Sometimes you can't see what's always been there. My OCD?
A little over 8 years ago I moved to central america to marry and live with my then-fiance. His mother lived with the father of her 3 daughters (his 3 half sisters). His step father (well, not legally married to his mom, but after 20 something years he was considered a civil husband) was a very very well respected psychologist and MD. I thought the man was odd, as was everyone else's consensus on the matter it seemed. He had lived in the usa for a couple of decades earlier in his life, but his english came with a horribly strong accent that I had a difficult time comprehending. I would insist on using spanish, but no, he liked english. So I met him a few times on a few occasions as they lived in the city and we did not often go there. One holiday, I believe it was christmas, we were there for dinner. As usual, due to his never ending love for all things american, he would talk up a storm with me. I'm a very talkitive person, but when I feel awkward I don't talk less, only I talk more nonsense and unnecessary things. I say whatever comes to mind just to keep away those incredibly awkward silent pauses. Which... means sometimes going too in depth.
That particular dinner he said out of casual conversation "you know you have OCD". What a way to kill a somewhat interesting conversation! Well, at that point I was only 18, and it had only been a little over 2 years since my life had been turned upside down as the police and school and family found out about my abusive childhood. I was still trying to cope with issues from my past, and the last thing I needed was a psychologist randomly diagnosing me with what I felt was a BS diagnosis in the middle of casual conversation over dinner preparations. Of course I was annoyed, and his family really chewed him out for doing that. Which didn't help as they made him grudgingly apologize to me, and since then he seemed to have grown a distaste for striking up conversation with me on future visits over the 4 years I lived there afterwards.
Fast forward to today, 7 and a half years after that day. I have learned to cope to the best of my ability with my past. I still struggle with triggers, but one by one I tackle them in an attempt to desensitize myself. Some weeks are bad, but some weeks are not bad. We had a recent tragedy this last september. I felt like I was in a life or death situation to find my 15 year old neighbor before she did something horrible. I did not make it, and I did not know at the time that while searching, I was so close to her and yet turned to search elsewhere. It was hard, but that is something I'm not ready to fully face. Yet in its wake, I seem to have fewer and fewer nightmares or flashbacks of my own hardships in childhood. When I do have them, they seem more trivial and less difficult to bare at times than they used to. I try not to dwell on thoughts of my neighbor, though my daughter (who adored her) brings up her multiple times daily, I do not want to stress myself out with more feelings of guilt and self blame. Anyone reading this might have an idea of what it's like to know it is not your fault, but not be able to convince yourself of that fact anyway. I still battle with that thought of my childhood at times, none the less this more recent situation.
But in light of this peak of normalcy, I've come to realize more of my bad habits that didn't seem big before when big things were huge and overshadowed insignificant quirks in my personality. The last thing of which I needed was thinking I am more crazy than I already know. Until this last week when things finally just came tumbling down and I admitted something to myself and to my husband.
See, I am obsessive, and always have been a bit. I thought, as a child, it was just my excessive taste for a hobby. It was never anything more than a normal child being a bit overly enthusiastic about anything I got involved with at that point. But in marriage and dependency I would go overboard with buying cute trinkets, all with the excuse that they were very cheap. I still didn't put much thought into it, but I did realize I went overboard a lot at that time, and so I spent years trying to teach myself to think hard before I bought anything. So I would only buy something if I REALLY wanted it. If I wasn't sure, I'd leave it and give myself time to think. If I wanted it still the next day I'd go back and get it (if it was something cheap) or maybe a week later if it was something more expensive. If the feeling of wanting it faded, I wouldn't get it. Well, I thought I was just trying to challenge a flaw in my personality.
Here I am now in the usa again for the last 4 years. Now something really annoying about me that has been surfacing more and more often is my perfectionism in buying things. Oh how it bothers my husband! I will spend sometimes 10 or 15 minutes in a store making sure I got the $0.88 plastic princess cup with the picture lined up most perfectly, even if it means going through all 100 cups in the stack. Or the pants with the most straight seems and even pattern. I got a $5 cupcake bank, but went to 3 stores to see if they had one with the opposite colors on top... and that wasn't entirely true, that's just what I told the employees when I asked if they had any because I was too embarrassed to admit that if they did have the same one I bought... and it was painted more perfectly I would have asked to exchange them. But my house is a total mess. I'm lazy and I know it. I have been getting better about that as I feel less and less someone hitting my back or ripping my hair out as I do the dishes as my step father used to do. As I cook once in a while now without hearing those incessant insults about no one ever wanting to marry me because I'm useless and don't like cooking. I could never make my husband understand how I hated cleaning and cooking because every time I would do either I just wanted to break things and scream. But I am getting better, and I am cooking and cleaning more. I also could so easily be a hoarder. I was starting to fall into those habits years ago early on in my marriage. But as my husband nagged me, I realized I really was starting to act like my grandparents. So I have gotten into the habit of going through my stuff every once in a while to weed out stuff I no longer want.
Still, because I hated to clean, why on earth would I be OCD? I mean, come on! Look at my house! Then... this week something happened that made me realize just how little control I have. See, if I'm not sure I got that plastic princess cup for my little girl with the straightest image, I will actually get anxious. I'll get irritable, and I just can't stop thinking about how the image is a little askew. It drives me NUTS. And not because I want it to. Not because I enjoy being a perfectionist as such trivial things. I just can't help it. But... I always thought that was just my silly personality quirk. Until this week.
