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Some time ago, and it was when I was with my ex-husband, I read that OCD was on the autism spectrum. I know I was with my ex-husband because this was something he used against me. In a battle of wills it was surely reasonable that the person without autism was the most likely to be accurate in their perception of a situation?

Writing such a thing now makes me smile and I rather pity him for a world view that can only bring him conflict. These days I’m far less interested in whether having OCD fits this or that label and just get on with things. 

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given regarding this aspect of myself came from my girlfriend Jelly who modestly titles herself Queen of Everything (and in fairness she is ridiculously wise for her years). What Jelly pointed out was that love is accepting and that even though we had only just become friends she already had sufficient feeling towards me that if my world was happier and calmer because she closed cupboard doors when I was around then that was hardly difficult and happily done. Jelly stopped me seeing my having OCD as a negative thing that potential partners would have to endure and instead see it as a facet of my personality, without which I would be a different person. Love me, love my OCD.

I’m very fortunate in that while I can struggle with being an obsessive compulsive; my experience of OCD is both mild and specific. So much so that unless I choose to disclose it, I can generally hide the fact. Even my response to something which upsets me is fairly subtle, I may scratch at the skin on my arms that itches on the inside or flex my shoulders (I refuse to give in to the urge to hit the side of my head because that really does scream mental person), but mostly I just look a little teary with a tense jaw.

Still, it can feel like a cross to bear. I can be funny about physical contact and don’t like being touched unless I’ve crossed a certain line regarding that person in my mind. So I hug my family and friends and am very physically affectionate towards the boyfriend but am liable to flinch if someone taps my arm and freeze if someone I’ve just met goes in for a kiss on the cheek. One of the receptionists at the museum has taken to patting me on the shoulder and I don’t know how to tell her not to. I get embarrassed and so I endure what feels like nettles being stroked up the underside of my flesh rather than speak out.

My main triggers however are sound and numbers. Sound is mostly about volume and I hate music played too quietly. I also hate certain genres of music; particularly slow classical and country, something to do with pacing I suppose. Numbers are hugely complex but I am mostly upset by prime numbers and like numbers divisible by three or five.

My OCD is mostly based upon my mental well-being. My relationship with my ex-husband was very taxing and the emotional rollercoaster saw me triggered by cupboard doors being ajar, towels not hung straight and coat hangers that didn’t match. I still fold my towels neatly and hang my clothes on identical coat hangers but more from a view that life is nicer that way than essential that way. I’ve cared a little more recently as the stress of moving has unbalanced me but I’m not acting compulsively in these areas. As a rule, these days I’m affected by very little as I’m the happiest I think I have ever been.

The thing that never goes away however is the volume on a stereo. Combining sound and numbers, this can drive me insane in a second and to ignore it is like trying to ignore someone casually repeatedly punching you in the face. I know its absurd (a vital distinction between OCD and OCBD) but that doesn’t stop it hurting.

What is most perplexing however, is when the rules change. Suddenly my favourite number is 23. 23 is a prime number. I have hated and feared prime numbers for 27 years, I hated being 23 and felt a huge weight lift on my 24th birthday. I would alternate between being a little too hot at 24 degrees and a little too cold at 22 degrees in my apartment in Kuala Lumpur to avoid turning the air con to 23. I have never had a clock set to 24 hour time to avoid 11pm looking so awful. But then one day, I wanted my car stereo set to 23 for motorway driving (it gets very noisy inside an MX5 and music needs to be loud to be audible when driving at “70” mph).

This is the stuff of crazy. When you are consistent you have a degree of justification; neat towels don’t fall over and food in identical storage jars (hmm, forgot that one) keep cupboards clean and tidy. A lot of my OCD makes good sense and it often gets commented at work that I’m organised and good at planning. I’m also aware that I probably owe a fair degree of my academic success to my OCD; my footnotes are accurate and my fact checking, well, obsessive. The evil of prime numbers was something I simply figured was due to something I was perceiving above and beyond everyone else, rather like the electrical noises my unusually wide range of hearing can pick up. Change isn’t good.

Oh big change is fine. I can move to the Far East and start a new life but the numbers changing, well that’s just not right.

There are no answers of course and to seek them would truly lead to madness. Instead I must let it go and writing this has helped in that. And despite this being more self-serving than usual, I hope those of you that are still reading stop and think about the fact that between 2 and 3% of people live with OCD and fight these tiny battles alongside all the usual stuff. OCD isn’t limited to cleaning and locking doors, many of us have perfectly dirty homes and have little interested in security so please do me a favour and when a friend or colleague suddenly expresses a hatred of bungalows, goes out of their way to avoid filling in a form or says they’d rather have no tea than have to sniff the milk then give them a degree tolerance for there may be far more to it than what first appears.
5/19/2010 10:50:19 am

I think that if OCD is on the aspergers spectrum it is on it only in the same way that being normal is on it... aka your ex is full of shit... But I'm sure you already knew that...


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