may appear odd, paranoid even but as I can’t cope with normal eye contact anyway to me it makes no difference except of course I am uncomfortable knowing the other person notices. Again the list is huge and such avoidance has become habitual, suffice it to say I instinctively move to avoid perceived exposure to contamination.

Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think.
Dale Carnegie

Moreover I have not included intrusive thoughts and ruminations as such take place over and over and are again habitual and would again make for dull and rather lengthy reading. Yes I can give you the odd example but it would be impossible for me to recall every thought that passed through my mind during this particular day as it would also to record every time I washed my hands or avoided contamination. And besides if you think about it would be impossible for me to record every such thought as it occurred; while I am preoccupied with so doing the thoughts would naturally be different and change and be perhaps less frequent. Yes writing even such as this will distract from other types of OCD therefore my thoughts would change accordingly. Yes obsessive compulsive behaviours and thoughts occur here now whilst I am writing. My son has just poked his head round the door and asked me: “How long has it taken you to write that paragraph? “A few minutes” I reply. “What for, the full stop?” he adds obviously amused. He is always pulling my leg about my copious amounts of writing and lengthy obsessing. But seriously…… Yes I can be that bad at times. I will ruminate and obsess where to put the full stop or should I perhaps use a colon or comma and elaborate further. I may have only taken a few minutes to write the bare bones of the paragraph in question but I will most certainly ruminate and obsess about it’s content, the grammar, particularly the dialogue as I have little experience with the correct way to write and punctuate dialogue, and so on both now, later and for a few days to come before finally publishing.

The environment you fashion out of your thoughts, your beliefs, your ideals, your philosophy is the only climate you will ever live in.
Stephen R. Covey:

Bearing this in mind this account gives only a vague indication of a day in my life as a sufferer of OCD and other co-morbid illnesses. No one can possibly explain just how miserable this illness is; or how incapacitating and how your thoughts torture you and take over your life to such a degree that you sometimes do not know which thoughts are yours and with thoughts are your OCD. In short you lose your identify, in fact you do not feel sometimes than you have any real identity the person you should have become having long since disappeared overwhelmed by unwanted, unremitting thoughts, obsessions and compulsions.
The weariest night, the longest days, sooner or later must perforce come to an end.

The torment of human frustration, whatever its immediate cause, is the knowledge that the self is in prison, its vital force and “mangled mind” leaking away in lonely, wasteful self-conflict.
Elizabeth Drew

The following is a day in my life, it is but one day and the events reflect how my OCD influences that particular day and the events of that day. As all days are different another day would reflect a different pattern of OCD behaviours some more severe others less so. Some days when less involved in social interaction my OCD would present perhaps as more internal, more ruminative. Moreover the account of course does not cover every obsessive thought, every compulsion or ruminative contemplation that occurred that day as such would produce an even more lengthy account than that which follows and would be perhaps tedious monotonous and rather boring. Notwithstanding such shortcomings I hope that this account gives you the reader whether you yourself suffer from OCD, or a carer, a mental professional or simply an interested party, a glimpse of what life is like for people who suffer from OCD. Also bear in my that although I suffer with quite severe and apparently intractable OCD the condition various from sufferer to sufferer, some suffer more than I others less so. Furthermore my OCD is of course personal to me it is effected by my likes and dislikes, my opinions, my world view and other co-morbid conditions. The day in question occurred sometime in early spring.
A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.
John Lubbock

I open my eyes to the familiar claustrophobic effects of our tiny bedroom. The light streams in from the lamp post outside, I peer at the clock in the gloom, its only 3am. My heart sinks, it is too early to get up although on occasions I have done precisely that driven from the warm confines of my bed by aches and pains, particularly headaches and neck pain. (Everyday for the last twelve years I have had some kind of headache, sometimes mild lasting only half an hour or so, others times lasting all day and sometimes joined by a migraine) My entire body is riddled with aches and pains and my mind is taunted with one fearsome scenario or another. In more rational moments I believe the above painful symptoms are fibromyalgia but no the thought comes as it does most mornings that the nature of my suffering is more deadly, more life threatening. With fearful anticipation I concentrate upon the severity of my headache trying to fathom if it will be a significant, even a migraine. Anxiety concerning my headaches are among the first of many worrying concerns that greet me in the morning..

If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.
Dale Carnegie

Today I have to be well, it is like that now most days and this increases this early morning fear concerning the nature of the headaches with which I wake virtually every morning. I feel so pressured to be well and feel overwhelmed by responsibility. This morning though I feel more tired than usual but every morning I wake feeling as though I have been doing a strenuous work out, my aching sore muscles cry out as though I have just climbed Everest! I lay there feeling that I do not want to rise. Usually however I have no difficultly, only too anxious to get away from the fearful torment from within which is more persistent whenever my mind is left unoccupied. Moreover to some extent I appreciate waking so early as such allows me to do work on the computer.

If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.
Dean Smith

This morning however I am particularly exhausted and lie there tormented by one or another of my repertoire of OCD anxieties, my throat constricting along with the usual strange sensation, a kind of rising feeling from the pit of my stomach to the constriction in my throat. Such adds to my misery. Finally returning to a fitful sleep I wake again at 4.30 only to be forced from my bed by fearful and worrying ruminations, ( most ruminations concern death in some way or another, the passing of time, the futility of life, feelings of guilt, concerns about health and so on) and depression which has become profoundly exaggerated by returning to sleep.

I struggle to get out of bed my muscles resisting the necessity. My heart sinks with a heavy despondency at the thought of getting up and facing another day of frustrations and unhappiness My back is itching just awful, a worrying unexplained symptom I put down as part of the fibromyalgia but the thought comes yet again of the possibility of a life threatening illness, cancer, liver disease the same tired well worn thoughts continue to haunt me failing to become desensitised by the passing of time: this itching has gone on for over 18 months.

I occupy myself during these lonely early hours with projects on my computer. While waiting with mounting impatience for windows to load on my very slow computer I struggle down the stairs to prepare my breakfast experiencing the painful reminders of my increasing muscle and joint problems. Having washed my hands and the tap afterwards to prevent re-contaminating my hands when I have to turn it off I prepare my breakfast washing the cereal bowl and cutlery. Yes they are clean, they are drying on the draining board nonetheless I fear contamination and rinse residues of yesterdays drops of water not yet dried, thinking that such may harbour germs or viruses and in particular the legionaries disease. Concerns about the impurity of the water, which has been sitting in the pipes all night necessitates the turning on of the taps in the kitchen allowing the water to flow for a while before filling the kettle. The water tastes odd in fact it tastes vile unless this task is carried out. The water company say the water is okay, it is safe for consumption but nonetheless intrusive OCD thoughts tell me otherwise. I feel guilty of course running such copious amounts of water, it is a shocking waste of a precious resource, one which we here in the UK take for granted, and this haunts me rather. Whenever possible particularly if the water is not to be boiled I use bottled water.

Finally when the computer has loaded, it is time for the click to donate web site visits, a compulsion borne of an OCD over responsibility/ superstitious obsession that some harm may befall me if I neglect this task. Most times it is done with only mild irritation and without the OCD I would most likely do it anyway – yes I most certainly would do this small task as it is a good thing to do and such does help a good number of people, animals and the environment, and it makes you feel as though you are doing something for others in some small way. But its that having to because of OCD’s fearful scenarios that makes the task one of frustrating necessity which has to be done no matter if I am ill, going on holiday during the early hours, or even before going into hospital for a frightening procedure!

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on Earth.
Fyodor Dostoevsky.
…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.
Sogyal Rinpoche

Looking through my e-mail and newsletters I am distressed by something in the news which brings tears to my eyes compounding my depression and filling me with empathy for the profundity of suffering in our world caused mostly by the evil actions of others. But I have to fight the tears. This morning I long to cry. I need so much to cry to rid my system of my own sorrow and indeed this morning the sorrow of the world. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the dreadful events that come upon innocent people and animals perpetrated in the name of greed by the powerful of this world who seem to go through life personally unscathed while they destroy the lives of other people and defenceless creatures. Amongst my mail there is a campaign to prevent the wicked slaughter of baby seals and my heart again wells up with sadness. More tears I have to try and stifle. I cannot cry today I have an appointment. One tear may bring on a significant headache; the flow of many tears may bring on a whole spate. I have to bear my sorrow internally but no the tears just come despite my efforts to stifle them. My husband peers round the door, it is only 5.45 he was woken by the heat in the tiny bedroom, I have absent mindedly turned on the heating at this early hour. I can now only remember doing so by the fact that I recall washing my hands as I do whenever I turn on the heating, another legionaries disease anxiety which presents with anything to do with the central heating. even this switch which is no where near the radiators. I feel irritated by this intrusion and embarrassed by my tears which he fails to notice worried by his own anxieties, namely the waste of money.

