Looking at Things

[Image of Eye]

Worried about looking at things?

For me, looking at things gives a sense of finality. With my obsessive-compulsive fear of staples, pins, and other sharp objects, there is a feeling that I can’t look at these objects while eating or swallowing, lest I somehow accidentally swallow one (?!?). This applies even if I’m looking at a book with staples that’s all the way across the room. But recently, I noticed this isn’t my only instance of ruminating about the act of looking at something. When I’m about to fall asleep, I feel like I have to look at something very blank and neutral like a wall. If the last thing I look at before I close my eyes is a person (no matter who that person is), I feel like I might not be able to stop thinking about that person. It’s similar with certain types of objects. But if I close my eyes looking at a blank wall, I can be relatively assured (for some strange reason) that my thoughts will not center on any one specific thing.

My explaining this doesn’t mean any of that logic actually connects to reality — I have a feeling if I did look at people or things like food before falling asleep, I probably would not get them “stuck” in my head as much as I fear I would. But for some reason, I get that feeling.

So sometimes, this appears to be a compulsion — looking at something bad (staples) and then “protecting” myself by looking at something “safe” (in the case of countering a staple, looking at pretty much anything that’s not sharp would help, but preferably something large, non-sharp, and not a choking hazard for small children). Other times, the obsession is actually that looking at something holds disproportionate importance. With the staples, it’s not so much about importance, but the idea that somehow I might accidentally come in contact with the object just from looking at it — nevermind that not making any real sense.

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You know it’s bad when…

…You were doing a compulsion so much that you forgot it actually did temporarily relieve your anxiety until you stopped doing it at all and then realized how much your brain is screaming at you that something bad is going to happen if you don’t do that thing. o.o Like, you go all day without doing it for days and you’re like: “Yay! I’m winning!” but then you wake up in the morning after having dreams about doing it and the first thing your brain screams at you each morning is: “Hey! You know that thing you’re trying not to do? Do that!!”

It’s doubly bad because the whole time I was doing the compulsion, I was still feeling a ton of anxiety anyway. So basically the rule is: I can feel a lot of anxiety, and do compulsions.

OR

I can feel a lot of anxiety, and not do compulsions.

The compulsions at first appear to relieve the anxiety, but may actually exacerbate it.

I Don’t Know Me Anymore

I’m becoming someone I don’t know.

When I was a child, I had obsessions with germs, diseases, and other kinds of contamination. At the time, those were my biggest fears. And although my hand-washing compulsion eventually reached a point where it damaged my skin and had to be noticed, addressed, and dealt with to an extent, because I never got real therapy for my problems, the problems came and went with varying severity and no, I didn’t continue washing my hands until they fell off, but barring that kind of extreme, I continued doing my compulsions… over and over again.

As I grew up, those contamination fears gradually lessened — but not for the right reasons; not because I learned how to deal with them. Instead, my greatest fears simply changed over time. I’m sure I learned a little bit of helpful cognitive-behavioral therapy along the way without realizing it, but for the most part, I always gave in to my fears and anxieties. I always took them at face value.

So now, as an adult, I find myself finally learning how to deal with my obsessions and compulsions. It’s one thing to resist doing a compulsion, but the only way to win is to resist doing a compulsion for the right reasons. Plenty of times as a kid I was told to “Just stop doing that,” but it’s not that simple. It’s not about just stopping doing that; it’s about stopping doing that, and knowing why.

For the last week or so, I’ve been relatively successful. But sometimes it seems like I resist a compulsion and, well… a smaller one just takes its place. Does that still count as a success? If I didn’t ask my husband for reassurance about something for several hours, is it OK that I had to make sure my earrings were perfectly symmetrical instead? I’m assuming the answer has to be yes… because while making sure my jewelry is symmetrical is perhaps not the healthiest hobby, it has to be less unhealthy than a lot of my alternatives. Maybe one day I won’t be the person you always see adjusting her jewelry — but until that day, I’ll have to be happy if I’m doing that and not something worse.

And then there are the times I just feel… empty. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what to do. “Wait, I told you to worry about something… and you’re ignoring me? WTF. I’m not used to this.” So there’s just sort of a blank element. I’m not sure how to progress or be motivated to do anything when my life isn’t motivated by dealing with something my brain thinks is a problem. Kind of scary… but also liberating.

I’ve used a lot of ellipses (“…”) improperly in this entry. But I won’t correct it! No!

Keeping Track

Those of us with OCD (or similar disorders) have great difficulty doing things which come easily to everyone else. “I went all day and only checked that the stove wasn’t on 4 times” would sound like a pretty shoddy excuse for an accomplishment for most people, but for someone with OCD, it could be almost like climbing a mountain. The sad part of this is that it’s really hard for us to convey that to others. It’s hard for us to get our friends and loved ones to understand why we struggle with something that is not even an issue for them. That’s why I started keeping my own progress chart, and I think it’s been working really well. I made two categories: “Resisted” and “Gave In.” I plan on making a separate one for each compulsion that I feel like doing — but for now I only have one list. Every time I get the urge to do the compulsion, but am able to resist, I make a tally beside “Resisted” and every time I cave and give in to that anxiety by doing the compulsion, I make a tally beside “Gave In.” This chart has helped because it gives positive reinforcement.

Other people would look at me and say, “I can’t believe she checked this or that so many times. She must be crazy.” However, now I am able to look at this list and say: “You know what? It seems like I’ve been really bad by giving in and doing these compulsions, but when I actually sit down and look at my records, what I see is that most of the time I am successful in resisting. That means I’m doing a good job.” That feeling of positivity further encourages me to resist future compulsions. It’s easy for me to look at mistakes or bad choices I’ve made and say: “Well, I’ve already screwed things up, so I may as well give up now. Why even try?” The list helps keep me from having this attitude. It reminds me that I really do struggle with things that are easy for everyone else, so instead of judging my progress comparing to people who don’t have those difficulties, I should only judge my progress by myself.

Is it locked?

Found out tonight that I sometimes check that the car doors are locked up to 5 times before leaving the house. Pretty sure it might actually sometimes be less, or more, than that. :\

This one is not entirely conscious, though. Checking the front door exactly 4 times and making sure to turn the knob both left and right, an equal number of times, before pulling on the door — that’s conscious.