See, we've been wanting to get into biking a bit, my husband and I. We went out and got a couple mountain bikes, but the gears on mine didn't work. I went back and returned it and bought a different one. The gears didn't work even with adjusting them, so I exchanged it again but this time for the same thing. Oh, it was purple, with full suspension and really kinda cool. The gears didn't work perfectly on this new one either, but I adjusted it so it was bearable, and I figured a friend that knew something more about bikes could fix it later. Still I spent the last few weeks searching for a bike I liked better in every store imaginable. I had my eye on this cute pink cruiser the entire time, but wanted a mountain bike as it seemed more practical. Well, my husband saw me admiring for the umpteenth time a few days ago, and bought it for me. Oh the guilt! A 2nd bike? I couldn't do that... so I told him I'd return the purple bike. After I test road the cruiser, it did just as well on the roads I wanted to ride, only more comfortable.
But then for the next 2 days I drove myself insane over the kink in the one metal bar of the frame. It wasn't really a flaw, but it was a bend from the machine that bent the metal of the frame, and I had seen the same cruiser without that bend before. So I stressed... and I thought about it non stop, how silly would it be to exchange this for the same thing because a nearly undetectable manufacturing flaw? But I could think of nothing else. It also had a slight noise when I peddled, so I told my husband I wanted to exchange it in case the noise was something that was broken. We went to one store, and then to another, and the bikes had worse noises... just poorly put together I suppose. At this point he was really irritated at me because of all the bike switching over the last couple of months. I can't say I blame him. I was irritated at myself for even caring about such dumb things. Finally I broke down crying trying to explain to him... I can't help it! I don't WANT to care. I want NOT to care. I don't want to obsess over the stupidest details that don't and shouldn't matter to anyone else. But if I have spotted the flaw, it's all I can think about for days or weeks on end. I hate that about myself! Finally he brought up his now-deceased step fathers old diagnosis, that maybe he wasn't being a pest... and that maybe he was right and I do have OCD. When I started to think about it, and the more I thought about it, I couldn't disagree.
I had always focused on my bigger issues like flashbacks and triggers. I never thought twice about the million projects I started but never finished. I never thought there was anything odd with how overboard I went on anything I did. I got into these littlest pet shop blythe dolls and collected some 27 of them... I got into plushies and couldn't stop until I had almost all of 1 type of cute japanese plushies. I got into bettas and got myself four 5 gallon tanks and a 10 gallon tank. Now I am too overwhelmed with the water changes and trying to lessen that load by a couple of tanks. I get into anything, and I go nuts with it. And that almost always fades away, and afterwards I look back thinking why did I have to take it so far?
Why do I feel like I'm going to have an anxiety attack if I don't make the perfect choice when given options? Why is it, every time my mother takes my daughter for professional photos, do I spend days staring at the prints thinking "I shouldn't have chose this one, her head was tilted a tiny bit more than the one I didn't choose... I should have gone with the other" and I always ask my husband hoping he will reassure me that I made the right choice with a compliment. His answer is always the same "they look the same, I don't see any difference". Then I will put it out of my mind after a few days of putting too much thought into it, but the next time I take the photos out I get that same feeling of being frustrated at myself for making the less ideal choice.
So I have been looking it up, as I always have done when I realized I needed to change something about myself. I have done some research, and have come to the realization that I do have OCD. Maybe not to the extreme that some do, and by far I do not fall into the category of being OCD about germs, because really... someone that was like that couldn't live a day with me. Though I do enjoy organization. I will spend days organizing a spot, but then I don't care when it gets messy afterwards. It's... weird. I don't even understand myself.
But my husband has realized that those things I do that really annoy him, I don't do on purpose, and I realize I do them... but really I do them to prevent myself from a lot of extreme stress afterwards. I feel like I would rather make him angry in the moment while I spend 30 minutes on which one to get, than spend the entire day making him upset because I'm in a bad mood over something dumb. I'd rather get it over with. But... I really don't want to be like that. And though I have never admitted to being OCD before, I always realized I carry things too far sometimes, and I do actively try to control myself when I can. I have thought of therapy, over and over again. I just can not afford it. Not at all. And we don't have insurance either. My husband has resolved to be patient and work with me to try and control and redirect my attention when I come across trivial things that are difficult decisions to me.
When I looked farther into it, I was daunted to see that OCD isn't really something that can be cured, but needs constant work to improve in, and I suppose eventually fades with time and support. I guess I'm used to that... having something that feels mentally debilitating and knowing it will never just go away. It will always be there, and is a constant battle. I sometimes get tired of these battles... but I guess I have come a far way, and just have a far way to go. I have been through a lot with my husband. We have fought a lot, and nearly separated a few times. But through it all, I'm so thankful I have him. No therapy would ever be as effective as having a supportive person like him in my life. And I guess after a decade of having to live with me trying to overcome my abusive past... he has learned a thing or two about helping me through mental and emotional difficulties. And so he said to me "but we will take this one step at a time. Now let's go exchange that bike for one without those flaws"