OCD and Control

I’ve been cleaning my house for the past 2 weeks with the sort of dedication that the Dalai Lama gives to his meditations. The thought of a lamp facing the wrong direction by a half-inch is enough to wake me from a deep sleep and have me cleaning all around that lamp for hours. I awake in the morning and my first feeling is happiness because I have a new day to clean more. This morning my first waking thought was “I get to go through all the storage boxes today!”. Of course I found about 25 other cleaning jobs to do while on my way to the storage shelves but that just adds to my feeling of contentment. I spend 14-16 hours a day cleaning before my husband will absolutely insist that I MUST sit down and relax so that I will be able to fall asleep.
I make this sound pretty great right? In my eyes? It is great! It is soothing, I feel calm while working away, and I am getting one amazingly clean (okay, cleaner) house that is organized within an inch of its life. There is not one tiny item that I can not account for and the huge bags of donation and garbage items are ready to go out for Fridays pick. I just wish Friday was sooner because going to sleep knowing there are bags of items I want gone is VERY difficult. Just thinking of them now as I write this to you fills me with a great deal of anxiety.
This is where the problem with my cleaning and organizing is found.

  • If anything is not perfect, how do you deal with that?
  • How do I take time off to keep an appointment or write this blog?
  • If an item is moved even slightly one way or another, what then?
  • Heaven forbid we need to eat and mess up the kitchen. Last night I suggested going out.
  • And use the bathroom? Do you know how many times you need to re-clean a bathroom in a day if everything needs to be perfect?
  • Christmas? Who has time for that? Do you know how messy those decorations can be? Glitter? That stuff is a nightmare!
  • What if someone visits and you have to stop cleaning to spend time with them?

This partial list above is my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and how it affects me when it is full-blown and uncontrollable.

I do want to say that I am not very well-informed about OCD as it relates to others. My attention has been on PTSD, depression, anxiety and DID. There are quite a few blogs that are fantastic at explaining it and dealing with its issues better than I can. This particular blog is my experience only.

To be honest, I never even considered that I had OCD at all. In my limited exposure to the topic, I thought that of I wasn’t washing my hands past the point of being raw, terrified of touching anything for fear of germs or scrubbing my taps with bleach and a toothbrush for hours, that I did not have it at all. I was very misinformed.

Then I went to the hospital program (that I have mentioned in past blogs) and my anxiety kicked in. Suddenly I found myself organizing pencil crayons according to rainbow shades and keeping them in a perfectly straight line. My bed was perfectly made the moment I got out of it even if I was only going for a pee in the middle of the night. My notebooks were colour coded and kept in meticulous order with every topic having its own section. My clothing was hung by item type, colour and “use”. Sweaters do not belong mixed in with T-shirts any more than the black socks should be mixed in with the white. In my mind I was just being organized and tidy.

Then I was asked by my tag team of nurses to not make my bed for a day. The second she even mentioned it I felt my anxiety rise to the highest level imaginable. It shocked me. I tried to laugh it off but the anxiety rose every time we discussed it.
I will admit that I was never able to go a day (or even an hour) without making my bed but my eyes were opened to something new.
My nurse said to me that doing these things was my way of having some control when I otherwise feel out of control. In that setting, you are being constantly triggered, people say or do things that throw you off course, topics are discussed that are emotionally charged, new concepts are being constantly introduced and so wonderful as the program was, it was very anxiety provoking for me (and I am sure most others).

So now I know what it means when I feel my OCD getting out of control. I am so very thankful that most days it is still there in my makeup but not as urgent or life altering as I know it can be for many others. That said? When it does get out of control it is scary. The very tool that you are using to gain control in your life is not controlling you.

While obsessively cleaning and organizing over the past two weeks i have realized something else. Each time I try to stop, I begin to feel sad about my daughters not speaking to me, anger begins to boil towards my mother for causing the rift, worry steps in and reminds me that Christmas is 9 days away and I have done NOTHING.
When I clean, my thoughts feel focused on the task at hand and the world feels okay somehow. When I stop? It all goes haywire. Supper is not ready, I can’t even decide what to make. The dart league that my husband and I run had our Christmas party last Friday and I had not bought so much as a paper plate. No decorations were done, no plates, cups or cutlery, or even a small gift that is customary from the league to our players each year. I had not so much as written a card out. Forget all that… at 7pm, I had not even showered or stopped cleaning yet! I had not made any food and the party was to start at 8pm.
This is why the cleaning is NOT always such a great thing.
I am avoiding emotions. I am not living my life. I am hiding in a room alone with just my garbage bags and I.

So what do we do about all of this? To be honest? I am not really sure.
Maybe the answer will come to me when I am finished cleaning?

In the meantime, my life will look like this. So sad to say I did this exact thing while waiting for a prescription to be filled a few days ago. OOPS! You must admit it looks great though right?

6 responses to “OCD and Control

  1. I don’t know a lot about OCD but I think to keep away from my emotions especially implicit emotions and memories that I have from early childhood. I can’t stop reading so I can intellectually fix my PTSD and developmental trauma. I guess we have our obsessions to deal with our distress. I can’t seem to give up my racing thoughts and constant thinking. It too wakes me up from a sound slip at 2 in the morning. I guess we just continue to work on building new coping strategies.


  2. Having your house immaculate and everything in it’s place is your way of dealing with recent “happenings” in your life Heather. And look at it this way; it’s better than hitting the bottle or cutting. Your wonderful sense of humour helps you see the “good” side, and you have support and understanding from your lovely hubby. I’m not making light of it; I have been known to try twitching a cushion or ornament into it’s “proper” place whilst waiting for the paramedics to come and take me to hospital because my Hemiplegic Migraine has gone on for 12 hours and I am still partially paralysed all down one side!!! It’s our way of dealing with something we have no control over – AT THE MOMENT. It won’t be forever. Cwtches.xxx


  3. The line “The very tool that you are using to gain control in your life is not controlling you” really struck me. I don’t have OCD, but I do have anxiety and know how it feels to try and control a situation/how you feel about something through cleaning. It seems innocent enough until you get to the darker reasoning behind it. It is SO helpful to simply face that fact–that you are doing this to gain control. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for your words!


    • Thank you so much for your kind words. When I was told why I was doing it, I felt so relieved. Like I could explain it and it also helps me control it better. Sometimes I realize that I just need to allow myself a manic OCD period of time but also realize that I need to stop. It is really nice hearing from you again. šŸ™‚


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