Friday, August 27, 2010
Being with my family, and only my family, is like existing in another universe. When I am initially catapulted back into that environment, it's strange. On the outside, I go on as usual. I talk, I laugh, I smile and comment. But part of me is somewhere else. That part of me is distinctly aware of the sharp change in my surroundings, and I feel like I have to re-learn how to exist in that space. Meanwhile, I keep a protective barrier around me, a bubble of reminders of "who I am." The me I present to my family doesn't feel like the whole me. I am toned down. I adjust myself to fit their rhythm, but I am acutely aware of the difference between "normal me" and the "me" I display to them.
But then something funny happens: as the days go by and I spend more and more time with my family, and only my family, I notice the differences between the two worlds less and less. I adjust to their ebb and flow, and with time, I become integrated into to it - I once again feel synchronized with my family's dynamics.
It's as if I am normally racing down a river, moving at my own pace, weaving back and forth freely as I see fit. Then I come upon my family, also paddling down the river, and I slow down and steer straight to fit within their formation. At first, I am constantly aware of the changes I must make to match their pace, but then, with time, I adjust. I get used to moving within their world again. But then there is a fork in the waters, and I go my way while they go theirs.
I am again free to move about as I please. But now it feels foreign. And the rocks and trees that obstruct my path seem to leap out of nowhere. I feel as though I have forgotten how to weave myself comfortably into my normal life, just as I initially felt uncomfortable adjusting to my family's pace. I want to be the "normal me" again but feel as though I have grown rusty. I didn't mind if being with my family didn't immediately feel natural. But if I don't immediately feel comfortable in my home environment, in being the "normal" me, I become upset. I fear that I have forgotten how to be myself, the "me" I prefer to be. I fear that I have grown vulnerable and soft.
But perhaps OCD is at play here. Just as the more I wash, the less confident I feel in my cleanliness, the more I fight to regain my "normal" demeanor, the more disoriented I feel. If I could just let myself relax, muscle memory would take over, allowing to move smoothly around the obstacles and at the pace of my usual life.
It's the same OCD trick, my own personal Chinese finger trap of the mind. The more desperately I try to make things "right," the more "off" they end up seeming and the more important the fact that I feel "off" seems to become. If I could just stop struggling, stop trying so hard to fix things, they would likely fix themselves on their own.
Just being able to recognize this - that fighting to rid myself of this or any other feeling only digs me that much deeper - is helpful. It saves me from the mental turmoil of trying to make things feel the "right" way, and it allows me to actually feel "right" far sooner. I have to trust that I will again grow accustomed to the freedom (and obstacles) of my usual life, and that I will fall back into the rhythm I am accustomed to.
...and if I don't, well, I can deal with that when and if it occurs. OCD all too often demands a solution now for a problem that may or may not actually arise. Accepting this uncertainty and dealing with the consequences when and if they do occur, however, seems to be the ticket to freedom. And that's the hard part - riding out the discomfort without compulsively trying to eliminate or reduce it. I may not yet be willing to apply this wholeheartedly to my washing rituals, but I can try to put this concept into practice in other areas of my life. Even if I am not necessarily fighting the main battle, I think that by using all that I have learned about fighting my OCD when and where it helps makes me that much better prepared to fight my all-too-common enemy at its most challenging points.
And, in the meantime, it simply makes my everyday life that much better. Which is definitely worth it.