Having completed my clicking, even a click to a donate site which I know is no longer functioning so no one is gaining any benefit whatsoever from my clicking, I turn to read and respond to my e-mail. I have two accounts one with AOL and another with Yahoo both are choc a blocked with undeleted e-mail. This virtual hoarding results from an anxiety that someone may have e-mailed me. Again the frustration. I have cheeked several times and I am up to date with the few people who e-mail me yet I dare not delete all the spam and the news letter
e-mail that is not personally directed to me. There are over 600 such e-mails in Yahoo! I know I will spend another exhausting hour or so checking it all again – if only I could click the delete button.

My favourite places list is huge I try in vain to find a website but this list is enormous and like my e-mail I am anxious to delete it should I delete an important website but the list is just pointless and ineffective; I cannot even find the link to my own website let alone anyone else’s and end up typing in the url.

There is an email from friend, it will take ages to respond with umpteen checks for grammar and spelling along with checking to convince myself that I have not written anything that my cause harm or offence. Finally I post but continue to ruminate and check the copy again to see if it is okay, Invariably there is a grammatical or spelling error despite the use of the spell checker. Why had I not seen this? A strange phenomenon: no matter how many times I check a piece of written work, and I have checked some documents dozens of times, there is always a mistake. It is as though something in my brain fails to recognise this at one time but later on it appears to notice these subtle errors usually when it is too late to rectify. Possibly it is an attention deficit disorder ADD thing. I am convinced that I suffer with ADD. In addition to grammar and spelling I may of course see what I have written in an entirely new perspective and may think that perhaps I should not have written this or that and I can see that I may have offended or caused harm when previously such consideration appeared absent. But once its gone its gone and unless I am really very concerned I do not send another e-mail trying to put right the perceived offensive or insensitive contents.

There are those who are so scrupulously afraid of doing wrong that they seldom venture to do anything.
Vauvenargues

I attempt to begin to write an article for my website. This morning I am determined to make this project one of professional perfection such of course is impossible nonetheless anything less induces anxiety. Every paragraph I check again and again. The first paragraph is worrying, I make a mental note that perhaps I will change it feeling as though it may be on some level a detriment to an unnamed unknown number of people who theoretically will read my article and make a decision which will be harmful to themselves or another. Notwithstanding this for once I feel quite satisfied about what I have written – at least from a literary perspective but continue to be anxious about the possible perceived harmful content. Nonetheless as a first draught it is okay but I know I will alter it later on when I check it again as I will do so intermittently for days to come both during and after completion. Furthermore this satisfaction is fleeting as I know that when I open the file tomorrow I will see it in an entirely different way and in a far less positive perspective.

I need to save this work, which has been so exhausting it would break my heart to loose it, on to a floppy disk. A simple task unless you have OCD. I do not have a formatted disk and search through old floppies to find one that I can format, discarding most of them not prepared to delete files which are obsolete, useless. These disks, numbering a few dozen with such things as saved files from AOL organise, favourite places saved to preserve them prior to a reformat are years old. Nonetheless I hesitate! But delete them as it is not so stressful as deleting files from a desk top screen saver now no longer used as it is incompatible with both this and my older computer and most of the other files belonging to it are missing along with the activation code. How ridiculous! I don’t need it but no I cannot delete it and choose the lesser of the two evils and delete the outdated AOL data. But not without some misgivings and as quickly as possible before changing my mind. The frustration of this idiocy drives me crazy I am irritable and feel anger welling up inside.

Love looks forward, hate looks back, anxiety has eyes all over its head.
Mignon McLaughlin

I check the clock, its nearly 7 am, I can see a chink of light between the crack in the blinds. I really can procrastinate no longer and need to face the obsessive compulsive rituals that make my morning shower a nightmare of frustration and anxiety. I am now in the throes of writing an entry for my Blog which is progressing well considering the obstacles I have to contend with to produce any written item from a greetings card to a book! I resent having to be torn away from this also rather compulsive behaviour, albeit positive – well at least I hope so – to the less positive behaviour of compulsive washing. I look in my wardrobe once again to be faced with a dishevelled chaotic assortment of clothing haphazardly hung on coat hangers or draped over the bars, most of it is unwearable , either too small now that I have put on weight or it is not clean, not OCD clean. Most of my clothing comes straight from the clean un-ironed laundry stored in a chaotic heap in the trunk down stairs, so why do I check here every morning in the vain hope that something wearable has materialised over night! Frustrated I have to than rummage though the disorganised pile of clean clothing in the trunk hunting through all the stuff no one wears but cannot throw away mixed with all the cloths that no one wants to iron except until the final moment before wearing. Yes we are all hoarders, my husband son and I, and we are all unorganised and live our lives in a state of chaotic confusion and frustration. I rarely iron my cloths unless I am going out or it is absolutely necessary such as in the case of heavy cotton which would irritate my skin if worn un-ironed. I never iron my cloths before I have showered and changed even if it is necessary; I would be too fearful of contaminating the garments with my nightclothes, which I consider dirty after spending the night in the bed, which I feel is contaminated. Once I have been in bed, I never allow my night cloths to come into contact with my daytime cloths or anything else for that matter. When I get out of bed I always put on my nightgown over my nightdress so it will not contaminate anything else in my environment.

Compulsions are a lousy solution to the problem of having obsessions.
Fred Penzel

Now before showering and changing I need to sort out the washing. The laundry basket is situated in the bathroom, it is a source of contamination anxiety, I try to avoid any of the dirty clothing coming into contact with clean clothing and I always wash my hands after touching either the laundry or the basket. I sort out the laundry to put into the washing machine before I get dressed. I have to open all the doors on the way from the bathroom to the kitchen otherwise I would be anxious about contaminating the door handles on the way through. This activity lets out all the warm heat from the bathroom on to the stairs, which does not have a radiator. I feel irritated, it is a cold day and I will have to shower shivering in an unheated bathroom. These painstaking rituals concerning the washing of the laundry is quite a performance and often takes two or three trips and several spates of hand washing; I will wash my hands before opening the washing machine door, after putting in the cloths I wash my hands again, and yet again after putting in the detergent. After closing the door. I wash my hands again and this of course includes the tap washing ritual, finally after turning the dial I conclude this spate of hand washing and other OCD contamination rituals at least those pertaining to the laundry.

After sorting out these cloths I am still not ready to shower, the blinds need to be opened. As soon as the first chinks of daylight peep through the gap between the blinds and the window my heart sinks, what once made me feel less anxious and heightened my mood, the return of the early morning summer daylight, now makes my heart sink, as I know I have to roll up the blinds. Silly I know but with OCD just about anything and everything can become a mammoth chore riddled with anxiety if such is associated with contamination concerns. The concern here is again legionaries disease. The radiators are underneath the blinds, the cord hangs down near the control switch which in a couple of instances have been close to leaks in the radiator, such leaks have produced enormous anxiety concerning the contraction of legionaries disease. The leaks are fixed now but the fear remains that the radiators are contaminated, a residue of contaminated water may have come into contact with the cord. It does not matter if it was a year ago or even two! The radiators are contaminated and so is the cord and indeed anything the cord touches such as the blinds and the net curtains. I dread opening the blinds but cannot trust the others to do so as they will not take care to wash their hands afterwards and even if they did they would not do so carefully enough avoiding touching the tap if possible or allowing the running water to splash on to other things such as crockery left in the sink. Neither would my husband nor son wash and rinse the taps to prevent re-contamination if they could not avoid touching them. A small and inconsequential job to most but as you can see with OCD it becomes a daunting a task and I dread it! The washing up brush falls into the sink before I can rinse it out after washing my hands after this blind opening ritual. I boil water, scold the brush and the sink a couple of times rinsing the brush again and again in running cold water.

Moreover throughout the entire blind opening procedure I avoid the large yucca plant in the corner, it has recently been sprayed with water. I worry in case the water in the spray was not fresh, had it been hanging about for some days? Who knows, I did not spray the plant and have no way of knowing if the previously used water was replaced by fresh. Even if it was whoever replaced it would not have rinsed the spray out thoroughly and the fear is that molecules of stale water may remain which may harbour the legionaries virus.

Am I now ready to wash? No not yet. It is getting later and later soon my husband and son will need to get into the bathroom and I do not wish to be in my nightclothes any longer? I am now becoming irritated and depressed. My heart is heavy and I am thoroughly fed up, oh so fed up with this pointless misery I have to face each and everyday. It is a bad start to the day, early morning is the worst time of the day when I am more depressed and less able to cope. But these chores have be done and in the manner stated, there is no way of not complying with the OCD demon of un-remitting and persistent torment. But still there is something more to do before I get my showering ordeal over with. Today I have a visitor I need to take extra care to clean the bathroom. I have to do this while I am still in my night cloths. Afterwards I will of course put all my night cloths in the laundry basket, I have clean nightclothes everyday including my dressing gown. If I wait until I am showered and changed to clean the bathroom I will feel contaminated and have to shower again and put on fresh cloths. Organising my time and my chores in this manner helps to cut down the amount of times I wash my cloths and myself and is less exhausting and frustrating. I clean the bath and sink and wash all the shelves and windowsill in much the same way as a normal person would but for altogether quite different reasons. Whenever I clean anything it is nor merely to clean and remove dirt and dust, no I clean to decontaminate. Often cleaning is ritualistic: I for instance use different cloths for different areas of my home to avoid spreading contamination from areas I feel are contaminated to “safe” areas.

