Take the OC D-train
4th February 2006
Routine is the curse of OCD. When I was little, before I realised the advantages of steady employment, I wanted to live in a different country every year. Fortunately, I have grown up and come to my senses, but still - if I had my way, and a few million dollars to burn, I'd schedule foreign holidays as often as possible.
Strangely, when I play back holidays in my mind, I am shocked by how much I was able to suddenly abandon my usual anxieties when on them. Last time I went to London, two of my best pals and I shared a cramped room in a ramshackle B&B a few blocks from Victoria Station. Believe me, I'm not exaggerating when I say that inter-city trains ran through the back garden. Now that I think of it, I can't believe I let myself sleep under a woolly blanket that may not have been properly washed since the past occupant used it. Think about all the germs in the pillow that even a fresh pillowcase can't block! And could it be that I actually stepped into the shower without sandals? Mind you, our en-suite bathroom measured roughly five feet by two, meaning that if you dared to use the shower, all your bog roll would end up soaked. How many millions of bacteria can dance on the end of a pin? More than I'd like to admit. But that's not the point - at the end of the day, I wasn't obsessing. I was enjoying myself the way I should do more often.
And it's not just on holiday that this mysterious transformation happens! I'm reminded of the first time I actually realised my academic career would not collapse if I let down my guard. During my final year in high school, a counsellor ordered me to play truant one Friday, like any normal eighteen-year-old should do every now and again. My parents agreed that a day exploring and shopping in downtown Chicago might just do the trick to alleviate some of my anxieties. I had always been a good student, but I constantly feared that if I screwed up once, that would be it, everything down the drain. I had already been accepted into university and had no exams or deadlines on that day, so I slept late, hopped onto a train when I should have been sitting in English class, and took a day for myself. In retrospect, this day gave me a taste of what I would get when I moved to New York and started the next phase of my education - I walked the streets wherever I pleased, poked my head into museums and galleries, scarfed down a sandwich at a tiny Italian café, and even allowed myself the indiscretion of buying myself a new top in the grand old Marshall Fields stores in Chicago. The world did not come to an end. My marks did not plummet. And most importantly, I felt so normal!
Now, my task is to figuratively bottle up this state of mind and work out how to apply it to my everyday life.
I used to berate myself and think that maybe I had things too good and therefore I had to invent worries and problems for myself in my day-to-day existence. But that is ancient history - I threw away that kind of thinking when I started getting help for OCD.
The worst thing that people with disorders can do is blame themselves for the problem. Among other things, it just takes away from time that could be spent thinking of the occasions when they have been mysteriously, and gloriously, free of their problems. The difficulty is that such moments, like my carefree days in London, lead to an annoying contradiction: 'I felt fine because I was enjoying a special time, but for a time to be special, it has to be something rare'. Fat lot of good that does me!
Until I hit the jackpot and find some way to make life into one huge holiday - and let's face it, that ain't happening anytime soon - I have to be content with the next best thing. When life gets a little too overwhelming, my solution is to jump on a subway train and whisk myself to another corner of the city to search for adventures and hopefully clear my mind. If anxiety is wrapping itself round your neck and settling in for a long spell, the best thing to do is get out of routine for even just an hour or two. It will give your mind something new to ponder - hopefully something far more interesting than pointless OCD worries. I can't snap my fingers and take myself out of anxiety, but I can remember what has given me relief, and look forward to the next time I can take a break from what gets me down.
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