Monday, June 25, 2012

OCD and touching

Note: My blogging friend Rebecca Lane Beittel recently did a week’s worth of posts on her blog “Rebecca of Tomorrow” using the five senses. She invited readers to consider the examples of sounds, tastes, textures, etc. that she provided and choose their favorites.
With a nod and thanks to Rebecca, I’m using the theme of the five senses to connect my five posts this week. With each day’s topic, I’ll focus on one of the senses. Today’s is touch.

When I was in high school, I loved basketball. I loved watching college basketball on TV and dreamed of the day when I would be attending the University of Virginia and would be able to see games in person at University Hall.
In high school, I played basketball for two seasons, my ninth and tenth grades. I was not a good player. I spent a lot of time warming the bench.
That said, I did practice, even without a ball. Our house had a long hallway that went almost the entire length of the house and ended in the kitchen. I’d pretend to be dribbling down the hall (real balls not allowed) and then I’d do a lay-up at the doorway into the kitchen.
What I was really doing was finding a new way to cover up a habit I had. I had to touch the top of the doorframe before I could enter the kitchen.
My “lay-up” was a chance to tap the top of the doorframe.
I don’t remember when I started the tapping, and I didn’t have a particular harm obsession connected with it. In other words, I didn’t think anything specific would happen if I didn’t tap the doorframe. But I didn’t feel “right” and felt anxious if I didn’t do it.
It eventually spread to all the doors within the house—I had to tap the top of the doorframe once before entering a room.
The doorframe touching stopping mostly after I started taking medication for the OCD, but I think ERP would definitely work with that, too.
The odd thing is that if I do happen to touch the top of the doorframe now—for example, I may be standing and talking with my husband and grab the frame with my hands over my head—I can see how easy it would be to get back to the compulsion. So I try not to touch it.
My checking compulsions also involve some touching. At times, I become obsessed with whether or not the light switch is “really” turned off. I fear that I’ll leave it halfway between on and off and it will cause an electrical short and a fire will erupt.
I have to use one finger, usually the forefinger of my right hand, to turn off a light switch. It has to feel a certain way—not too light of a touch and not too heavy—or I have to turn the switch back on and off. There is no set number of times I have to do this. I have to do it until the light switch feels off in the “right” way.
I have to pull out the “Brain Lock” and exposure and response prevention tools to fight this light switch compulsion. I have to make myself turn the switch off once and then walk away and concentrate on something else. It’s hard, but not impossible.

Do you have any touching OCD symptoms? If so, what are they and how do you manage them?

29 comments:

  1. I do the light switch the same way. Drives me crazy. Although it's not as bad as it used to be. But the thought of it catching on fire if it's halfway down freaks me out. I can't really think of anything else that I touch like that. I'm sure I do but I can't think of anything at the moment. Loved this post. :)

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    1. Thank you. It drives me crazy, too, when the compulsion returns for a spell.

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  2. Oh... I've had touching compulsions for years. Mine are also usually connected with harm avoidence.

    The touching compulsions also sneak into my checking compulsions and I have to check things by touching them the right way.

    I also have sniffing compulsions which go along with checking but I'm sure you'll cover the sense of smell another day.

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    1. Elizabeth, that's an interesting way to put it--the touching compulsions sneak into the checking compulsions. That's exactly the way it is for me, too--most of my touching compulsions are connected with checking.

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  3. Tina, I actually broke a sink faucet once because I couldn't just shut the water off, I had to keep pushing the lever to off till it felt right and eventually it busted. I could tell that my husband, who is very compassionate about me having OCD, was really ticked off and I could hardly blame him. I stopped doing that years ago but it was the first things I thought of when I read your post. Something I still do now is when I put my clean laundry away in my dresser, I will kinda do this pat thing, like I am pressing down on it and once will not always be enough. I have already re-opened the drawer to pat it again. It is not a huge compulsion of mine, sometimes I don't have to do it at all. I should work on eliminating that one altogether with ERP - just typing that made my heart rate go up. Isn't that something?

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    1. Krystal, I've loosened the shower lever by pushing on it to make sure it's off. Probably if thinking about the laundry pat made your heart rate go up, an ERP on it would be helpful. I think sometimes the "little" compulsions bother us more than we realize.

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  4. I don't have any, but i love how you describe it starting. So many people want to know the why's and I think they can just start so simply and then snowball. Great example. Sometimes finding the why can help, but sometimes, it becomes another barrier to focus on recovery! Not for you though!

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    1. Jodi, I've noticed the same thing about "why," (Tina's post aside) and that really interests me. I would be interested in knowing more of your thoughts on the subject, perhaps in one of your posts?

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    2. Jodi, With OCD, I don't try to figure out the whys too much, because like you say, it gets in the way of recovery. The real focus for me is to stop doing the compulsions! With the depression, I do tend to want to now the whys more, but knowing doesn't help push me forward. Like Nadine, I'd love to see you do a post perhaps on the why.

