A Weekend of Normal

In a world of rich history, diversity, excitement and tragedy, my weekend was rather unspectacular.
To be fair, in the excitement level of weekends in my life it would rank some distance down the league table…..AND THAT IS BLOODY BRILLIANT!
For what was admittedly an eventful couple of days to feel ‘normal’ and not some gargantuan monumental thing is exactly how I want my life to be.
For, to me, this would have been IMPOSSIBLE as little as 3 years ago.

Yesterday I ran a half marathon. Yeah, not a bad achievement in itself I suppose, especially when you add in the lashing rain and Baltic temperatures we were greeted with.
But it was just that, a reasonably long run in some crappy weather.
Afterwards, I met a couple of people I had talked with online but never met and filmed an interview for one of them.
Again, the mild awkwardness most inevitably feel when meeting strangers and a tiny bit of discomfort from standing in front of a camera and talking.
Again, nothing more earth shattering than most folk will have done on a regular basis in today’s modern society.
On an even more mundane level, I drove to a town, parked in a muddy car park and walked to and from the race start …. WOW! GO YOU!! …. I hear you, and indeed, me exclaim.
PRECISELY, that is just the response I want, particularly from myself.
Now Saturday was even more of a barnstormer. I drove to the same town, met some of my wife’s friends and their new baby then went for a meal …. BLIMEY! I sure know how to live! Bieber’s got nothing on this! : )

Earlier I stated that this would have been impossible 3 years ago. Maybe impossible is the wrong word. UNBEARABLE may be closer to the truth.
No, not the running in the rain (nasty as it was) or the lunch company (they’re quite nice really ; ) ) but the unfathomable anxiety that would have eclipsed EVERY single thing that happened.
My mind would have been full. Not with the pain of running, not with the nervousness of what to say in front of a camera, not with what small talk to make at the dinner table but with terrifying, irrational, destructive thoughts that would have overwhelmed me and suffocated every single part of my time and energy.

How and Why? How is relatively easy. A nasty spiteful mental condition caused by an imbalance of the chemical serotonine in the brain. Why? Not sure I know really. This condition is something that in my case didn’t raise its ugly head until my early 30s. Others aren’t so ‘lucky’ and experience its wrath from childhood.

The two main recognised methods for controlling and wrestling this condition are the use of medication to rebalance the chemicals of the brain (in my case one pill a day of paroxetine, a similar SSRI drug used to treat depression) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which is a controlled continuous exposure to the things that trigger anxiety and the recording of the (usual) reduction of the levels of discomfort experienced.
One of the first tasks you are set with when undertaking a course of CBT is the composition of lists of the situations and events which cause anxiety and the ratings (out of 10 or 100) of the severity of discomfort you predict they will produce.
The book I am roughing this piece out in also happens to be the same one as the book I wrote my lists down in 4 years ago. A quick glance at these today tells a story of the personal significance of my ‘normal’ weekend.
Driving with my wife, without retracing our journey or turning around, to the town in question (where I just happened to live when my condition kicked in 11 years ago) scores a big 70 out of 100 …. On my own this would have scored a full house 100!
A similar score would have greeted the driving and parking in a busy car park with pedestrians walking around it.
Shaking someone’s hand and then eating without washing my hands would bring me a 95 score. Putting my shoes on and then eating with no wash, a 60.
Walking around a town centre (not even this ‘high stress’ town) without studying/checking the floor for anything shiny/silver/thin/red that could even remotely resemble a needle or blood (my old favourite being a screw or nail in a crack in the pavement) scores a big old 80.
Locking the front door at home and going away for the weekend scores another full house 100 and that’s without the accompanying electrical appliance/light switch/oven checks which will have preceded it.
Putting food wrappers in the bin without inspecting them for contamination traces a halfway 50 and shopping receipts 70.
These are just a start; just a few that spring to mind of the many many more that control and steer your mind when in the grip of this illness.
And these thoughts don’t go away. Yeah we all check the front door a couple of times on occasion, we all get halfway across a car park and wonder if we’ve locked the car doors …. BUT…. We don’t all have this thought repeating itself over in our minds for hours or days, morphing into a tale of how; because you’ve left that light on, that your house will burn down killing the residents of the building, or someone will enter through that door you MAY have left open and find out secrets about you and use them to ruin your lives or poison the house to harm your children.
Or that the screw you stood on may have scratched someone’s finger and will now penetrate through your steel toe capped and reinforced soled (Yep, I did!) shoes and contaminate you with some life ending disease that will inevitably be passed on to your family.
Or that when you drove past that pedestrian you aren’t 110% sure you were 110% in the middle of the road; so therefore, despite the OBVIOUS knowledge that you’d bloody well know if you’d hit a bird let alone a person, that you MAY have hit them you’d better retrace your route several times to check, despite KNOWING this would give you a few more times to POTENTIALLY run them down!
…. And all because you didn’t check to make sure it was all OK.

