My therapist has pointed out that OCD can be a symptom of negative perfectionism. I want everything to be perfect and so I cannot cope if it isn’t. This all rings very true to me as I am a perfectionist in many ways. This is why I can’t stand to feel anxious, because that isn’t the perfect way to feel. I can’t stand it if my keyboard isn’t straight at the end of the day or if my bathroom isn’t clean. All this means things wouldn’t be perfect so I do everything I can to make them perfect, including compulsions that, paradoxically, make my life far from perfect.
It was also pointed out to me that I may be thinking in black and white and not realising that most of life is actually grey. Although my parents and husband aren’t too sure, I believe this also rings true in the way I think. Something is either dirty or clean, safe or dangerous. If I see something that looks like sick on the pavement, it is 100% sick unless scientifically proven otherwise. If someone with a cold or a stomach bug is in the office, I am 100% sure that their germs must be on the office door handle. I am unable to think in between and see the grey areas. The sick person might not have touched the door handle and even if they did, it might not have germs on it. But all I can think is it MIGHT have the germs on it. To be it is either white – it is clean, or black – it is contaminated. There is no grey area in between where I am willing to take a risk. But I need to learn to do just that!
So this is definitely what my OCD is about. I have been working on not doing my compulsions and been challenging my belief that if I do or don’t do something, then someone will get hurt. But last night I hit a road block. My Mum told me that she has been called back for further diagnostics after her routine mammogram. Now as much as I fear my sisters, father or husband dying, a lot of my OCD really centres on the fear of my Mum dying. As I said before, I think this goes back to when I was 4 years old and my cousin died. It became clear to me that my Mum could die or and I was so afraid of that. Or even that I could die and I would put my Mum through all the pain I saw her and my Aunt going through. In fact, I think it is more than likely that. I learnt to hide my emotions almost as a way to protect myself and my Mum so that if one of us died, the other wouldn’t be as hurt. But as my therapist explains, that won’t make the other feel better should one die. In fact, it would probably make them feel worse as we wouldn’t have had a close relationship. My therapist explained that her Dad recently died in his 80s. She was sad but said it wasn’t as bad as it could have been because they had a very close relationship and they knew that the other loved them. So I need to relearn how to show my emotions. I need to be able to show love and not just fear (I read recently that all emotions as based on either love or fear and I think that is true).
I recently became very aware of my trying to hide from my emotions. When Mum told me last night that she was being called back for further tests, even though she said it was nothing to worry about at this stage as it might have been something as simple as an unclear bit on the x-ray, I immediately thought the worst, which is pretty normal. I tried my best not to think about it, which again is pretty normal. But what isn’t normal was my instinct to not think about the wonderful day I had that day for my Mum’s birthday. Or how nice it was when I painted her nails for her birthday. Every time I thought about Mum I would get a pang of worry and begin to imagine horrible things. But because I can’t handle the emotions associated with it, I carry out a compulsion to rid myself of the horrible feeling. How am I supposed to learn to live with emotions when I haven’t for 23 years?!
Part of me also believes that it is my fault that Mum has been called back and it will be my fault if something happens to her. I blame myself because I haven’t been carrying out my compulsions. My rational side tells me that this is a load of rubbish but it is that belief that I need to challenge. My heightened sense of responsibility that I have caused my Mum to potentially get ill. I need to challenge that but I am so afraid that if I do challenge it, her tests will come back showing cancer.