So I see a therapist for my ADHD and we have just starting working on my OCD. He wants to know what drives the compulsions and I feel silly and weak talking to him about them so mostly the response is “I don’t know”. He asked me what I do when I compulse and I talk about counting. I can’t fully verbalize the process because at this point I remember doing these things since I was a young child. It’s out of the thought range now and I just do them. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m doing them unless someone points them out to me.
The other day I was really stressed out. I started to count. Certain numbers are good and certain numbers are bad. If I can count correctly then I will be “okay”. If I mess up the anxiety builds and then I start over. and over. and over. When the anxiety is really bad I touch things. every third block on the wall, posters, artwork, lines. reach out and touch. over. and over. and over. my stride has to be just right. I have tripped and stumbled before just so I don’t step down on a “bad” spot.
There are certain actions that I’m aware of now that have become my “protectors”. I’ve been told that I’m stupid – by my father and then by the boy who abused me. The first 22 years of my life were filled with strong individuals who made it known that I was stupid and that I didn’t make sense. I know this is annoying but I really can’t help it. I’m always asking, “do you know what I mean?” “Do you understand?” “Am I making sense?” “You know?” It drives me nuts but I just can’t stop. Early on I had a major speech delay and was a terrible stutterer. My kindergarten teacher couldn’t understand a word I said. When we moved away from Philadelphia I was picked on horribly because of my speech impediment and my strong accent. Those scars don’t heal so well. Ever word I say I want to pull it back inside of me because I’m so terribly afraid of being judged or ridiculed even after all these years.
My dad, when he was in a bad mood, would go crazy and do horrible, terrible things. I’ve seen him hurt my mom, my siblings, our pets… Horrible things that a child should never have to see. My emotional antenna is super sensitive because after all – I learned that when someone is having a bad day they HURT people especially those they “love”. Annoying action #2: I’m always asking, “Are you okay?” drives me nuts.
I’m a rocker – not a cool ROCKER! but one of those people who when left to stand in a line or sit still for too long will start to rock and rock and rock. I’ll even rock myself to sleep. I hurt my back a couple of years ago and went to a chiropracter. I was rocking then. He explained to me that the rocking motion was a self-soothing mechanism to help ease pain. Profound statement for me – do I rock to soothe my emotional damage? Mommas rock their babies to soothe them. My mother was being abused and could barely take care of herself. Do I rock myself because I wasn’t able to be soothed by my parents? Who knows?
I’m a scratcher, especially my head. When I am anxious my skin crawls. It’s such an unpleasant feeling, almost like bugs underneath my skin. I know there really isn’t any bugs but it’s almost like the anxiety just wants to come out and the scratching causes a physical release to the emotional discomfort. It’s like the hair pulling – it puts me into an almost meditative state. Pain then release.
Depending on the trigger and the anxiety I can be a compulsive hand washer. I also abuse hand sanitizer. At one point in my life I would scrub with bleach because it was the only way that I could be clean. The hand sanitizer replaced the bleach because people don’t stare at you like your crazy if you’re using hand sanitizer but normal people don’t scrub with bleach. When you wash your hands too much they start to crack and burn. Hand sanitizer hurts really really bad but the fucked up part of your brain tells you that this is good because it’s killing the bad things. The sane part cries out that you are actually making things worse because you are washing too much and creating pathways for the germs to enter your body. When I met my husband and then moved in with him we went shopping together for household items. He put a gallon of bleach in the cart and I quickly removed it. We never owned bleach or scrub brushes for the first many years of living together because I couldn’t trust myself around them. I’m finally feeling healthy enough to own bleach again. It sits under my sink and I no longer use it for hygiene purposes but rather for the intended use.
I’m always checking things. With ADHD I often forget things and OCD I’m always convinced that I’ve forgotten things. I’m smelling food, counting pieces, making sure things are where they are supposed to be, I’m making sure my daughter is okay, that the doors are locked. Always checking. I remember how I used to be so afraid, so very afraid that it would take me almost two hours to go to bed because I would need to keep getting up to check. doors, windows, etc. It would go something like this. Start in the farthest section of the house which was the big bathroom. Check in the shower to make sure no one was hiding there. check behind the bathroom door to make sure no one was hiding there. close the bathroom door so that no one could sneak around me and hide where I’ve already looked. check the big bedroom, under the bed, in the hope chest, in the closet, behind the door. check window, make sure it’s firmly locked. close closet, close bedroom door. check the back door, look closely to make sure it was locked, forget what it looks like when it’s locked. unlock it, lock it. still unsure. turn on outside light. look outside to see if anyone is hiding on the steps. open door. turn handle to make sure door is locked. close door. pull it tight. look in dryer. double check door. check kitchen window, make sure it’s firmly locked. look under table. make sure large bedroom door is still closed. check behind couch, check living room window, make sure it’s firmly locked. Check front door. Open door make sure screen door is locked. make sure dead bolt is locked. forget how the dead bolt looks when it’s locked so lock and unlock while staring to make sure the lock is secure. pull on door knob several times to make sure door is secure. check small bathroom to include in the shower and behind the door. check the other bedrooms, their windows and their closets. try to lay down and fall asleep while convincing myself that someone didn’t sneak around me to wait for me to sleep to hurt me.
So it’s gotten easier to break these compulsions but certain things cause it to flare up a bit. Occasionally my husband will forget to lock the back door after he’s taken the dog out for the night. Once he forgot to turn off the stove. My daughter will occasionally forget to shut the door when she goes out to play or after she’s come inside from playing. That’s all it takes for me to start the process. Thankfully though it’s not been as bad as it was when I was younger. I’m not as afraid of the “monsters” anymore. Children fear monsters but for most their parents are loving, nurturing, stable and consistent. Monsters were very much real to me for most of my life. Monsters invaded every aspect of my life their their abuse and cruelty and they were supposed to love me. This is what domestic violence does to a child, then teen and finally young adult. Domestic violence makes monsters very real and very much alive.
Back to counting. Counting to 100 is big for me. I also sort into piles of 10s and 100s. if i have 108 paper clips lets say, then I have to get rid of 8 so that it can be 100. Who am i kidding? I don’t own paper clips. they take too long to count. also unusable because if I use one then I no longer have 100 of them so I can’t stand having them around because then I have to purge down to a “good” number which means a multiple of 10. For a long time i only had 100 friends on facebook. I couldn’t add a good friend that I had found because it would change my number. If someone deleted me I would quickly have to friend someone so it could be 100. finally i convinced myself that this was no way to live and I’m proud to say is 131 which is not a “good” number but I’m okay with this.
So I’m a tapper, a clicker and a very loud sigher. finger’s tapping, pen and tongue clicking. always in 3s.
I’m also a compulsive eater and money spender. – when I’m stressed. When I’m really stressed I’ll swear. in appropriate places and spacees.
I need constant reassurance. I always doubt myself. and I always need to repeat. repeating questions because I can’t remember the answer. rewriting lists to fix imperfections, redoing paperwork because it’s just not “right”.