The toilet is another chore which needs a particular set of rituals: I use a separate cloth for the seat, I usually use paper towels as it’s easier as I can than throw them down the toilet after tearing them into tiny shreds so as not to block it .Separate pieces of paper towel are used to clean other parts of the toilet in the same manner. I wash my hands between each of these separate toilet washing procedures. I take great pains not to allow my clothing to touch the toilet or it’s immediate surroundings even though of course I will change and shower immediately afterwards. This will be the last task to be carried out in the bathroom. It is cold and I shiver I feel unwell due to all my physical maladies and the need to go through all these exasperating rituals provokes such irritation that my anxiety becomes increasingly more profound. I rush as quickly as possible I want to get back to working on my projects on the computer I resent the waste of my precious life compelled to perform these rituals knowing their absurdity yet powerless to resist. Sometimes I hate myself for my weakness yet it is an illness and right now I can do little to resist and fight it.

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
Henry David Thoreau

A dilemma however exists and adds it’s complication. A clash of obsessive thinking occurs concerning the toxic nature of cleaning materials and their potential harm to the environment, to people, to other creatures and their continuing ineffectiveness as germ killers due to general overuse and the resistance of bacteria to such products as disinfectants and bleaches. Mostly however my predicament is due to the more immediate concerns that such products may poison my family, other people and other creatures. For example when I clean the bin I think that the toxic chemicals of the cleaner will harm creatures such as rats when the garbage gets to the tip. Yes I have the notion that one molecule of a toxic substance may cling to the plastic bin liner and bring about the death of an animal or even a person foraging about in the garbage dump. Should I use such chemicals or should I use natural cleaning products, such as vinegar and alcohol mixed with aromatherapy oils. Vinegar is apparently an excellent germicide and kills eighty percent of mould and germs. Ummmm what about the other 20 present I inwardly cry. However vinegar will not harm anyone, neither other people who will come into contact with whatever it is I have cleaned nor the council tip rat. I worry though about the aromatherapy oils as the labelling says: Not to be used internally so I worry that the odd molecule picked up from surfaces cleaned in this way will cause someone to die. Such of course is the case with chemical cleaning products such as bleach and disinfectant. What a dilemma my mind whirls in tormented turmoil. Mostly now I use only the vinegar and avoid the aromatherapy oils, most certainly to clean the bin, as this will be safe for other creatures. I clean the toilet bowel with an environmentally friendly cleaner and the seat and elsewhere with vinegar. But there is the worry, the nagging doubt, but in such cases when obsessions are in opposition to each other, whatever course of action I have taken I will invariably think it is the wrong one.

Finally I can wash. Oh how I just want to get this over with, I dread it each and every morning procrastinating for as long as possible. I cannot simply turn on the shower and step in; no that would be just too easy and too normal. I stand at the sink shivering in the cold, I do not feel justified to turn the heating up to compensate for the heat lost during the laundry ritual so early in the morning in order for the bathroom to be warm. I have to wash various areas of my body prior to actually showering, after which the taps are washed over and over. I cup my hands filling them with water and rinse the taps again and again finally spraying them with disinfectant or vinegar. I wash the sink and the soap. Yes I wash the soap in running water leaving it the sink so the water can flow over it hopefully flushing away any contagion. I feel that by washing myself I have contaminated it for the next person. I allow the taps to run whilst washing my hair over the bath. I dry my hair but the towel smells damp as a consequence my hair has become contaminated again and I rewash it. I try and resist this compulsion and make one of those oaths (see chapter seven of my memoir) not to wash it but this appears not to work as the thought comes into my mind that some will die as a result of some unidentified germ if I do not rewash my hair and as a punishment someone I care about will be harmed. What a dilemma as yet again in the space of only a few minutes one OCD thought vies with another. I quickly wash my hair before I have time to ruminate further and make more oaths to try and mitigate the thoughts. I now shower carefully following a set pattern of washing myself, after which follows more tap washing. I spray the taps with water from the shower attachments and finally washing the shower attachments themselves I complete this exhausting frustrating procedure. With careful mindfulness I select a fresh towel: I wash my hands after turning the handle to open the door to the cupboard before removing the towel – I have the notion that the handle is contaminated I would than contaminate the towel if I did not wash my hands after touching the door handle. I am than very anxious and take great care indeed not to allow the towel to become contaminated by certain areas in my bathroom which I in general throughout the day avoid touching, such as the toilet, and the laundry basket. Contact by the towel with either means I will have to shower again and get another fresh towel.

I put on the cloths I have painstakingly selected from the trunk and which I have left in a special germ free area of my sitting room. I have no OCD safe place in the bathroom where I can leave them. I had finally selected a rather crumpled blouse and skirt, one I have had for years and which is comfortable – another important criterion in my unusual selection process that needs to be considered. I find I am hyperaware of the uncomfortablness of my cloths, oftentimes feeling as though I am constrained in a straight jacket particularly by more smart fashionable clothing. I take little concern now of such matters as fashion, my main criterion for selecting my clothing being that my cloths are clean – OCD clean – and that they are comfortable. I had selected my cloths being mindful not to allow them to contact my night cloths extending my arms in such an awkward manner sometimes holding my cloths at arms length to put them down in a suitably contamination free area, usually the sitting room, to put on after showering.

No human being believes that any other human being has a right to be in bed when he himself is up.
Robert Lynd

Finally my husband and son get out of bed. When you get up so early yourself you often consider that others should not be lying in bed wasting precious life and often I shout up the stairs informing them of this fact in an irritated manner and today is no exception. My son now takes residence in the bathroom – at least it appears so. He takes over forty five minutes most days to shower, the bathroom resembles the Amazon jungle as steams swirls in thick clouds. He has some traits of OCD, and this may be the reason he is in the bathroom for so long, although thankfully at this stage it is not full blown. His problems lie else where and presents as anxiety, depression and he also most likely has Asperger syndrome.( At the time of writing he is awaiting the outcome of an assessment although his psychologist thinks the results are a foregone conclusion and he does indeed have this disorder.) All the while my son is in the bathroom I am considerably stressed. I have IBS and irritable bladder. I get angry and upset it appears that as soon as the bolt slides too, indicating my son is in the shower for the duration, I need to use the toilet which infuriately is in the bathroom. My heart sinks each and every time either of them go into the bathroom because of my anxieties that I will need the toilet.

I search frantically for my curlers and coomb, it seems sometimes as though certain things completely disappear. I can never recall were I have put them or my glasses and hand cream – the last is a necessity when you have OCD. Because of all the hand washing my hands are dry and feel taunt like parchment, it can be considerably uncomfortable at night. During the day however I wash my hands so often it would by pointless to apply hand cream simply to wash it off minutes, sometimes moments, later. I run my fingers through my hair unable to find my coomb this will have to suffice and I wander why I get odd looks when I am out and I hope that it turns up before leaving the house. I do rather look a bit unkempt at times. It seems as though I am thoroughly unorganised on every level.

After dressing I frantically work on my course material for my computer course, as today is the day I usually attend classes. I have left it to the last minute as I am rather overwhelmed now with what feels like a continual increase in feelings of responsibility towards others and towards various pressures imposed upon me by society in general and by my OCD over responsibility commitments. This aspect of my OCD gives me the notion that so many things are my responsibility despite the fact I am myself very ill. The torment of the guilt if I neglect the needs of another person or another creature are sheer torture. It is amazing how I try to carry on and not let others down even though I am quite depressed, anxious and racked with considerable aches and pains. It is only an unexpected attack of migraine that finally makes me say no if I do not have time to take my medication before a commitment. For instance if we are going out with my brother-in-law who is disabled I will feel just awful if we cancel. Oftentimes I avoid cancellations even though I am not well with a significant headache as the torment of guilt is dreadful. However the torment of anxiety that I might get a migraine when I am out is equally dreadful and the anticipation that I will not meet these demands, which sadly I have imposed upon myself due to my OCD over responsibility thinking, is anxiety provoking. I do not of course imply for one moment that I would not help others. I am very fond of and care about my brother-in-law and wish to do all I can to help improve the quality of his life and also for others with whom I have associations. However without my OCD my attitude would be different and when things did not work out I would not feel so guilty or so responsible and under so much pressure.

