Monday, July 9, 2012

Movement rituals: OCD embedded in the normal

I turn on the shower but don’t get in yet. While the water is getting warm, I squeeze face soap on my hand. I get in the shower.
I wet my face with my right hand. I scrub my face with the soap. Round and round on my cheeks. Over and around my nose. Skim the forehead.
I splash water on my face and start rubbing my eyes. With the tip of my fingers of both hands, I rub each eye inward. I don’t count the number of times I rub them, but I know when it feels right.
I pick up the bottle of liquid bath soap. I squeeze soap into my left hand. With my right arm, I hold the bottle against me and wipe the opening with my right hand. Then I hold my right hand under the water to wash off any soap residue.
I close the bottle top with my right hand, making sure I hear the click of it closing. If the click is too soft, I open the top again, wipe the top, rinse my hand and close the top.
Then I hold the bottle under the water and rinse the whole thing before setting it down.
I wash in the same order using the same motions as always.
After rinsing, I wet my hair. Then I rub my eyes again until it feels right.
I pick up the shampoo bottle, squeeze a dollop into my left hand, hold the bottle against me, wipe the opening with my right hand, close the top and listen for the click, then rinse the whole bottle under the water.
I scrub my hair and then rinse it. Then I rub my eyes until it feels right.
When I’m done, I gather water into my hands from the spray and splash it on the shower floor, trying to get rid of any leftover soap.
I squeeze the excess water out of my hair and splash the floor some more.
I turn off the shower. I push the off lever at least once more to make sure it’s off.
I get out of the shower.

  That’s my shower routine. It’s probably apparent why I don’t take quick showers, why my husband sometimes asks me after I get out of the shower, “Did you fall asleep in there?”
It’s only fairly recently that I realized all my little movements and rituals I do when taking a shower were symptoms of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about some of my touching compulsions. Apparently, touching and movement compulsions are similar.
In “A Touching Story,” an article on the Beyond OCD website, Fred Penzel Ph.D. writes that touching and movement compulsions can include a variety of behaviors, including two ways that affect me: moving in symmetrical or special ways and moving in special ways while carrying out certain activities.
Penzel writes that there are subgroups of this type of compulsion, including performing the compulsion as a magical or superstitious ritual to keep something bad from happening; performing them to have a sense of completion; and performing them to satisfy an urge.
I fall within the first subgroup. I perform the rituals because not doing so would make me feel like something bad was going to happen.
  I want to take quicker showers, and I don’t want to be driven by OCD, so I’ve been tackling the problem.
Opportunities for exposure come often because I shower every day.
I’ve been trying to stop the movement rituals as soon as I realize I’m doing them. I am refusing to reopen and then re-close bottles of soap and shampoo. I am trying to stop rubbing my eyes beyond getting any water out of them. I am trying to push the off lever of the shower just once. I am trying to refocus my attention and move on.
Some showers are easier than others. I can feel the anxiety when I am not sure if I washed off the shampoo bottle or closed it properly, even though part of me knows I did.
My goal is to not do any of the rituals because I know doing rituals encourages me to do rituals.
I just have to keep working at it.

Do you have movement rituals? If so, how do you manage them?


  1. It is funny you write about this today! I was just thinking about this over the weekend. Rituals I do without realizing they are rituals! And if I don't do them I feel like something is wrong. Mine happen in the morning getting ready. I get up, get dressed immediately, go get ready...wash face, brush teeth, apply moisturizer, etc.etc....they sound normal enough, but if they are disturbed, if i cant do them in the way i am "supposed to"... I am not a happy camper! I get angry, emotional etc. I do not like to defer from my ways!

    1. Shannon, I can relate to that! The rituals become so ingrained, it's hard to see them for what they are until they're interrupted by something.

