Stepping off the hamster wheel

OCD is like being a hamster on one of those running wheels. You know that you’re not really getting anywhere but getting off feels near on impossible. The only difference – and this does make some assumptions and ignores the benefits of exercise – is that you’re acutely aware that you’re a hamster running in a wheel.

It’s incredibly frustrating. It’s horrible to realise that you’re engaged in something so futile. That the future, in a ghoulish parody of groundhog day, simply holds more of the same futility.

Deviating from the prescribed route would be fatal.

Staying on it would be equally fatal.

This is the crossroads that I reached. It was only when the two forks – carrying on and on and on; or taking the risk – balanced, they cancelled each other out, that I was able to get my head around changing. That I could make the leap of faith into behaving differently.

At first it was a game of reductions. It was a step by step edging away from the routine. It was a test tube experiment in which I was both scientist and patient. I didn’t get off the wheel immediately, but I slowed it down enough for getting off to be a possibility.

Each week, I’d chose one part of my bizarre routine to experiment with and, every day for that week, I’d make myself do something different. Starting with the car: week 1, single door checks; week 2, handbrake paranoia control; week 3, unparallel parking. You get the idea.

It sounds ridiculous. Even to me. But when I was going through the whole process, it was absolutely terrifying. It took me weeks to reach muster up the day 1 courage. It took me hours to get over the panic. It took me months to go to bed without thinking ‘because I didn’t do x and y, then I will die in the night’.

Logic doesn’t apply to OCD.

The underlying stuff is completely unrelated. It wasn’t about cars; it was about being scared of dying. It was about trying to make myself feel safe.

It was also about self delusion.

As I began to prove to myself that, actually, the world won’t come crashing down if I don’t tune the car radio in to the correct channel; and, hey, leaving a cup in the sink won’t precipitate a nuclear disaster; and moving the position of my shoes on the doormat may feel traumatic but, in the grand scale of things, it means sweet FA – then the whole process became a lot easier.

My OCD lost a bit of its clout.

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