Neither in this world nor elsewhere is there any happiness in store for him
who always doubts.
Bhagavad Gita

It is now 10.30, my headache has taken a turn for the worse but I am unsure if it is a migraine. This situation drives me crazy. Although mostly I get concerned whenever I have to let someone down I nonetheless feel such a strong compulsion to meet the needs of any commitment such as the computer classes. Yes to the rational mind this is ludicrous particularly as there is no set timetable in which to complete the course and no obligatory exam, hence no pressure. Except for the pressure that exists within my mind, the pressure of fulfilling any commitment. This is a familiar scenario: The have I or have I not got a migraine dilemma. The dilemma is that my medication is only effective for a migraine, it has no effect on a tension headache. It can only safely be taken every eighteen hours. Now the fear here is that if I take it for a tension headache by mistake than if a real migraine turns up I have no way of getting rid of the pain for at least eighteen hours. The pain of migraine is dreadful. Yes a tension headache can be also very painful and in some instances almost as severe but not quite. However the difference can be subtle and this is what causes all the confusion and worry and indecision as to whether the headache I am presently suffering is a migraine or a tension headache. I need several hours sometimes to be in a position to tell the difference. This is okay when I am at home and have nowhere to go however if I have to go out for some reason or another I feel compelled to meet my commitments and feel pressured into making a quick decision.

I get in quite a state concerning this quandary, oftentimes I end up taking my medication too early simply due to the pressure imposed upon me by my OCD thinking which compels me to meet my mostly self imposed responsibilities and commitments. This is a frequent cause of anxiety and today I am simply at a loss to know what to do and take my migraine medication. I am angry and feel overwhelmed as though I now can no longer be ill in peace. Despite my headache I become tearful and shout and rant. With tearful frustration I go into the bathroom and take my medication, which is taken anally as a suppository. I do not mind this minor inconvenient way of administration, this medication is for me a life saver, my life would not be worth living at all without it. Some weeks I can get as many as four migraines. However due to the method of administration it does pose OCD contamination issues. After taking my medication and when the symptoms have been relieved I know with a sinking heart that I will be compelled to shower, wash my hair and change my cloths all over again. I am so frustrated with my life, the battle with my body and my mind I feel resentful and lie on the coach with feelings of frustration. I am fearful should my medication not work, this fear I have to some degree every time I take it. It is another of the reasons I would prefer to wait to be sure that I have the right headache, the fear being that the more I take my medication the less effective it may become.

I have to lie down for forty-five minutes for the medication to take effect. I fall into fitful but very brief sleep lasting only moments, waking suddenly with an anxiety attack: difficulties swallowing and feelings of extreme anxiety along with a strange sensation not easy to explain involving a rising sensation from the very pit of my stomach. Thoughts crowd my mind as fearful scenarios pass through in rapid succession including
overwhelmingly anxious feelings concerning the guilt I feel about moving here and the detrimental effect this has had upon my son. Yes all this seems to flash through my mind upon waking with such rapidity, most thoughts presenting as merely an essence much like those experienced when one has those moments of existential terror – an indefinable feeling not easy to relate in so many words. Normally I avoid sleeping during the day due to these awful attacks but lying here waiting for my medication to take effect it is not possible to stay wake. I would image this tendency is due to my on going sleep deprivation. These short naps continue off and on the waking thoughts are different but the anxiety is profound and sometimes accompanied by feeling of choking, difficulties breathing, swallowing and gasping for breath.

I am greatly relieved having taken this medication to find that most of my pain has been relieved and I assume that I have made the correct decision. However often both a tension headache and a migraine present together and many times a significant tension headache heralds a migraine. More often than not I continue to suffer with the tension headache, as the medication does not relieve this pain. I now have to face another shower and wash my hair and have a complete change of cloths. My heart sinks at the thought knowing that others most likely would not bother and that such actions are compelled by my OCD fears. I still feel rather groggy, depressed and irritated after those naps but must get the showering over with and I follow much the same routine as earlier. I resent the loss of precious time spent not only showering and changing but the need to style my long hair yet again drives me crazy. It is after all only two or three hours since I last showered and suffered this frustrating routine. Many times if I am not going out I will just wash my hair leaving it as it is to dry naturally with out bothering to style it. But as I am going out I have to make some effort not to look too wild and unkempt. Finally having found my curlers and coomb I struggle with great irritation to curl and dry my hair in an attempt to look as though I am a reasonably normal functioning person. When I found my coomb it had fallen onto the floor, with irritated frustration I wash it under hot water and washing up liquid I dare not use it otherwise it would contaminate my hair. Both it and my curlers are kept in a plastic bag in a contamination free area usually near the computer but not today it seems I finally found them on top of a pile of books and somehow my coomb seems to have fallen onto the floor and it was now contaminated. Well at least my curlers are not. Often they have to be washed having become accidentally contaminated when I have been using them.

I can’t find any cloths to wear this time and my anger mounts but I keep a tight reign on this rising tide of frustration as going into one of my tantrums and crying will exacerbate my headache and may bring back my migraine.. It is hard to keep down my pent up anger. The clock is ticking; the time to leave home approaches adding to my mounting anxiety as I rummage in desperation through the trunk of laundered clothing. I look for someone to blame. It must be someone’s fault!. I bemoan my misery to my husband and son expecting them to do something! Anything! I feel angry and resentful I have no outside help and have had no therapy as such for years and feel abandoned as a hopeless case. I see the few remaining years of my life pass by as a dream or rather as a nightmare as deep inside I know I most likely will never be normal and able to cope. Finally I find a rather tatty blouse and a rather well worn skirt, but both are clean. Although a stain on the blouse causes some concern I wear it anyway. I have to or stay at home. I reason that it is more important to go and the fear of not meeting this commitment and the one later on with my visitor overrides the concerns over an unidentifiable stain on my blouse. However it worries me somewhat and OCD thoughts present anxious scenarios that the stain is due to some toxic substance although I cannot imagine what. It is most likely a food stain but my OCD mind seems to think otherwise and is persistent given frightening momentum by my increased anxiety.

The drone of the vacuum cleaner as my husband vacuums the house in preparation for our visitor drives me crazy. Noise of any kind is becoming more and more difficult for me to cope with. I resist the urge to scream and cover my ears as I once did as a child. My husband does all the vacuuming. If I were to do this now I would have to change my cloths again or risk hurting my back trying to avoid contact with the hosepipe and wires. As with cleaning the bathroom if I wish to vacuum this chore has to be done before I am dressed in the morning. Professionals call this enabling, but what choice do I have I cannot get any help or so it seems – at least not right now. Besides both of us are at home and my husband does not mind doing this as it makes life easier for all of us.

To be alive at all involves some risk.
Harold MacMillan

It is now time for a hurried lunch. I often feel as though it is one continuous race against time. Yes I do have quite a lot to do most days but because of my OCD it takes much longer. I feel frustrated. I feel as though a constant battle rages in my mind and I would just like to let go and live! Live a more fulfilling and satisfying life. But no not today it would seem. I hurriedly prepare beans on toast. I cannot cook without someone being there. If I cooked alone most of the food would be thrown away. It would be easier if, like the vacuuming, someone else did all the cooking but I would feel guilty about that so I try. As long as someone is in the house it is easier although of cause not easy or normal. I open a tin of beans they smell metallic. I ask my husband and son to smell them. Neither smell anything different. If I were alone I would throw this away but after some encouragement I cook the beans. Sadly though sometimes even with encouragement and reassurance food does get thrown away. My cup of tea smells of bleach. I buy tea in unbleached teabags but still I have the notion that my teas smells of bleach – I mean it really smells and tastes like bleach. No way can I drink this and even with encouragement – no one else can either smell or taste the bleach – I pour it down the sink. After my beans on toast I have a bag of crisps. I feel so guilty as I know I am eating too much, it is comfort eating I know. But I need to lose weight I should not eat the crisps. Feeling guilty and a failure I open the bag anyway. Ironic but I feel so depressed by my weight increase that I eat something more for comfort, its rather like when you are broke and you go shopping and buy something you do not need but want just for comfort, just to make you feel better because you are depressed and worried because you are broke. But later on you regret the expenditure knowing your quick fix solution to your despondency has only made matters worse. But do we learn by our mistakes, no. And the next time for both those reasons above I take the same destructive quick fixes.

The crisps do not pass the squash test. Yes I joke about the squash test and writing about it here I feel some amusement in telling you as often when we tell others about the things we do our activates suddenly appear even to us to be amusing – at least this is occasionally my experience. Unfortunately this tendency to laugh often does not help others to understand our pain. And now if the person is a mental health professional I try not to laugh when telling them of my OCD problems. I recall talking with a psychologist many years ago concerning my fears that food in the supermarket may have been poisoned. Now when I told him it was the first time I had told anyone. I felt silly and embarrassed and relating to him my fears the situation suddenly appeared amusing and I laughed. I had the impression that because I had laughed he failed to realise the fear and anxiety and the limitations that this particular obsession had and how disabling it was. The fact that I tend to laugh from embarrassment or simply from the knowledge that others will laugh does not mitigate the fact that such thoughts and consequent behaviours – in this case throwing food away – have a very traumatic effect upon my life.

