I have a confession. I’m a little crazy. Not in a hoarding, 90 cats, walk around the neighborhood naked way… I just have a tiny bit of OCD. My family would probably say it’s more than a tiny bit — but in the big scheme of things it’s really not. I don’t have to lock the door 20 times or avoid cracks in sidewalks, I just have a few specific things that I’m very particular about. Very particular. Very.
I used to have this long metal tray on my coffee table that had 6 pear candles on it. 3 light green, 3 darker green. I had them arranged in a particular pattern, you know, the way they should be. My kids would come over and re-arrange them just to watch me put them back. It was a ridiculous game they played with me, knowing I couldn’t leave them out of place… I finally got rid of the darn things because I couldn’t take it any more. If I walk by the bathroom and the shower curtain is askew I have to straighten it. The pillows on my sofa and chairs have to be a certain way. If a guest comes over and sits down, I discreetly plump and straighten the pillows when they get up. Vases, photos and decorative accessories have a certain place and that’s where they remain. If they’re out of place, even in the slightest, I have to fix it. I don’t find it a big deal to do these things, they’re just part of how I live. And in all honesty, that’s about the extent of it. My closets and cupboards are not in perfect order and my floors aren’t spotless. I’m not a total loon, I just have a few things that I do that help me feel like I have control, order.
I’ve had these peculiarities all of my adult life. They don’t hurt anyone and they keep my living area nice and tidy, so I don’t worry about them. However, several years ago I was going through a really stressful ordeal and I developed a new compulsion for the first time in like 30 years… and it really bothered me. It’s embarrassing to admit this. I’m not really sure how it started but I began this new ritual: I’d get in my car, put the key in the ignition, put my seatbelt on and then, before I could turn the key to start the car, I’d make a little sing-songy humming sound. It was absurd! But try as I might, I couldn’t stop myself. And it began to really piss me off that I couldn’t control the situation. I mean, how ridiculous to not be able to start your car without humming your stupid little “hmm, hmm” ?? I was determined to rid myself of this compulsion. I did some research and came across an article that suggested changing my routine to break the cycle. So I did. I got in the car and instead of putting the key in the ignition and then buckling my seatbelt I reversed those two actions. Seatbelt then key… and it worked. I could then start the car without my little hmm, hmm. You have no idea what a moment that was for me. It was a miracle, a victory. I never had that compulsion again. Overcoming something so little, so silly made me feel like I was in control again.
I’ve learned that stress is an issue for people with OCD and can make compulsions stronger or even bring on new ones. It certainly is true for me. I’m a person who likes to have control. Now that doesn’t mean I’m a controlling person. I’m not trying to control anyone else’s life – nor do I even want to. I just like to have control over my own (even if it’s just over my pillows and shower curtains). The last couple of years have really shown me that I have very little control over most things. There are a lot of situations in my life right now that I’m struggling with, that I don’t know how to handle (translate: control) and this has caused me a huge amount of stress. This time the stress didn’t result in a new compulsion… no, all that internal turmoil caused me to develop a nasty case of shingles. Five long weeks into this debilitating, painful disease I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to reduce my stress and stop trying to control every situation in my life. Frankly, my body - and mind – can’t take it anymore. I can only do so much and then I just have to let go, let things happen, let the chips fall where they may. So, as that article I read several years ago suggested, I’m going to change my routine. I’m going to stop worrying and stressing… and I’m go to stop trying to control things. Instead I’m going to practice gratitude, focus on the positive, on the possibilities and opportunities. For the first time, I’m going to let myself get out of control.
You’ve been warned