There’s a bonus for reading to the end today – find out how my OCD convinced a drunk man that my car was a TARDIS…
I had a bad experience today. Even though I’ve said in other posts that I can hide my OCD pretty well, since it’s been severe it’s been harder to hide in public.
I had a meeting in a new building, and was on my way out. This involved a lot of doors and steps, which was very difficult for me OCD-wise. I tend to think something along the lines of “left, right is safe” before I go through a door or down steps, and then I follow whichever pattern I have said is safe. [I won’t go into what I mean by ‘safe’ in this post, you just need to know that it is a way to prevent my worst fears happening.] Sometimes I think “left, right is safe and right, left is also safe”, or other variations, to try and give myself more flexibility. These days (as OCD is bad) I often say these things out loud if I’m alone or with people very close to me; whether I say it or think it in public depends on whether or not people would hear me.
I was walking out of the building alongside the people who had been in the meeting, one of them was directing me (as I was new to the building). It was difficult to do all my OCD thoughts and keep them hidden at the same time, but I don’t think my colleagues noticed my slight pause at the start of some of the flights of stairs.
The part where I got stuck
When we went through one of the doors near the exit I felt like I hadn’t obeyed the thought I had made (I can’t fully remember but I may have thought “right, left” was safe but not managed to follow that properly in my stepping – thinking about this makes me a bit nervous now). I had to go back to correct it, but I couldn’t do so whilst my colleagues were there. So I waited in the communal area until they were out of view, then went back to the door I was worried about.
I tried to ‘make it safe’ by going through the door and thinking the correct combination, but it was difficult as I didn’t know if my hand on the door counted as a ‘left’ or ‘right’, or if it was only the foot that I stepped with that counted. I went back and forth through the door a few times, trying to make it safe. Occasionally people walked through the corridor and I tried to pretend I’d only gone one way.
Covering my OCD
A woman in a nearby office saw me and asked if I was looking for someone, so I meekly asked where the toilets were (I already knew where they were, but I couldn’t explain what I was doing to a stranger – ironic as I’m generally a painfully honest person, partly due to my OCD). I followed her to the toilets, where I went in and texted my partner, feeling disheartened at what had happened. I didn’t go back to the door again, partly because the woman in the office next to the door might think I was a security risk(!) and partly because I tried to use my cognitive reappraisal to show myself that I didn’t need to go back again to ‘correct’ the bad thought. Now, a few hours later, I kind of half believe that it’s just OCD and half think I should go and correct it the next time I happen to be in that building.
How it feels
These sorts of symptoms are quite common, in fact there used to be a support website for people with OCD called “Stuck in a doorway”. When my OCD thoughts bleed into the real world in this way I think of what Joe Wells said in his book (“Touch and Go Joe”, about his experiences with OCD) – how can you have confidence in yourself when you can’t even get through a door? (I’m writing that from memory, so don’t quote me!)
It’s demoralising when I can’t hide OCD away. It makes me feel ashamed and ‘less than’, because I can’t just live like other people do. I also feel a bit embarrassed, as well as sad that it has got this bad.
Generally, when this sort of thing happens, people don’t seem to realise OCD is the reason for my actions. Thinking about it, maybe I prefer it that they don’t know the real reason. I feel a little ashamed (there’s that shame again) to admit that – because I want greater awareness of mental illness in society, and because it suggests that I still have some self-stigma when it comes to my mental health. Or maybe it’s OCD in particular – I find it easier to tell people I have mental illness than to tell people I have OCD.
To end on a lighter note…
It’s surprising how odd you can be in public without people noticing. A while ago I carried the same heavy, large box from my house to my car and back again 16 times whilst a man stood outside waiting for a taxi. It’s amusing to guess what he might have thought – it was a big box and a small car, so it was impossible for it to have been different boxes every time. This rules out the only logical explanation, that I was packing the car with multiple boxes. Perhaps he thought my car was a TARDIS.