Trigger warning for anyone who is steering clear of descriptions of symptoms of mental illness.
When people think about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they often picture washing hands too often or keeping everything perfect or symmetrical. These can be examples of OCD, but OCD can be many things. I never considered that it could be part of my diagnosis, but it made complete sense after my therapist gently explained to me that yes, I have OCD tendencies. The keyword here is therapist. Please do not diagnose yourself! If you are struggling with something, talk to a professional!
My OCD affects me in at least three notable ways: one pattern of thinking and two behaviors. In terms of the thinking, I am constantly worried about saying and doing the “good” thing, at times to an emotionally paralyzing extent. It tears me apart when my motives are misunderstood, and I tend to hold onto a lot of guilt over not having done or explained something “better.” I feel compelled to explain something over and over to get it “right.” I’ll talk more about this another time! Today, I’m focusing on the behaviors. The two behaviors I have a history with pertain to the walls of my home and my hair.
When we lived in our studio apartment in New Jersey, I began to frequently rearrange frames, posters, and shelves. At times, it was more than once a day. I couldn’t give you reasons why, other than I felt like I had to. Even if I left it one way for a week, it never lasted. No arrangement felt good. I kept doing it, thinking I’d get it “right” eventually. I often moved the furniture around to match, but my focus was the walls. I was painfully aware of and embarrassed by the dozens of holes on every wall. It was the worst feeling.
Throughout my adult life, friends have told me they admired my fearlessness when it came to trying new hair styles. I’ve changed my hair a dozen times in as many years. I’ve never known how to take this compliment, because I knew that I was often compulsively making these changes. I rarely wanted to. What I’ve wanted has been to grow my hair long again for years, but instead I gave myself a pixie cut twice and cut partially grown out bangs back to too short at midnight something like ten times. I would even think “I’m not going to cut my hair, I’m not going to cut my hair,” and the next thing I knew, I’d be cutting my hair. I didn’t understand why I made these choices and felt angry at myself, until I realized that I truly couldn’t control myself.
“Classic Anna, always changing up her apartment! Everything’s in a different spot every time I visit!” and “I could never cut my own hair! I can’t believe you just did it without thinking!” were both things I heard regularly. If my home and my hair were unstable, then it must mean I’M unstable. “All over the place” must be who I am. I internalized this without really realizing it earlier in life from a variety of sources, but these things only made it worse. I couldn’t stand myself. I was my least favorite person (and often still am).
In the two years since I first sought professional help, my OCD has been better. What a difference support makes! We’ve run into a few situations with holes in our current home when I started to feel awful about myself, but W and I bought spackle and made them disappear. As of today, I only have two things on the walls anywhere now, and they are staying where they are. Simplifying the amount of stuff in our home has helped. As for my hair, I made a deal with my therapist that I wouldn’t change my hair without telling her first. Having that accountability and learning how to keep my mind off my hair has done wonders. My bangs are officially grown out! I even had my first ever fancy salon appointment last week, and it was a great experience. My next one is in January, and it feels wonderful to outsource haircare in this way. While I haven’t always been able to afford a luxury like this, I’m taking advantage of it now! Little by little, I’m learning about myself and how to move forward in my life. It’s liberating to not fixate on things like walls and hair as much as I used to, and I’m grateful.