Now the squash test – what is the squash test. Most food such as crisps are packed in a sealed bag. When you squeeze the bag you can feel the air inside and you know that it has been securely sealed. If however this does not happen in just the right way or the air escapes I fear that the bag has not been securely sealed and the food may be off and I may as a consequence get food poisoning. Which of course may be the case. Now the bag has to be just right. If the air inside is only minimal I discard the bag. Oftentimes when there is not much air in the package I have squashed the bag so much trying to ascertain if it is sealed that I in fact break the seal myself with all the squashing. Now conversely if there is too much air in the bag and it is practically inflated like a football I discard this also. Some years ago a friend told me that such highly inflated bags when they contained meat or other highly perishable products were a health hazard and indicated that the freshness of the food had been compromised although in quite what way I was not told. Such packages were removed from the shelves and not sold. I know I do not eat such products but now whenever the bag, regardless of it’s contents, appears to be too full of air I discard it also. So it’s getting it just right and this causes a lot of problems and anxiety. It irritates my husband as yet another bag of crisps ends up in the bin. I can’t of course test before buying if I did I would have to buy the product anyway as I could not leave it for another unsuspecting person to buy.

Finally we are almost ready to go. I am so wound up and tense. I am anxious, any social commitment is stressful. I mentally prepare something to say when I arrive other than hello. Whenever I have to socialise I have to mentally prepare something to say. If I did not do this I would really come over as awkward. In social situations my mind goes blank I have no idea what to say to anyone. Small talk is always impossible unless I know the other person extremely well and even than often I am stuck for something to say and what I do say appears contrived. Often things I say are inappropriate and I am left feeling awkward and keenly aware of the odd look that I sometimes get. Impromptu social interactions leave me looking alike an idiot, as mostly my conversation appears muddled and uncoordinated the words not flowing, the right words just not coming natural to me.

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.
Henry David Thoreau.

Check, check, check and more checking. My son is also going out and wants a lift into town therefore all electricity appliances except the fridge have to be turned off and the plugs removed from their sockets. The modem needs to be disconnected from the phone socket all windows closed and locked. Yes to a degree this is reasonable however locking windows that open at a width of less than six inches seems rather over the top. My son points out that no one could possibly get through. I check again. Fire is the fear concerning electrical appliances. There is some delay in leaving the house so again I check. I get irritated. The longer the delay the more I check. My son like myself seems unorganised and for reasons known only to himself has his own problems getting dressed and getting ready to go out. These days it is as though we all live in a maelstrom of chaotic confusion Have you turned off the cooker I ask my husband as we sit in the car waiting to go whilst my son fiddles around doing goodness knows what absorbed in his own anxieties? It’s off he replies. No have you turned it off. Yes it’s off again the same response. I get more irritated He should know he has to say it the correct way. It’s off is not the same as saying I have turned it off. It’s off implies some doubt at least in my mind. I have turned it off indicates he actually recalls doing so. Not satisfied I go back and check.

Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.
Gertrude Stein

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.
Leo Buscaglia

Finally the checking appears to be over – or is it? No. The checking of the aforementioned is rather a stereotypical OCD scenario however checking does not stop at electrical appliances, doors and windows. All the time I am out I check my handbag, reaching inside the doubts torment me: is my medication there, do I have my glasses, my purse. I check my medication the most often, feeling inside I can feel the coldness of the steel tin; it’s a large tin, a tea caddy! There can be no doubt it is there as it takes considerable space in my handbag. But no just to feel it is not enough I have to look inside to see it with my own eyes, open it and check my pills have not fallen out. I take out at least a dozen doses of my medication. No I will not need them if I took them all I would be pushing up the daises. No I take them with me fearing that if the house burns down I will have to endure an unaborted migraine! Can you imagine how this is so frightening for me? Some years ago a psychologist looked rather non pulsed when I told him this. He responded: “Surely if your house burnt down you would have more to worry about than your migraine.” Yes true, but matters would be much worse wouldn’t they if I had to endure the excruciating pain of migraine as well as the trauma of my house burning down! Yes irrational to take so much medication out with me, but illogical? Not really it is not always easy to get medication just like that in an emergency. My logical is: why compound dire circumstances by other dire circumstances if such can be avoided. However I guess the crux of the matter is that normal people would not think of such disastrous scenarios in the first place at least not to the extent of the OCDer.

As we get nearer to the learning centre my heart is in my throat. Although I am not as anxious now as when we first went this is still no easy matter. Both my husband and I are enrolled in a computer course. My husband is not really interested but comes along, as I cannot leave the house alone. No I cannot even go for a walk in my local village I certainly could not cope with the two bus trips involved in getting to the learning centre. Fear of getting a severe headache or migraine are amongst the problems involved in taking the bus, fear of being alone with such and unable to get back home quickly. Moreover I could not cope with my OCD alone which in certain circumstances would compel me to pick up glass in the street or litter that I think is dangerous such as empty pill packets and packets that I think on an OCD level are empty pill packets, but which my common sense tell me are not but are in reality only sweet packets. But nonetheless I treat them as such because the voice of OCD is more powerful than my common sense reasoning. My fear concerning pills and empty pill packets is that a child or an animal such as a dog or a cat may eat the contents and die, yes even the minute residues of an empty packet1 Yes I know neither a dog or a child will lick an empty pill packet. I know it’s illogical but logic has little to do with OCD. I worry about glass in the road should it cause an accident and glass on the pavement should someone’s dog or a child become injured. Tiny shards of glass could easily get into a dog’s paws. Also if I have to confront any serious contamination scares alone I would not be able to cope. There are any number of reasons that I cannot go out alone, with out the support of another person the above obsessions and compulsions would escalate out of control.

So finally here we are. The familiar feeling of anxiety borne of memories long past greets me. The course centre is within the precincts of a secondary school; such brings back painful memories of the difficult life that I lead at school. I get that sinking anxious feeling as a lump rises to my throat: I am relieved to enter the learning centre. I get irritated with my husband who from force of habit steps backs to allow me to enter first. I just hate to have to walk into a room full of people. Every one looks up – well the four or so people who are there all look up from whatever it is they ‘re supposed to be doing. Not to greet us, rarely anyone does except for the two tutors. These classes are drop-ins, this means you can come and go as you please on any of four days. We being creatures of habit – I like routine and lack spontaneity to the extreme that any change in circumstances or plans leads to significant anxieties and effects my ability to cope – always go on the same day each week and at roughly the same time as early as possible before it gets crowded. It never is really crowded but sometimes more than two or three people in a small space feels crowded as the noise of conversation, the hum of computers, the rattle of printers and other noise including sometimes music from other rooms becomes increasingly more significant as more people arrive throughout the afternoon. However compared to some social commitments it is not as uncomfortable. Both tutors are friendly but not overly so. One feels that one can relax and that one is not expected to hold conversations about matters not relating to the course or engage in insignificant small talk. So in many ways it is just about right for me; it gives me the feeling that I do have some social life but without the embarrassment of being aware that I am different or out of place. There have been a couple of occasions when someone has spoken at length and I have not really been able to respond appropriately. But this is unusual. Everyone is doing a different course; it is rather like a home study course but with help and advice available. You sit by the computer and go through the course asking for assistance if and when it is required. Occasionally the tutors ask how you are getting on and that is it.

Today I finally ask a question. I have rehearsed the phrasing and content over and over. I wanted to ask this question last week but for reasons difficult to define, mostly anxiety concerning the actually process of asking, I did not. It worried me that I would not be articulate enough and so on. I also feel concerned about my inability to make eye contact. I try but never know when to look the person with whom I am speaking in the eye and when to look away. I really need the answer to this question, finally I ask. Despite my preparation I don’t feel this person has understood and the answer really does not cover the problems I am facing. However such difficulties exist within my mind and oftentimes I actually know the answer and it has become an OCD doubting thing. Often I get the idea that I do not understand something when in reality I do. Often I spend considerable amounts of time trying to understand something, I am persistent if nothing else but waste time and energy obsessing that I do not know something when in fact I most probably do. I feel frustrated knowing I will go home and search for a more clear answer on the net or else where

Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Today I have to complete an exercise in my course which requires the use of a certain number which for me has superstitious connotations – well actually it does so for most people but not to the extend that it does for me. I cannot now write here this number although you will most probably guess by the previous statement which number this is. I have written it down in both my memoir and my shorter version My story but now, today it would seem I cannot write this number down for superstitious fears of dire consequences and I have not in fact done so now for many months even years. I have the notion that any association with this number is unlucky. I cannot ignore this anxiety and use another number hoping the exercise will be completed correctly regardless. Fortunately for me this is the case.

