Being a control-freak in a situation that I have absolutely no control over is a recipe for disaster.
You had a very long day. You’re feeling slightly overwhelmed by the process of adjusting to working from home, and you’re figuring out ways to stay productive when in reality concentrating on your job is the last thing that your mind wants to do. You feel an underlying sense of nervousness and restlessness in the pit of your stomach. You don’t really know what it is, or why it’s there, but you can hardly ignore it. It might be anxiety relating to the current situation – after all, we are in the middle of a global pandemic – or it might be a feeling of being trapped. Trapped because you were stripped of your normal routine and ways to relax and recharge, and the whole world has turned upside-down, and you haven’t seen your friends in seven weeks, and the studio flat that you’re locked into suddenly seems even smaller than before, and you don’t know when this will all come to an end, and…
If you’re anything like me, you can see how easy it is for your mind to spiral out of control.
Living with OCD is never easy, even at the best of times. Just like other types of mental health issues, it’s invisible and all-consuming; it can creep up on you and it never really goes away, even on a good day. There are so many different versions of OCD; it can manifest in the form of intrusive thoughts, repetitive motions and behaviours, or feelings of being completely paralysed.
My OCD started when I was about 16, so I have had some time to recognise my triggers and examine the domino effect that follows. For me, what generally sets it off are feelings of uncertainty and not being in control – both of which are inevitable companions of the Covid-19 outbreak. Most of us have probably experienced the feeling of having the rug pulled out from under our feet, leaving us unbalanced and maybe a little freaked out. In my case, the current situation has left me feeling totally powerless, which has led to an obsessive need to gain back control. And, given that I’m locked into one space, the only thing I could immediately “control” was how that area looks. The cleaner and more organised it is = the less stressed I am. The easier I breathe.
This doesn’t sound too bad, right? A little bit of mindful cleaning, and I’m back to feeling relaxed and calm. I wish it was like that! I’m afraid the reality is not that nice. The frantic cleaning sprees I embark on are unsettling, panicky, and sometimes are even paired with tears that run down my face as I tirelessly scrub the kitchen counter. Even though the compulsive behaviour is meant to reduce the anxiety related to my obsession, engaging in it brings practically no pleasure and only reduces the stress very temporarily. But I still cannot make it stop. Believe me, I tried.
Some days I would tell myself that I’ve done enough: I’m tired, I should just go to bed and maybe leave the washing up for tomorrow. Fast forward two hours later and I’m lying in my bed, wide awake, constantly thinking about the pile of dirty dishes downstairs. So eventually I give up, drag myself out from under the duvet and do the washing up at 3 am just to slow down my racing heartbeat. This is just one example, but you get the point.
I wish this was one of those really clever self-help articles that give you all the tools and motivation to change your life and turn all your problems into fluffy clouds and rainbows, but I’m afraid this story hasn’t got a happy ending, yet.
I have, however, developed a few coping mechanisms that get me through the days – especially in lockdown – and if at least one of them resonates with you, or helps you in any way, then this article wasn’t completely pointless.
My tips for coping with OCD
Develop a routine.
Come up with a simple daily routine (could just be a morning/evening one if you don’t feel the need to structure your whole day like me) that is easy to follow and that will guide you through even the roughest days. It helps massively to know that you don’t have to make decisions as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. You can just get out of bed (this is a vital part) and flow into your routine.
You don’t need me telling you how beneficial meditation is for your mind and your overall well-being, but I cannot stress enough just how helpful it is when it comes to coping with OCD. I recommend building meditation into your morning routine: I do mine straight after getting out of bed. Take 10 minutes out of your day to sit still, close your eyes and calm those racing thoughts. You can just use your breath to focus your attention to, but if you’d like something a bit more specific that gives you more guidance, I thoroughly recommend Headspace. I use the app every single day, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s changed my life. Headspace also released a free section in the app called ‘Weathering the storm’, available to everyone. It includes meditation, sleep, and movement exercises designed to help guide you through this weird time.
Move your body.
I found that my OCD gets significantly heightened if I haven’t moved my muscles that day. If your job requires you to use your brain, but mostly sit in front of a computer all day, chances are that by the evening your mind will be worn out, but your physical body will be super restless, and that imbalance can easily cause anxiety which as a result triggers the OCD. Personally I do yoga every day – I find that it not only challenges me just enough to keep me showing up on the mat, but it also calms the chatter in my mind and serves as an escape for a mere 30-60 minutes. Yoga With Adriene on YouTube is my go-to channel for at-home yoga workouts. She’s awesome and her dog, Benji, who makes an appearance in most of her videos, is entirely adorable.
Accept that this is your problem so you’re the one who needs to deal with it.
I know this sounds brutal, but rather than fighting the urge to clean and tidy (which will only lead to an explosion later on), or projecting your frustration onto the person you live with and getting angry at them for not having the same standard when it comes to cleanliness, try to find some sort of joy in the activity and just do it. Put on a podcast or some upbeat music and don’t hate yourself for reorganising your pens for the hundredth time so that they’re perfectly perpendicular to your notepads. If knowing that everything is in its right place helps you clear your mind, then just do it.
And most importantly, remember that you are not alone. I didn’t talk about my OCD, even with my closest friends, for a really long time, because I was ashamed and embarrassed about it. I was afraid they might label me as ‘fastidious’ or as a ‘clean-freak’. Nonetheless the more I started to open up about it, the more I found that other people were dealing with similar issues, which lessened my feelings of alienation. I’m learning to not let my OCD define me, but accept that it is – and it probably will always be – a part of me.
To find more information about OCD, and for more coping mechanisms, visit https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/about-ocd/.
Written by Napsugár Bardócz.
Hailing from Budapest, Napsugár is a Brighton based Assistant Artist Manager, currently working across the roster of Everybody’s Management, including Jack Garratt, Mumford and Sons, KEANE and Gretta Ray. She also independently manages singer-songwriter Miles Goodall and has been a promoter representative for Sziget Festival Ltd in Hungary for three years running.