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    3. I have wondered occasionally why I have a certain compulsion but not another. Like my worse case OCD scenario would be put in a load of laundry and not wash my hands. To some people with OCD that is no big deal, but they have stuff they avoid or do that wouldn't bother me at all. I guess I am curious about it but I don't dwell on it because I really don't think the why matters. Jodi saying it starts simply and snowballs resonates with me because I have done something once and all of a sudden it seems imperative that I do it again and it doesn't take long for me to become fixated enough that it is this ritual now that I have to do. UGH!

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    4. Krystal, I have wondered, too, why people have different compulsions, and why my own obsessions and compulsions change. I've noticed, too, that some start and then snowball into full-fledged compulsions. And then they go away. It's like I get used to one and am able to fight it, so OCD comes back with a new one to deal with. That's the way it seems to me.

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    5. So pleased you say that about the compulsions changing Tina! And often it takes me a while before I realize there's a "new" one that has popped up again. Like a never ending fight.

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    6. Klaaske, you are so right about it taking a while to realize a new one has appeared (erupted? reared its ugly head?).

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  5. I do not have this issue, but it was fascinating to read about. I felt as though I was there, and almost felt the muscle movement in the arm that I would use if I were tapping the door frame. I don't envy your struggle.

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    1. Thanks, Nadine. At least the door frame issue is not much of a problem anymore.

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  6. I only used to have touching rituals as a child, I think from the age of 6 or so. I had to touch my own face in a certain way once I was in bed or else something terrible would happen to my family that night. I remember having to start the whole ritual over and over because I had made a mistake and it just had to be perfect otherwise it would not count. Mostly I would be terrified a fire would break out in the middle of the night if I didn't do it, when everyone was sleeping and I would not be able to warn them. This lasted for quite a few years, until we moved to a new house and somehow I relaxed there and the touching ritual disappeared.

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    1. Klaaske, I feel sorry for that little girl you were who was so worried about her family. I'm glad that you don't have the touching ritual anymore.

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  7. No touching rituals that I can think of. But my fav number is 7, so I'll often do things around that. Like if I use the microwave, I'll set it for 37 seconds or something like that.

    I think I'm starting to see some mild obsessions in my 5 year old. Do you have any advice for how to help him move past them now, before they become problematic? Like he has certain things he has to say to DH before he goes to work, and if he doesn't get to say those things or only says one of them (Like have a nice day, I love you, etc.) he has started freaking out.

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    1. Lisa, Maybe your husband could reassure him that even if he doesn't get to say the nice things he likes to say, he knows that Pierce loves him and wants him to have a nice day. Then maybe there would be that "understanding" between them, that even if the "I love yous" aren't said aloud, they know they love each other no matter what. I think that would have helped me when I was a child.

      Probably giving reassurance when needed but not making a big deal over it now would help take care of it. But other readers might have other suggestions.

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  8. I love this post because you so clearly demonstrate how OCD twists its way through real life - you really did love basketball, but the OCD worked its way even into that. You are also so right about it being easy to slip back into compulsions - I think about this a lot.

    At first when I was thinking about touching, I could think only of childhood rituals. But as I continued to read the comments, I realize I still have touching compulsions, mainly with personal belongings of the people I love. Like if I put away my husband's shirts, I have to touch and smooth them. I totally get what you say about it having to feel "just right."

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad this post resonated with you. OCD does twist itself into our lives, doesn't it?

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  9. My favorite line of your post is the last one: "It's hard, but not impossible." Sure sums up ERP Therapy!
    As far as touching compulsions go, I do notice my son Dan still occasionally will need to touch a surface (counter, table top, etc) with one finger. It doesn't happen often, and I don't bring it up to him as I know he has the tools to deal with it when/if he decides to.

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    1. That's wonderful, Janet, that your son has those tools. No matter what, he has those tools to deal with what comes along.

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  10. Oh I worry about light switches too! I'm SO afraid I will start an electrical fire and I'm petrified that I may leave a switch only half way turned off. Very scary!

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    1. Sunny, I will never stop being surprised that different people with OCD, while having such different symptoms, can still have some of the same ones. What is it about OCD and light switches?

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  11. I have lots of touching compulsions. I have to touch certain textiles until it feels right to proceed. My favorite blanket is the worst. I can spend 20 minutes before I can proceed in the morning. However, I don't fight these compulsions anymore. I don't worry about them. If ones goes away, I just get another one. So I just roll with it, and wake up a bit earlier so that I am I not late for work. I used to try counselling, and this one said, you've made it 29 years this way, lets look at different things you can change. Like, waking up earlier to fit them in, so they don't affect your day. It may be easier than anxiety and depression.

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    1. I can see not going through the process of getting rid of a compulsion if it doesn't cause undue stress or suffering. It's all up to the person with the compulsion. Sometimes it is best to roll with it, as you say.

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  12. I check light switches in this manner. I can avoid it, if I really make the effort.

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    1. You're right--it's hard, but it can be done.

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