  2. I used to have a lot of shower rituals too. Let's just say I used to take L-O-N-G showers. ha ha

    Hmm, not sure if I have any movement rituals per se. I do have kind of a shoulder tic thing going on. A neurologist did recently tell me that it was a bonafide tic. It actually bothers me less now that my overall anxiety has lowered. Weirdly enough, it used to both me in the car more than anywhere else. I actually try to pay no mind to it. The more I think about it, the worse it gets. It's like the urge increases if I think about it too much. Now that I give it some more thought, I think I may have some tic issues going on with my legs at night when I try to sleep. Very frustrating. Again, the more I think about it, the more it bugs me.

    Good job working on the shower compulsions! Keep up the good work - you'll get there!

  3. I only have very few touching rituals left. Most of them are with my knitting and crochet. Just have to do everything "right and in the right order" there. But it's not so bad that it spoils the fun being creative anymore. It does create very neat work though! ;)

    1. Klaaske, I think that's the important thing--they don't spoil the fun of being creative. I bet you do nice work!

  4. I have several movement rituals and Penzel is right because for me they are to ward off bad things from happening like he said: "including performing the compulsion as a magical or superstitious ritual to keep something bad from happening."

    I also take ritualized showers and alwasy have.

    I have eye movements and head movements that I have to do a certain way, a certain number of time or until it feels "right." I think the movement rituals are very closely related to touching compulsions because sometimes for me, there is a very fine line between the two.

    1. Elizabeth, I hold my head to the side a lot, and I'm starting to wonder if that's a ritual movement. Or maybe I just have bad posture!

  5. What if this was completely normal? or at least you thought of it as normal? What would you think then?

    1. Jodi, if I thought this was normal, I guess I wouldn't think I had to change anything. I would think the way I was showering was OK. That does give me a different perspective on things!

  6. When I read this the first time I thought, "How exhausting!" And then I remembered all the ways that my own anxiety used to exhaust me, all the little things that would drain my energy throughout the day. You are doing great work, Tina, and I know it's not easy. Hugs.

    1. Thank you, Nadine, it can get exhausting. Thank you for your encouragement! :-)

  7. Good for you for recognizing the rituals and trying to conquer them. Hopefully each shower will be a little easier. Think of all the water you'll save!

  8. I am not doing so good in this dept. - it was painful for me to even read your shower routine because it so resembles mine. I actually put my daily shower off till this afternoon because this morning I was feeling so much anxiety that I worried I would be in the shower for 2 hours. It turned out good because I weeded the garden and by the time I was done I was sweating so bad I would have needed another shower anyway. I would really love to know how you are combating the shower routine..are you trying to perform no rituals or just cut back on a few of them?

    1. Krystal, I'm sorry you're having this problem, too. I'm not trying to cut out all the rituals at once. The rituals are such a part of the whole shower, that would be really hard at this point. I'm trying to notice each one as it comes up and stopping it or shortening it. For example, I'm making myself NOT wipe the top of the soap bottle before closing it. I do rinse the bottle, but I'm trying to do it very fast. In fact, I'm trying to move through the whole shower process very quickly. That's causing me a lot of anxiety, because I feel like I'm missing doing something I'm supposed to be doing, but I'm trying to just deal with the anxiety and not give in.

      Sometimes I mix up the order--I'll wash my hair first, for example--and that makes me think more about what I'm doing and what the next step is. It takes me out of the automatic movements a little.

      I hope this helps!

  9. Hi Tina, the more posts I read in your blog, the more I identify with you! I'm finding out what obsessions/compulsions I do have, and that they have a name, it's not just something in my head. Movement rituals? Yep, I've got them. I repeatedly rub my nose, lick my lips, rub my eyebrows and eyes. Showering? I pick up the shampoo, squeeze out the right amount, click the lid, rinse bottle, line it up right. Wash hair twice. Condition, same thing. Washing myself, rub my eyes, rub my nose, lick then clench my teeth, wash body in order, scratch in soap repeatedly. Turn off taps twice, check everything has been replaced correctly. Then rub eyes, nose and clench teeth. The rubbing and clenching rituals I do all day and night, I'm conscious of what I'm doing, but I can't stop. I HAVE to do it or things aren't right. Susan :)


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