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.’


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