#Oh #See #Dee #OCD
There was pandemonium. The bathroom was flooded. As the teachers at my preschool rushed to turn off the tap and considered the flood in woe, I felt desperately guilty. I considered the possibility that it was my fault. I was consumed with guilt as I watched the adults hurry to mop up things. Boy was I in trouble! Why would I blame myself? Besides being somewhat neurotic and used to taking the blame when it was handed out to me, it was quite possible that I might not have closed a tap. What I knew for certain was that I used the small basins more than anyone else in school. I visited the bathroom regularly to wash my hands. So regularly in fact, that my hands were dry and chaffed to the extent that they bled in the cold winter months. I was teased for it: for the bleeding hands by my peers and for washing so regularly by my parents. Thus so with time I learned to hide my need to wash the dirt of life off my hands.
My mother was an angry woman. What pissed her off was not something that I was concerned about at the tender age of three and a half. All that was important was that I somehow placate her wrath: a rage that exploded at the slightest provocation. Her anger that was sometimes briefly absent would enter violently and suddenly from left stage without any explicable cue. It was surprising, but I got used to it. My childish mind decided that I had to be perfect. I should not do anything to annoy her. It was as simple as that.
How can a three year old be perfect? She keeps things clean and tidy. She doesn’t make a noise. She makes no demands. I took this to the extreme. I clearly remember the day when I decided that I could be “clean” or “dirty”. One evening as I watched my sister run water into the bath without the plug in it to fool my mother into thinking she had bathed, I decided that my sister was dirty. I was going to be clean!
It was difficult being clean. The world was littered with so many unclean things. I washed money and then I washed the hands that had made contact with it. My hands were not allowed to touch what had been touched by so many dirty people before. Washing money seemed to make it somewhat cleaner, but not entirely so. I also tried to flatten crushed notes with only marginal success. I was much happier with new money. A visit to the supermarket left me inconsolable. People passing by would brush me in their haste and taint me. My mother would ask me to fetch groceries which had been touched by others. I would go to the bathroom as soon as possible after arriving home and wash my hands and my arms right up to below the shoulders, after holding them away from my body for the entire journey home so as not to contaminate the rest of my body.
I tidied and sorted. All the items in my bedroom were perfectly aligned. My bed was neatly made without a crinkle. At times I would tidy my sister’s room, which delighted her. I methodically lined up each item to the millimetre at perfect angles. I had to be clean and tidy. My mother didn’t live up to my high standards and in grade one I took over the task of tying my hair up for school. I brushed my hair and created a middle parting. Each pigtail was brushed behind my ear and a perfect plait was constructed. My sister, recognising my need to be perfect, would ruffle up my hair in the car on the way to school. I would scream in angst before realigning it.
Being clean sanitised any joy out of my life. Visiting the beach was an exercise in trying not to get sandy – an impossible task – and going into the ocean was a definite no-no as I would get sand in my bathing costume. My father, misunderstanding my reticent to rush into the water like most children my age, tucked me under his arm and ran into the sea laughing with his bellowing laugh– with me kicking and screaming blue murder. He was a kind man and didn’t understand the cruelty. The fact that we visited the beach every weekend in summer and whenever the weather allowed it was untenable to me.
My phobia around Camps Bay beach extended well into my thirties, when I moved onto Glen Beach, a small beach with seventeen bungalows next to Camps Bay beach. It was only then that I learned to appreciate the beauty of the ocean – and tolerate sand to come extent. Fortunately we had a shower outside so that I could wash the sand off my feet before going inside; unfortunately my boyfriend was not as sanctimonious about cleanliness as I was.
What I had learned by then was that I was OCD and that this was a condition not shared by all and sundry. By then I also knew that I was bipolar and that anxiety was part of my make-up. Ten years later, I still wash my hands or shower when I feel anxious. At times I am completely unaware of the anxiety until I feel the need to wash. It has become a conditioned response that alerts me to the fact that something is amiss. It is a signal, a sign that I am grateful for as I am able to be aware of my anxiety and contain it. Sometimes I do this by washing, sometimes showering up to five times a day, and sometimes I am able to sit with the anxiety and consider the cause. Sometimes I need to shower before I am able to do the sitting.
My rough and ready boyfriend found it very funny. I simply explained that when I was anxious showering helped. As a psychologised person I got that. I didn’t make the harsh connection that it was his behaviour that made me anxious and elicited a need to purge the dirt. His au natural body odour was an affront to my sensibilities – I asked him gently if he would mind using deodorant. He told me that his ex-girlfriend discouraged the use of deodorant as she liked his B.O. I told him that I was happy for her and that I was a unique individual who didn’t share the sentiment. He bought deodorant, but he never showered daily. Much to my chagrin, he considered his morning swim in the sea sufficient and he only showered at the gym.