Episode four: two worlds that spin; one without, one within

Think, worry, repeat

applies to everything in life

the mind becomes an Olympian athlete

obsessing and causing strife

then you use calming rituals

for the thoughts that refuse cessation

but the anxiety is more than habitual

and the end is a spiral of frustration.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is extremely disconcerting and gruelling to deal with. The thoughts and rituals associated with it can induce spiralling frustration. And again, I’m speaking from experience.

OCD has actually been ranked among the ten most handicapping conditions with respect to quality of life and income lost. It is characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions, and intrusive thoughts which are mostly unwelcome. And the sufferer could spend time actively resisting these. Important to note is that OCD is often associated with feelings of shame: many times sufferers hide their condition, too ashamed to seek help. I can attest to this fact.

From very early memories I recall having various obsessions and compulsions. Washing my hands became a spectacle: scrubbing my palms with my nails, several times a day. 

But unlike the comical way it is mostly portrayed in movies OCD isn’t just about getting vexxed over a lopsided wall frame or an unevenly cut cake! 

It is more nuanced than that, manifesting through a wide range of different obsessions and compulsions. Different people could suffer in different ways, and customise their rituals/compulsions to ease their specific obsessions.

As a child I had such a strong sense of symmetry. I remember often feeling the need to walk back using the exact same route as I had used to come. I would stare at ceilings mentally making notes of the wooden panels that weren’t aligned. In my mind there just had to be balance. Of course I didn’t know this then, but this type of OCD is associated with a strong desire for symmetry and orderliness. 

One of my greater compulsions in my adult life has been making lists: on paper and in my mind. For years I could literally repeat all the things I needed to do on any given day, every 30 minutes. It got so frustrating that I thought putting my list on paper and glancing at it every now and then would give me mental relief. What happened was that I couldn’t resist glancing at my paper list just as often as I would’ve replayed it in my mind anyway. It remains this way presently.

Thus the issue is my OCD, and not the tasks to be performed.

In effect, one mole hill is projected as several mountains and can make me feel unable to cope, or as though the simplest task requires a great amount of effort. The result is that few tasks can lead to mental exhaustion. 

Necessary confrontations are dreaded, and avoidance is preferred. Anything that could cause the mildest of discomforts gets cast aside. The comfort zone becomes way too comfortable not because one doesn’t desire adventure, but just for the maintenance of peace of mind. Therefore, if I push the envelope and find myself quaking in my boots internally, I tend to withdraw and seek mental homeostasis till I find the strength to venture out again.

Having experienced OCD for most of my life, and living with it every waking second, I know how debilitating it can be to quality of life. Currently, I am pursuing help. My journey continues…

This reflective piece is the fourth in a series penned by Furaha Asani on her mental health struggles.

Photographs by Mauwa Asani.

More from aKoma