Later on another fear comes back to haunt me. My husband notices a tourist information poster advertising ancient churches in the area. More churches! Yet more churches to trek around. Sometimes but not so much nowadays such visits can be anxiety provoking. Churches of course can ignite my religious OCD such as intrusive blasphemous thoughts, the intrusions of oaths and thoughts that pop into my mind that I have somehow asked God in some way to harm someone. The last being a type of thought which is not at all easy to define and present mostly merely as an essence of a thought, a fleeting but nonetheless powerfully frightening notion. I am anxious that what I am thinking while in church will have more consequence than it would otherwise. I am also compelled by my fears of Devine retribution and the fear comes to me that perhaps some one might die if I do not leave a monetary contribution, despite the fact that my rational self now really does not believe in a creator God. Or does it, still now when overwhelmed with fear I will revert to compulsive repetitive praying. Sometimes I ignore the compulsion to make such a donation but sometimes the anxiety is too strong. Moreover I find old churches, although they are of an historic and aesthetic value and are of interest nonetheless promote morbid thoughts. Graves and tombs are a particular grim reminders of one’s mortality and my mind calculates the amount of time which has passed since the person died. Such contemplations may precipitate feelings of existential terror.

Religious OCD is perhaps not the problem that it once was -at least not in quite the same way- since I am now not really a Christian as such and have adopted the broader perspective of new age thinking which includes some beliefs of most religious traditions in a kind of pick and mix fashion. ( however this is not to say that OCD religious obsessions do not interfere with any and all religious endeavours regardless of religious belief and this of course includes new age. The obsessions are however different. A lengthy explanation of which is perhaps better suited to another article) Nevertheless old churches continue to induce these awful and upsetting thoughts. And intrusive blasphemous thoughts among others still distress me enough to cause me to leave shortly after arriving on some occasions. For a more detailed explanation of my religious OCD please refer to chapter seven of my memoir.

I try to avoid using public toilets whenever possible but unfortunately today I cannot escape this dire necessity. The toilet at the learning centre is always clean – maybe not OCD clean, a public toilet no matter how scrupulously clean has been used by goodness knows who, a sufferer such as myself would find using it anxiety provoking notwithstanding it’s clean appearance. However because of my medical problems it is either use public toilets or stay at home. I need to prepare the toilet by lifting the lid using tissue, lining the seat with more tissue so that my skin will not come in contact with the seat. Afterwards I use more tissue to touch the handle to flush the toilet. Washing the taps after washing my hands and than washing my hands again is easy here as the wash basin is in the toilet cubicle, a large compartment designed also for disabled people. Normally one has to be rather surreptitious when performing these contamination rituals when the wash basin is not inside the cubicle.

More than OCD anxieties are bought to the fore here. I linger wandering if anyone notices how long I have been not only coping with all the usual rituals and behaviours but reading all the rather depressing but informative notices, I know I should not but I cannot help myself. A large poster with a stereotypical young thin and attractive women peering round a shower curtain reminds users of the facility that it is important to check ones skin for signs of skin cancer. Another poster less prominent list the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, another testicular cancer, breast cancer and advice about the avoidance of AIDS and just about every disease known to man along with. advice about where to go for help if you suffer from domestic violence or child molestation. In fact the walls are covered with posters of all kinds, phone numbers of help lines, contraceptive advice, information for carers and numerous other organisations. Many years ago when my hypochondria was at its height I would have freaked out, today it still made me feel somewhat nervous and I took a leaflet concerning testicular cancer from the pile on the shelf suddenly feeling an anxious concern for my husband and son. I leave sliding the blot again using a tissue which is than thrown down the toilet. There is not where else to put it, the tissue is now contaminated. The concern here is that a good number of people use the toilet without washing their hands afterwards so if I did not use a tissue to open the door I would have to wash my hands again. For similar reasons I open the long vertical door handle by holding it right at the bottom having to trust that few people would open the door this way and instead hold the handle further up.

There is now the loud thump of music coming from the room further down the corridor. Few of the other students appear to notice. No one comments. Perhaps they are used to the continual onslaught of noise we have to endure day after day in modern society. Perhaps it does not bother them. Perhaps they are simply afraid to complain for fear of seeming a killjoy. Who knows often I feel so alone with my hypersensitivity to noise. I still have a significant headache and find it difficult to think. No I do not complain, as I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feels or make life difficult.

Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.
André Dubus
I anxiously watch the clock, we need to be home by 2.30 to receive my friend. Feeling awkward for reasons I cannot define we say our good byes. I feel conspicuous even just getting out of my chair and shouting out goodbye aimed at no one in particular. I have poor body image and hate the way I look. I hate being overweight and old. I feel embarrassed, awkward. When one is young being shy or socially awkward is more or less expected often considered endearing and nothing unusual. However at late middle age it is quite another matter. I am aware that I come over as strange and awkward I try my best and that is all I can do. Some how I try to accept the way I am, I just do not have the strength to try and change. I have tried in the past but conversing with others is mostly an enormous strain and is now one which I tend to avoid. Although I do like coming here to participate in this course I am nonetheless relieved to be outside again.

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.
Emile Zola

If we hold genuine moral principles about animals, these will not differ in substance from those we hold about human beings … If humans have natural rights, then so do animals.
Roslind Godlovitch

However such relief is short lived as no sooner as I step outside I am confronted with another OCD problem – or is it? As we make our way to the car a large earthworm is crawling across the path, if I leave it there it will most likely be stepped upon. Unlike myself most people do not walk with their eyes glued to the pavement scanning for dog mess or other signs of contamination including unidentified stains which are perceived as possibly being a toxic substance and so on. No most normal people look where they are going, or they are chatting or simply immersed in their thoughts and there is a good chance this worm will be trodden on. Looking round fearful of being thought weird I try to pick up the worm. I asked my husband for some tissue. He has none so I have to pick it up with my bare hands, no easy matter for an OCD sufferer. It wriggles and squirms as I hurriedly I move it to a safe place peering again to see if anyone is watching. Why doesn’t my husband pick it up. Indeed why not? He simply hesitates and I have no patience and want to get the matter over with quickly and without being observed. Why be embarrassed? Silly I know, most people would think me either an eccentric perhaps neurotic . So what! Others might simply think I am a kind and considerate person. And you know it might actually be little of both. Yes this action may be the result of OCD over responsibility or a superstitious compulsion; it may simply be that I care about the welfare of all beings. It is after all a part of my philosophical beliefs that all creatures have a right to life and therefore all creatures are important. Like the click to donate this action is part of me the real me who wants no creature however lowly to be harmed and if I can prevent such this is what I would most likely do even if I did not have OCD. However like the click to donate it is the OCD thinking behind it the neurotic thinking that makes me anxious that some ill fortune may befall me if I neglect this task and it is such fears that cause the problem and turn a kind deed that I feel is right to do into an OCD anxiety provoking ritual. After rescuing the worm I naturally need to wash my hands and sneak back inside the learning centre in order to do so following a similar routine to that described earlier. This time I want my husband to follow the rules of old fashioned politeness and open the door for me to enter so I do not contaminate the door handle. I should point out here that my main fear of becoming contaminated not only involves my anxieties that I will contract a disease but my overwhelming fear is that once I have become contaminated I will than spread this contamination to others. This causes concern on two levels: firstly concern for others fearing that they will die because I have passed on some awful disease such as rabies, legionaries disease, and other vague contamination possibilities. Moreover there is a superstitious component, a kind of karmic thinking as it were that if I cause harm to others however inadvertently than some ill luck may befall me or those I care about.

A quick stop off at the local supermarket for salad, bread and donuts, it’s getting late and we need to hurry. Shopping can be stressful at the best of times and even this hurried and brief shop takes a while. I check the best before dates on everything that I buy and check to see if the packaging has been tampered with. The noise of loud music as we pass through the electrical equipment section of the supermarket makes me feel as though I would like to cover my ears and just scream. I feel angry and irritated. Music – for want of a better word, and I can think of plenty but none of them very polite – is everywhere nowadays and for those of us who are hypersensitive to noise due to headaches, stress and various other reasons are given little thought or consideration. This assault upon my senses makes me angry and irritated. I tell myself I must write and complain. I keep meaning to but the days pass so quickly and beside nothing ever really is done and all I will receive will be a polite letter most likely stating that the majority of customers like the music in the background – if only it were in the background it would be something but in some supermarkets its like a disco you can barely think! At least in this supermarket once you get into he food section there is an absence of music. However the manic hustle and bustle of fellow customers, bright lighting and the moving about of stock every now and again meaning you having to search high and low to find what you want and when you are in a hurry this of course adds to my irritation. The more sensitive you become the more other things seem to effect you and than become increasingly more sensitised to everything in your environment Although noise for me has always been a problem, however just lately this appears to be increasingly significantly.

