Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Mask of My OCD

My mom used to tell me that when the going got tough, the tough got cleaning.  This wasn't just some clever ploy to get me to clean my room; she genuinely believed it.  I distinctly remember being very stressed out at one particular point in my childhood, and she told me to clean out my closet from top to bottom.  It did in fact greatly diffuse my frustrations and gave me a sense of control.  To this day, I prefer to have a very organized, color coordinated closet; though sometimes life gets in the way of that.  When someone I love is in the hospital or has died, I clean.....a lot.  Unfortunately, rather than doing an adequate job of cleaning the whole house, I focus completely on one area and over sterilize it. (Is that really possible??)  That focusing on just certain areas or tasks, while other areas are more relaxed or other tasks left undone for months, was why I never really believed that I did in fact have OCD.  I'm now discovering this is not the case.

I have certain areas that I feel I must have clean and/or organized.  The dishwasher HAS to be loaded a certain way (of course, it IS the only logical way), the dollar bills in my cash register at work MUST all face up and to the left 100% of the time, my spices and refrigerated items at home all have assigned places to the extent that I can tell you where any item is exactly while blindfolded. Socks, pants, shirts, and other clothing items are always put away according to color and pattern (another logical habit).  At work, if a customer's hand touches mine in any way during the exchange of money, I MUST use hand sanitizer.  I do NOT touch door handles.  I almost always have a purse sized can of Lysol and/or wet wipes with me.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  I have never seen these things as troublesome until lately.

For the past several months, I have had to work extra hours at work.  For most people, this would not present a problem but I am not a physically strong person and have a weak constitution.  I thrive on organization, cleanliness, and rhythms in  life.  Those extra hours and the faster pace of those hours, while trying to maintain my OCD habits, is exhausting, draining, and frustrating.  Feeling the need to maintain my happy level of order without enough time or energy to do so can make me a little (okay, a LOT) crazy.  I've been able to maintain the order at work, partly because the man I work with shares in my passion for order, but my home and my emotions left a lot to be desired.  It seemed the more tired and stressed that I was, the more I felt the need to have everything perfect and life just wasn't cooperating.

So, why do I have all these compulsions?  Fear and anxiety.  These are what my OCD masks.  Having things placed or cleaned just so gives me a huge since of control and calms my anxiety levels.  It's like a drug.  Let me explain, let's say Jane has just lost her job and has unpaid bills and hungry children.  Jane is understandably very stressed and feels emotionally out of control at times.  Jane goes to the doctor who writes her a prescription for Xanax to get her through this tough spot. (This is NOT an anit-Xanax rant)  Jane's emotions level out and she feels more in control again and is able to function for a while.  Shortly thereafter, Jane has a minor fender bender and begins to cry uncontrollably until she remembers her Xanax can calm her.  Gradually it takes less stressful situations to make her feel the need for her medication until she/her brain has lost the skills needed to deal with stress and she must rely on medication. The same is true for some with OCD.  OCD behaviors are calming and give us a sense of control, but those behaviors never really help us face and deal with what is sparking those behaviors.

For me the answer lies in verses like Psalm 46:10, Be still, and know that I am God.  The Hebrew word for still means to cease striving, which is the whole concept behind the Sabbath rest.  We need to cease from our efforts and striving and let God be God in our lives.  How does that play out moment by moment?  It is fine for me to keep my cash register till at work in order, but if I have five people in line waiting, then I need to let go of my compulsions and SERVE my customers.  If I have time later, I can go back and tidy up.  This is hard because having the bills out of order, even if I can't see them, makes me feel anxious.  It is at that point that I need to be still and understand that God is in control and it's okay that I'm not in charge.  I must look these feelings in the eye and tell them and myself that my God is an awesome God and that He is sovereign over every thing, no matter how small.  There is nothing that can come in to my life that He has not foreordained.

It is difficult and will take baby steps, but I need to face this and grow.  So this week, I let go of control of my dollar bills and I let a stranger use my personal pen, putting it back in my pocket without sanitizing it or making an "EWW!" face.  These seem so petty, but for me it's a big deal.  I'm still not touching the bathroom doors though! ;)

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