So yeah; I ONLY drove to a town and I ONLY went for a meal and I ONLY went for a run …. BUT IT WAS BRILLIANT! Brilliantly normal.

Oh yeah, the name of this condition that captures people and squeezes the life out of them. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Doesn’t sound like that quirky, if annoying thing that means you’ve got a nice clean house and a tidy desk does it?

Someone asked the question recently ‘What is OCD?’ My answer ‘It’s a bit shit.’


OCD is NOT a cleaning disorder

If you think OCD is about house cleaning, hand washing, door checking, putting things in line and order, counting, contamination, germs or repeatedly driving around roundabouts you are missing the point.
OCD in my experience is about anxiety and fear.
All the previously mentioned stuff is just detailing.

You could take someone off the street, and get them to wash their hands 60 times a day, but if they don’t fear the consequences of not doing so, then they are simply washing their hands too often.
You could get someone to drive repeatedly to and from my work for a few hours, they might even enjoy it, but if they are not doing it because of a brain crushing anxiety and fear that they have harmed someone or caused an accident, despite KNOWING they haven’t and that it is just their mind tricking them, then guess what? They’re just running up a big fuel bill.
I have heard OCD rituals described as ‘a bit inconvenient’, ‘somewhat rewarding’ – even ‘enjoyable’ if you believe what a current television programme promotes. This is enforcing an incorrect and disturbing message that OCD would be something be cool to have and something to be proud of and aspire to.
This is so far from the reality of OCD that it’s almost laughable…..well it would be if it wasn’t so serious.

The list of tasks OCD has bullied me into doing is a long and varied one.
From the stereotypical hand washing and door checking through to electrical appliance fears, the need to see the floor for every step I took to make sure I wasn’t standing on anything ‘bad’, driving issues, contamination fears including inspection/avoidance of shiny things on the floor and anything red that could vaguely resemble blood, paranoia of being overheard talking about people, inability to throw post and food packaging away without inspecting it, need to inspect all public door handles and seats I had to use …… and ………. a long list I could go on and on with.
All of these compulsions have something in common. The fear. The anxiety. The overwhelming, head filling, desperate fear that if I didn’t perform the tasks that something horrific would happen to me, my family or my friends and that my non-performance of these compulsions would mean that it was my fault!

The joker in the pack that OCD deals up is that, at least in my case, you KNOW this is bullshit.
You KNOW that an OCD sufferer is probably the least likely person to suffer contamination, tread on a needle, cause a car accident, say something inappropriate, throw a private letter away, sit in some blood……..You’re also pretty sure that if you did sit in some blood, get urine on your hands, tread on a drawing pin or god forbid leave a light on that nothing catastrophic would actually happen.
BUT…. And it’s a big but. That doesn’t matter one bit because you CAN’T ignore it. OCD doesn’t let you ignore it, it nags and bullies and talks to you until you do what it wants from you.
AND THEN! And then it feeds from your weakness by increasing its grip. Each and every time you scratch its itch it grips a little tighter until it’s gripping you so tightly you can barely live your life.
There are things in my life that look like OCD but are not. My CD collection is in alphabetical and obviously chronological order. Hmm, ordered and regimented. Looks a bit suspicious? How do I know this isn’t another branch of OCDs terror? Because there’s no anxiety, no fear. I COULD mix them all up tonight and not feel a single need to change them back. They are ordered through CHOICE……sounds a little bit like CHOOSING to clean someone’s house for them doesn’t it Channel 4? I have them in order because I LIKE them like that, not because I NEED them like that.

p.s. my desk and side of the bedroom are a complete mess and if it was down to my cleaning, the bathroom would be a pretty grim place in my house. OCD is NOT a cleaning disorder.