Again I need to use the toilet! I try to resist but often nowadays my anxiety sets of an attack of irritable bladder and sometimes even within minutes after using the toilet I feel the need to do so again. Here the toilet is not as well looked after but is reasonable. I go through all the rituals mentioned earlier with frustrated irritation. I struggle to turn off the taps I hate to leave taps running, although this type turn off automatically after a certain amount of water has passed through, however I worry that this will not happen. Yes this is not my responsibility I know but I have OCD which gives me the notion that everything is indeed my responsibly. I have found that on many occasions and with similar devices if I lift the top of the tap the flow of water will cease but no not here and I have to leave it running. I know it will stop, I have shopped here before but still I feel the familiar doubt despite my knowledge to the contrary and again as on many occasions I try and stop the flow. Finally I abandon this pointless futile endeavour with mounting irritation. I get weary and utterly tired of such stupid and senseless compulsions of which for the most part I am unable to ignore or resist. I just want to get home way from the constant influx of anxiety provoking situations and the hyper sensory stimulus of noise, bright lights and the general manic comings and goings of hurried impatient people.

Fear is a feeling stronger than love.
Pliny the Younger

Arriving home I see a neighbour I know approaching, he owns a dog, which always strains at the lead in my direction. My heart sinks its another awkward moment one of many concerning this person and his dog. This person knows I do not like dogs – well no actually that is not quite accurate: It is not that I do not like dogs it is that I have OCD and see dogs as source of contamination. I perceive dogs as carriers of the rabies virus. Yes I know that all mammals can carry the rabies virus ,even man, if so infected but somehow my fear is centred upon dogs and bats but I do not have much of a problem concerning the avoidance of bats. Why these particular creatures? I still have anxieties concerning all mammals but the most strong anxieties are connected with dogs and bats although I avoid direct contact with all animals. Who knows I don’t but many OCD suffers feel similarly concerning dogs but conversely others sufferers do not and have themselves a dog as a pet. OCD is a very individual illness, no two sufferers present with exactly the same manifestation of the disorder.

The problem with dogs of course is very difficult for dog owners to understand. Many take it personally. Often I have to tell people that I have an allergy, it seems simpler for me and is less offensive and hurtful for pet owners, many of whom love their dog or cat as much as they would their child. However as odd as this may seem few understand this either. This person has mental health problems himself but seems not to recognise the difficulties of another but nonetheless keeps his dog away. I feel very sad about this problem with animals, a lump borne of anxious regret comes to my throat I would love to fuss this man’s dog I am at heart an animal lover and I am interested in animal rights. I am also a vegetarian, well to be precise a lactose free vegetarian. No not for health purposes but for ethical reasons as I do not wish to cause harm to any creature. OCD of course presents in situations which will cause you the most pain and for me the fact that my OCD alienates me from animals is one of the most painful. After a socially awkward moment between three people with social contact difficulties, mostly eye contact, I escape further awkward conversation and retreat indoors waiting with anxiety for the next round of social interaction.

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.
Alfred Adler

There is little more than half an hour until my friend arrives. During this time I frantically clean the kitchen, wash all the crockery I will use, rinsing in scalding water. I prepare the food bought earlier and cover the settee with a throw. In short I make everything as OCD friendly as possible for you see my friend also has OCD however hers manifests differently from mine in some ways, what might cause me anxiety may not necessarily do so for her and vice versa. I am anxious that there will be something in my home that will cause my friend anxiety. I clean everything the best I can but I am mindful that like me her OCD may not always manifest in the way other people expect. This often occurs and is the most difficult aspect of the disorder for non-sufferers to understand. The most usual example of this is the stereotypical idea that people with OCD are continually cleaning, the house reeks of disinfectant and bleach and, smelling like a hospital, it is sterile. This of course may be the case for some sufferers but contamination OCD also manifests in ways not expected. For instance the homes of some sufferers may appear dirty and may in fact be dirty. Some sufferers avoid contaminated areas of their home rather than wash and clean them. Certain areas of the home may become no go zones. Cleaning these zones spreads the contamination and therefore such areas are never cleaned simply avoided. In fact it is now thought that Beethoven may have had some form of OCD. He was apparently very scruffy, wore filly cloths but compulsively washed himself. So you see all OCD sufferers are not the same? What may be an issue for one is not necessarily so for another. Also lets not forget that although OCD contamination obsessions and compulsions are the most common they are not the only type of OCD.

As I have previously mentioned preparing food alone is impossible, as a good deal of it would finish up in the bin. I would either have the notion it has seen tampered with or that it has become contaminated in some way or another; perhaps I consider that I did not wash my hands thoroughly enough or I suddenly notice that the crockery is not as clean as I had thought. Both notions are borne most likely from a distorted OCD perspective, an exaggerated perspective for the most part. Even though my vision is not what it once was somehow on some level I will immediately notice a blemish on the plate indicting that perhaps it has not been washed properly and so on, there are just so many instances it would be impossible it cite them all. After washing my hands thoroughly and drying them on a clean tea towel taken straight from the cupboard I finally check the plate by running my hands across the surface. This assures me that there are no tiny set particles of the previous meal. Today it was easier than I had expected, I find it enormously difficult to cook for family members, preparing a meal for a visitor is even more problematic as it presents a number of additional fearful scenarios, among them the following: If I am preparing food for a non family member and I make a mistake and cause harm to another than there is the fear that some kind of divine retribution / karmic comeuppance will be my lot. The nature of this anxiety has changed over the years nonetheless there is this innate fear – at least for me – that I will be punished in some way or another for having done something wrong, unethical or potentially harmful even though I had not meant to so. I rinse the crockery and cutlery and wash my hands between each stage of the cooking. The meal is simple just a salad, a veggie burger and a bread roll. I would not be able to cook something more complicated for a visitor, as the worry of causing harm would be so overwhelming.

Making the tea I rinse again the cups under the tap the fact that they have been scalded fails to mitigate my anxiety that they are clean. I have to open a fresh carton of milk even though there is one already open as anxieties crowd my mind that the opened carton may be off although I carefully monitor every item of food in my fridge by checking the sell by date making no compromises. Once the sell by date has been reached the food is thrown away. Often times this can be problematic I obsess and ruminate on the exact wording on the package. I prefer the phrase best before…. rather than consume by….. I ruminate over the word by: does that mean before or on the day? For instance if the label says consume by 10th June does this mean consume on the previous day the 8th at the latest or does it mean it is okay to eat on the 9th. I err of the side of caution and throw the unused food away on the previous day. I have looked up the word “by” in the dictionary and still I am not sure of the exact meaning, it does make me look like rather a sad person as in pathetic but such is the extent of my fear of causing harm that I need to know the exact meaning of the word by.

…..we need to feel the cheer and inspiration of meeting each other, we need to gain the courage and fresh life that comes from the mingling of congenial souls, of those working for the same ends.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin

With mounting anxiety I finish all my preparation as my friend arrives. After the meal we sit and chat my friend, my husband and I, later on our son comes to chat also. He likes this lady and feels reasonably at ease with her otherwise he would remain in his room. He like myself finds socialising very difficult. Indeed although I have known my friend since we came to live here nearly three years ago I continue to find conversation difficult. It is not her fault she is a friendly and outgoing extrovert therefore this problem is not a symptom of OCD as such. My social difficulties may be the result of one or more of the following: social phobia, avoidant personality disorder or I may even have Asperger syndrome. I have several symptoms of this disorder but not all.

It is not that I do not wish to be friendly and chat with ease. Quite the country in fact I would love to be like others, to have my conversation flow to know what to talk about and to engage in small talk as well as in conversations on a more serious level. I would love to joke laugh and generally mess about as many others do. But no this will never be for me not now. I have struggled with this disability all my life and make no mistake it is indeed a disability. I have lost jobs, I have failed to make myself understood and have been lonely. I practiced conversation skills in group therapy and made an enormous effort to talk to others such as people in shops and so on but still my conversation does not come easy and is often contrived sounding unnatural as I struggle for something to say. The tension this causes often brings on a headache. I cannot sit for too long making conversation as the strain of listening to the other person and mentally rehearsing a response which when I finally speak often is not appropriate as the conversation has moved on. Most people I know with one to two exceptions talk rapidly, the conversation flows from one thing to another and I can’t keep up and often I have not understood what has been said and when I finally try to speak there is nothing to say. I cannot think quickly enough and there are than long gaps of silence and to fill it the other person begins another conversation and I am left sitting there tongue tied.

I have been told that I am a good listener, I was told this many years ago, it was a thoroughly patronising statement which drew my attention to my disability and made me feel uncomfortable. Yes I appear to be a good listener simply because there is nothing to say and besides what may appear to another as listening with undivided attention may actually be an indication that I am struggling to prepare a response concentrating on what I should say rather than actually listening with the rapt attention people assume. I like everyone else have interests and opinions, the problem is I cannot express them verbally and have developed over the years certain responses, templates if you like for basic conversation. However when I become closer to another person and the need arises for more complex conversation this is insufficient and I feel lost. Yes I have had friends and there are a few people with whom I am at ease and this person is one of them nonetheless I still have to struggle for something to say. Initiating a conversation is often the most difficult aspect of social interaction, however most people tend to talk with some ease so rapt in what they want to say that they sometimes do not notice and often I muddle through. Another problem I have is that I do not know when a conversation subject is finished and when it is appropriate to move on to the next topic and leave this up to the other person to do so usually long after the conversation has grown tiresome. Eye contact is still a problem with people I know, even my own family.

