OCD makes it difficult to walk

I previously wrote about hand washing, a symptom of OCD that has generally reached public consciousness. Today I’m writing about how OCD makes it difficult for me to walk, a symptom that hasn’t reached public consciousness.

To explain this I’m going to label one of my worst fears ‘A’, and another of them ‘B’. For me, ‘A’ is associated with (amongst other things) the colour red, a range of colours that are similar to red, the number 6, and making a movement with my right hand or foot. ‘B’ is associated with (amongst other things) the colour white, a range of colours that are similar to white, the number 3, and making a movement with my left hand or foot. These meanings make it very difficult for me when I’m walking around.

When I walk I am highly aware of what is on the floor – where are the marks on the pavement and what colour are they? I usually have to navigate round these marks in a way that is ‘safe’. The ‘safe’ way to navigate around them varies from moment to moment, sometimes it’s safer to walk in between two marks (and make sure my foot doesn’t pass over either mark), sometimes it’s safer to walk to the left of a reddish mark, sometimes it’s safer to walk to the right. My OCD doesn’t have set rules in this sense – what is ‘safe’ varies. What stays the same is that anything vaguely similar to red or white in colour takes on excessive meaning, it is linked to one of my worst fears. For me, green and blue are safe colours, so I try to ‘direct’ my movements towards those colours (e.g. a weed between paving could be ‘safe’).

I like to listen to music, but this also interacts with my OCD when I’m walking – I have to be conscious of where I am standing on each beat of the music. I also have to be very careful what I am looking at if a singer uses insulting language, generally I try to ensure I’m looking at a ‘safe’ colour if I know bad language is coming up in a song.

Left and right are important, especially when I walk over a threshold of some kind. For example, I rarely walk from one room to another without being conscious of which foot I step with first. Whether left or right is more safe tends to vary. When I walk up/down a kerb or up/down stairs I have to be conscious which foot I step with first. If I stop walking I have to be mindful of which foot I use when I start walking again. I often think, or say, depending on who can hear me, “left right is safe, right left is also safe”. Sometimes I also add “left left is also safe, right right is also safe”.

It’s easier to walk if I can hold onto someone’s arm and look up/straight ahead, instead of at the floor. I do walk around though – I walk to and from work, and I have a dog who clearly needs to be walked! It just means that walking is quite tiring for me as I have these OCD thoughts at the same time. If I’m doing well I might manage to walk for a little while without an OCD thought, though never for a whole journey. More often OCD is present in the majority of my steps. I can usually do this whilst holding a conversation or keeping an eye on my dog – people with OCD do a lot of multi-tasking!

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