OCD can often feel like the universe hired a bunch of poltergeists to mess with you. To plant syringes and dog poo along whatever path you take to get to work, or to ensure every person who hands you something that day will have a scab on their hand or cough into it. Hello, operator? Please connect me to the Ghostbusters. I’m sorry, what do you mean they’re not real? Next you’ll be telling me my toys don’t come to life when I leave the room.
It’s okay guys, I know you’re really alive.
Perhaps the most crucial and difficult step is recognizing that the problem is internal rather than external. That it’s not the world that’s dangerous, but my brain that’s overreacting. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well so does eating a sugar-coated jam donut without licking your lips, but try it sometime; it’s like doing rocket surgery while drunk, wearing oven mitts, and busting for a piss.
Because OCD doesn’t just flip the panic switch; it’s sneakier than that. It infiltrates your senses and warps them to fit its agenda.
Spatial awareness is one of its favourites. For example, when I’m scared of touching things, like the wall of a toilet cubicle, or a person who just sneezed onto their sleeve, it seems as though they’re closer to me than they really are. My depth perception and sense of touch play tricks on me; my eyes seem to go into x2 magnification, and the movement of air against my skin makes me think I brushed something. My hair is especially troublesome; it feels as though it extends out twice as far as it really does, and when it shifts, my OCD tries to convince me I brushed a bus handrail, low hanging leaves with bird poo on them, or the toilet door. Maybe I should get a tattoo printed on my cornea; “objects are not as close as they appear”.
Sometimes it gets to the point where my perception becomes totally out of sync with reality; I’ll ask if I touched something, and people will look at me in confusion and tell me, “Max, you were like a meter away from it.” Once, back when OCD’s hold over me was at its strongest, I was walking down a hillside, wearing shorts, and I asked my Mum if the ground could touch the back of my shorts because of the slope.
This looked a LOT closer when I was taking the photo…
All this can make it tricky to figure out where the OCD ends and reality begins. It’s kinda like those movies where you’re not sure if the filmmakers were aware of the stupidity of it all and are taking the piss out of themselves, or if they weren’t and it’s just plain bad. (Think Starship Troopers, the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, or Azumi)
I’m constantly asking myself; is this an OCD overreaction, or is it just reasonable hygiene? Do people without OCD feel the need to wash their hands after handling money, or holding onto a handrail on the train? It is rational or excessive to move seats if the person across from me seems to have a cold? At this point, I’ve long since lost track of what constitutes “rational”, so I look at what other people do for guidance. Problem is, this doesn’t always help, cos sometimes I spot someone picking their nose before turning a public doorknob or leaving the toilets without washing their hands, and it scares the hell outta me.
After years of caging these sensory poltergeists and running all manner of experiments on them, (most of which were ethically dubious and inspired by the work of scientists from Japanese Godzilla movies) I finally hit on their Achilles Heel. They lack stamina. The fifteen minutes following a run-in with one is incredibly unpleasant, but if I can keep a lid on the discomfort for longer than that, then they start to feel a lot less real, and I can usually brush them off.
It’s like how you know a dream wasn’t real when you wake up from it. Because once the adrenaline wears off and the frontal lobe of my brain sobers up, I can look back at it without panic goggles, and see it for the cheap trick it was. Sure, I may be left with a bit of a fight-or-flight hangover, (adrenaline’s up there with absinthe and tequila in the aftereffects hall of fame) but provided I wait it out instead of throwing all my clothes in the wash and taking a shower right away, they’re beatable.
The song was right about one thing: busting makes ya feel good. (Ghostbusting that is, not busting for a leak while drunk, wearing oven mitts, and doing rocket surgery)