We often give this friend a lift back to her home which is two bus rides away. I am pleased to do this but worry should I get a headache and am unable to do so. I am too nervous to let my husband take my friend home as I do not like being left alone and I worry if my husband is not with me. This is difficult for him and may make him feel rather trapped nonetheless he never complains and most times he insists that he does not want to go anywhere without me anyway. Tonight notwithstanding my headache we are able to take my friend home

You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
James Allen

It’s around six o’clock I prepare dinner. No we do not normally eat twice in the afternoon and early evening however as I had promised my friend I would make a light meal I felt inclined to do so but I regretted this as it is difficult to cook for other people. The previous meal had been nothing more really than a snack yet it had been an anxiety provoking endeavour and one that perhaps both she and I would have been happier and more relaxed without. My husband son and I take it in turns to cook the evening meal but even when it is my turn I have to have another person in the house and within easy calling distance for the reasons previously stated. Meals are fairly simple nowadays, it is just too difficult and anxiety provoking for me to cook complex meals. Tonight I am too stressed and tired to cook much of anything and we have a quickly prepared meal consisting of oven chips, the rest of the salad and veggie burgers not having really eaten much of the previous meal too anxious really to do so and besides to be honest I need a food fix as it where. Often I use food for comfort and eat most days more than I actually need. Whenever I am stressed which of cause is most of the time I feel the urge to eat.

It is finally time to sit and veg out which is pretty much what we do each night. Often I fall into an exhausted sleep just too tired and depressed to do much else. Most times after such impromptu bouts of sleep, which I am unable to fight off, I wake feeling more depressed, quite profoundly sometimes, along with feelings of anxiety and sometimes either a headache or an increase in the severity of an existing headache. To avoid falling asleep I would like to involve myself in my art work but no for the most part I simply seem to wind down as it were and feel lethargic and apathetic except if we have to go out, which we do on one evening each week to Tai Chi classes. This is mostly the only time I do not fall asleep in the evenings. Occasionally I may involve myself with some project upon the computer but most evenings I simply feel just too tired and depressed to even do this.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
Mary Anne Radmacher

We retire to bed it is around ten o’ clock, I am anxious if I not do so as often if I go to bed much later I cannot sleep despite the fact I am tired and exhausted. Nearly every night, and tonight is no exception, there is the quiet hum from the factory in the village, a low frequency sound that is sheer torture. It is a sound I cannot ignore and despite my fear of leaving on the CD player all night because of the possibility of fire I have to have a nature recoding CD on repeat play throughout the night to mitigate and drown out the torment of this intrusive and unremitting low frequency hum. I do not like to leave my stereo on at night or any electrical appliance because of my fear concerning the possibility of fire yet I have no choice. I cannot cope with this noise that few others appear either not to hear or are not disturbed by it. After a fidgety and restless start due to an increasing feeling that my cloths are uncomfortable I finally close my eyes for a few hours of fitful and unfruitful sleep from which I am often woken during the night by bizarre attacks which I have some difficulty actually describing to you although I have attempted to do so earlier when recounting my migraine attack. Such attacks feel to me as though I am choking and yes indeed I am chocking I have the sensation as though I have swallowed something which after waking and becoming fully conscious I know I have not. Others episodes feel as though I am not able to breathe after waking suddenly with a jerk, gasping for air. A most frightening experience indeed although it lasts but a few seconds. Some attacks I cannot compare with anything at all and these involve strange consuming sensations starting from deep down within my abdominal region finalising in the familiar lump in the throat and difficulty swallowing and frantically I reach for water. Fortunately such experiences do not occur every night but when they do they re most frightening

I will wake from such disturbed sleep more exhausted than when I retired mostly with a headache, muscular aches and pains and stiffness tormented by OCD thoughts to begin another trying and challenging day living with not only my OCD but various other life spoiling maladies.

Summarisation:
The above of course does not give an account of every time I washed my hands throughout the day as such details would be tedious. With the usual obsessive-compulsive perfectionism and need for detail I was of course tempted to do precisely that but thought that such would be thoroughly boring. Therefore reader please bear in mind that in between all the aforementioned activities I am washing my hands again and again dozens of times each day. Mostly this occurs after contact with areas both indoors and outside of my home which I consider to be contaminated. Such areas in my home include: the toilet, the laundry basket, the floor, plants both inside and outside, any type of chemical and its container even washing powder and other more benign everyday chemicals. Also included are certain items such as books, letters and other correspondence, indeed anything which may have been touched by a person whom I have the notion is some how contaminated. For instance a person who has regular contact with dogs or who handles toxic substances, for example a gardener who may have handled weed killer or pesticides. Light switches, door handles and suchlike touched by others compel me to wash my hands after contact if I know that whoever has touched them has a contamination issue. For instance if he or she has been in contact with something I consider is contaminated, light switches and door handles in public toilets being the most obvious. I never touch anyone whom I feel is contaminated in some way or another. This could become also a long and tedious list of what I can and cannot touch without washing my hands and sometimes my cloths. Often now such behaviours have become so routine and habitual that I do not always pay much attention to when I wash my hands and why. For a full account of my behaviours in this regard see as already mentioned my book, my story and my blog.

Also no mention is made in the above account concerning areas of my home which are sterilised after feeling that such has become contaminated: Perhaps my husband has come in from the garden and absentmindedly put down the watering can onto the table. The table will than need to be wiped with disinfectant or other germicide. Again the instances are numerous and vary according to circumstance and yet again would be too tedious to mention in detail in the above account.

You will not find peace by avoiding life.
Virginia Woolf

In addition to overt and obvious obsessive-compulsive behaviours, such as washing, cleaning, checking and other more familiar decontamination rituals, I have not given account of another obsessive compulsive behaviour: avoidance. I sometimes try to avoid contamination rather than keep washing and cleaning. Gradually as one becomes so overwhelmed with washing one’s hands, clothing and showering you seem to quite naturally replace some of these time consuming and stressing compulsions by avoiding the contamination in the first place. For instance I am mindful to avoid either myself or my clothing coming into contact with for instance the toilet, the laundry basket, plants and so on. This behaviour most certainly applies when I am out. More so in fact. When I am out for instance I am vigilant and watchful for the approach of a dog or other animal in order to avoid contact. I will step out into the road or cross over the street. When I am talking to people in the street I am always turning my head to look up and down for the approach of a dog. I realise that to the person with whom I am speaking my behaviour may appear odd, paranoid even but as I can’t cope with normal eye contact anyway to me it makes no difference except of course I am uncomfortable knowing the other person notices. Again the list is huge and such avoidance has become habitual, suffice it to say I instinctively move to avoid perceived exposure to contamination.

Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think.
Dale Carnegie

Moreover I have not included intrusive thoughts and ruminations as such take place over and over and are again habitual and would again make for dull and rather lengthy reading. Yes I can give you the odd example but it would be impossible for me to recall every thought that passed through my mind during this particular day as it would also to record every time I washed my hands or avoided contamination. And besides if you think about it would be impossible for me to record every such thought as it occurred; while I am preoccupied with so doing the thoughts would naturally be different and change and be perhaps less frequent. Yes writing even such as this will distract from other types of OCD therefore my thoughts would change accordingly. Yes obsessive compulsive behaviours and thoughts occur here now whilst I am writing. My son has just poked his head round the door and asked me: “How long has it taken you to write that paragraph? “A few minutes” I reply. “What for, the full stop?” he adds obviously amused. He is always pulling my leg about my copious amounts of writing and lengthy obsessing. But seriously…… Yes I can be that bad at times. I will ruminate and obsess where to put the full stop or should I perhaps use a colon or comma and elaborate further. I may have only taken a few minutes to write the bare bones of the paragraph in question but I will most certainly ruminate and obsess about it’s content, the grammar, particularly the dialogue as I have little experience with the correct way to write and punctuate dialogue, and so on both now, later and for a few days to come before finally publishing.

The environment you fashion out of your thoughts, your beliefs, your ideals, your philosophy is the only climate you will ever live in.
Stephen R. Covey:

Bearing this in mind this account gives only a vague indication of a day in my life as a sufferer of OCD and other co-morbid illnesses. No one can possibly explain just how miserable this illness is; or how incapacitating and how your thoughts torture you and take over your life to such a degree that you sometimes do not know which thoughts are yours and with thoughts are your OCD. In short you lose your identify, in fact you do not feel sometimes than you have any real identity the person you should have become having long since disappeared overwhelmed by unwanted, unremitting thoughts, obsessions and compulsions.
The weariest night, the longest days, sooner or later must perforce come to an end.