Hello! Today’s post is about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and its “side kick” rituals. OCD is a standalone disorder, but can also go along with autism. For something to be OCD, it needs to have two distinct components, an obsession (thought), and a compulsion (action). They tend to feed off of each other, and they go round and round like a gerbil wheel. The way it works is as such: a person has a phobia of germs. They happen to think the inside of the sink is dirty. They accidently touch it. Now they feel that their hands are contaminated with germs. While most people wouldn’t think much about touching the sink and be able to go along with their business, a person with OCD would repeatedly think that their hands are dirty. The repetitive thought of contamination is the obsession in this example. To remedy this contamination, the person would scrub their hands with soap over and over again. If they get mentally interrupted they will have to start over again with the process. Over time their hands will get raw, but it doesn’t make a difference to the person. I have just described a compulsion. The trick with OCD is that typically something triggers an obsession, which then leads to a compulsion, which can lead to another obsession and so forth. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. This is the ugly face of OCD.
As you may have guessed, I have OCD. The OCD also leads to rituals or unwanted daily routines that I have to complete in a certain way or OCD will start. I have contamination OCD. I have trouble if I touch the inside of the sink since it seems dirty to me. I also have trouble with raw meat. If something seems to be in contact with even raw meat in the package, that hasn’t been opened, I have to wash my hands. I can’t actually touch raw meat itself. I also have trouble with public restrooms and with the pets’ pottying issues. Other things that can cause this issue is any kind of cleaning chemicals and for a while things that were painted such as the bannister because paint has chemicals (toxins). I am glad this one stopped. As mentioned above, all of these things cause me or have caused me to need to scrub my hands like a surgeon (at least I had practice for the pandemic where scrubbing your hands after touching common surfaces is important). In colder weather, my hands get raw and sore and sometimes bleed, yet I can’t stop washing my hands if they get “contaminated.” Raw hands can lead to hangnails and bleeding cuts. This issue also caused OCD. I was afraid of bleeding to death overnight if I saw blood on my hands. For hangnails, I needed to use Band-Aid after Band-Aid. Also, if I’m washing my hands, it has to be a certain number of times. If I get distracted when I am doing it, I have to start over. It has to be real soap, not watery diluted soap or hand sanitizer (Hand sanitizer does work for sanitizing hands during the pandemic, but not for OCD purposes).
OCD has been a thorn in my side since 1996, when I saw my first counselor for depression. I was on a litany of medicines to control OCD over the years, and none of them have worked. The best solution I have found to control OCD is to avoid escalation. A counselor at Philhaven in Lancaster (now CAD) proposed a system where I rate how I am feeling from 1 to 5. The higher the number, the more prone I am to have an OCD meltdown. When issues that could lead to OCD escalate, I tell my parents what number I am at. Being at a 5, doesn’t necessarily mean that I will have a meltdown either. It simply means that mentally, the situation is out of control and that I’m in danger of having a meltdown. Over time, decimal numbers have been used to better quantify how I am feeling. Another effective technique I have used is walking away from the issue (if I can do it in time). Though I haven’t felt that my medication has worked well, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t worked. OCD could be worse without it. Anxiety can make OCD and/or rituals worse.
Another major cause for OCD can be frustration with a situation. Though I still have problems with OCD, it certainly has been worse in the past. I still have trouble with internal OCD, which is simply thoughts in my head that cause me to perform a ritual or compulsion. The remainder of this blog post will be about rituals. Rituals, when it comes to mental health, are the daily routines a sufferer has to perform. Mine fall into three distinctive categories: flames, checking, and tripping hazards.
Being afraid that I see flames or that something is a fire hazard is a common ritual. Being afraid of fire is a normal and healthy fear, but the problem starts when a person has irrational ideas about things being either flames or fire hazards. Also some flames are good, like in a fireplace during the winter to keep you warm, or a fire pit outside a hotel where people go to warm up or for the ambiance. My family has electric candles in the windows. Of course, the part of a real candle that produces the light is a flame. On these candles, a flame shaped low wattage light bulb gives light. When I go to bed at night, if I notice the candles, I have to do one of two things. If I notice the light when upstairs, I simply need to determine that it is a candle and not a flame and then quickly turn away from it before the worry comes back. Seeing the candles when downstairs can mean a checking ritual as well. I have to make sure they are standing up and not knocked over. This can go on for ten minutes or more at times. The candles have a purpose. They help provide security and make the house seem cozy. When they aren’t causing rituals, the candles make me feel more secure.
When I turn off a light, sometimes I notice a flickering of the light when the room goes from lit to dark. I have to stare into the room, and make sure it is dark to make sure that flicker wasn’t flames. Shadows on objects like my towels can be interpreted as flames and need to be checked. Downstairs there is an unusual OCD involving the fear of flames. The layout of the main floor is the living room, the kitchen/eating area and the family room. The two rooms on the opposite ends (living room and family room) each have mirrors that are roughly lined up with each other. If the doors are open between the kitchen and the living room, it can appear that light is being reflected between the two mirrors. This light can be misconstrued as a flame. When my eyes are closed, sometimes I will think I see lights, and think they are flames. In a dark room various lights can also be misconstrued as flames and have to be checked many times to make sure there’s no fire.
There are a number of things that can cause a checking ritual. One is making sure that the door is shut tight. On a few occasions the door wasn’t shut tight, and in the middle of the night, the cat was able to push the door open and come into my bedroom. Well, for most people this wouldn’t be a problem, but I have asthma and for most of my life have been allergic to cats. Though currently I’m not, I still take precautions such as not allowing the cat into the bedroom. Another common ritual is making sure the house door is locked. Before I go to bed if I think about it and notice the door, I need to make sure it is locked to keep out the robbers.
Another checking ritual that I do every night is making sure that my desk light isn’t touching anything. Why, you may ask? On the box it said that the light wasn’t supposed to touch anything. In reality, what I think it means is that it can’t touch anything when it’s turned on. I still need to check all sides of its base and the light itself every night to make sure that it isn’t touching anything before going to bed.
I also have an issue with being afraid that certain objects on the floor are tripping hazards, for the person who comes downstairs the next morning. This usually involves something such as a laundry basket, but can also be things that I have imagined are on the floor or objects like shoes that a person has purposely put there, but that I’m afraid I may have moved a little by accident.
I’ve had various other rituals over the years. This includes checking the water faucet to make sure it is turned off so that the water can’t causing flooding, and washing my face multiple times with water to make sure there wasn’t soap in my eye that made me fear going blind before going to bed. Rinsing my mouth to get out a soapy taste was another ritual that I had for a while.
Well, as a person can gather from above, OCD can be a very frustrating disorder. I can be lucky it isn’t worse than it is and that I have dropped some of the rituals over time. I also have developed a few strategies that work for helping to control OCD that I can also be thankful for, since it’s hard when my mind gets stuck on an unpleasant thing, and that thought takes up precious time and interrupts my day.
Though it may seem familiar, I want to remind people to subscribe to my blog if they haven’t and want a reminder when the next post comes out. My blog can be reached at www.tomstidbits.net. I hope this section isn’t obsessive! Ha. Ha.