There is a picture/poster doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment – which bears the slogan “I’m thinking of starting an OCD support group at my house. I don’t have it, but I bet at least one of them will tidy up”. In a society which can show astonishing cruelty to those suffering mental illness, it is relatively inoffensive, even mildly amusing.
I say this as someone who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I take antidepressants which also treat OCD symptoms and the worst excesses of the condition are kept in check. I gave up fighting it a long time ago, it is mild compared to some. I have read a few times about the link between OCD and eating disorders and sometimes worry if L is at risk of the same condition.
But who decides where obsessive starts and driven ends? I know this is where day to day living is affected in the main or the impact of abstaining from the compulsion. Sometimes I wonder if actually we have it right after all and others just aren’t trying hard enough….
After a meltdown, I am struck by how often L seeks refuge in a tidying task. I smiled to myself, in a grim and ironic way, when after a recent showdowm, L calmed herself down by tidying out the medicine cabinet. I am sure some parents might wonder what on earth I am complaining about – She may be thin, but look at how helpful and tidy she is. L cannot eat unless she has cleaned food preparation mess away. She spends ages by the fridge sorting out food on to the right shelf, throwing out wrappers and tidying each shelf. I have begun to think that perhaps I should try and stop her, that her illness is just developing new symptoms. But frankly, if she moves from starving herself to death to eating normally but clearing cupboards out every day, I’d see that as an improvement.
For now, I will let I it pass. I know that if my rituals, involving cleaning are not followed, it feels like viewing the world through a distorted lens or like discordant sounds disturbing the peace. Perhaps my genetic make up has also doomed L to a similar fate, which might be to have an outwardly successful life, but to suffer the constant anxiety of not being good enough, or trying to do more. Until she is eating and recovering from anorexia, I will leave her to her cleaning and tidying. In a world which so often seems impossible, unmanageable and unsettling, if comfort can be found from a tidy drawer, or a clean fridge, I will not take that away from her. It could be much worse.