Her daily rituals may seem demanding, but to her, it’s just a normal part of life. Calgary writer Heather C. Hudak shares how she thrives in a life governed by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Each day, I perform dozens — maybe even hundreds — of rituals without even realizing I’m doing them: Unplug the flat iron and place it on the kitchen counter where you can see it as you leave the house — confirmed off. Twist the doorknob four times in each direction after pulling out the key — definitely locked. Check the rearview mirror at the stop sign to look at the garage door — closed tight. Check the alarm clock three times, and then another three, and then three more for good measure — set for 6:01 a.m. (because it has to have an odd number).
Those are the little things I do to get me through the day — no big deal, right? It’s what happens if I don’t do these things that I’m trying to avoid—that constant feeling something bad will happen and questioning if I want to take that chance. Like the time I didn’t do three crossword puzzles before bed…my 17-year-old dog died the next morning. Even though I know it’s irrational — I know my puzzle neglect didn’t kill her — I can’t help feeling like I learned a hard lesson that day. It’s easier to just keep performing the rituals than to deal with that kind of guilt.
Most of these things have just become part of my life. However, it can definintely become intrusive when I can’t identify a bump I drove over on my way to work, and I have to circle back. Trust me, it’s not fun when you’re on the freeway. But if I don’t do it, I’ll be on sensory overload for the next few days: I’ll feel jittery, like electricity is coursing through my veins, putting me on high alert. I’ll check news sites repeatedly to ensure no one was injured in a hit and run. It’s really not worth all that effort and anxiety. It’s easier to just drive around the block.
And don’t even get me started on what happens when someone asks me to pass the ketchup — I can’t because ketchup bottles are on the “no touch” list. I don’t know where this list came from, but the thought of all the grease and germs lingering on the bottle makes me want to vomit. I cringe just thinking about it. How do you explain that on a business lunch with someone you barely know? You don’t. You touch the ketchup and then excuse yourself from the table a few minutes later to “use the powder room.” But what you’re really doing is washing your hands six times. Why six? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s no logic; it’s just what feels right.
But I get through…every day I get through. I do it without medication or therapy. Not because I don’t think those things are important — they are for some people, and they might be for me some day. But I’ve found other ways to cope. For one, I have a lot of “enablers” — people who pass the ketchup for me or eat the deformed M&M’s because I can’t. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but it’s worked for me. When I find myself without any other choice, I use self talk to get me through, like in afformentioned the ketchup scenario. But I think it’s my fear of not living — not seeing the world or being successful in my career — that keeps me going. As long as that’s my greatest fear, I can do anything.
I don’t remember life before Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s been that long — 34 years to be exact. And I don’t think I’ll ever experience life without it. I didn’t have to come to terms with it or resign myself to the idea that it’ll always be a part of me because I can’t imagine any other way. I don’t know any other way. It’s kind of like asking me if I’m okay with having brown eyes — I just do.
Heather C. Hudak spends her days helping to change the way people learn through her work at ICOM Productions. When she’s not working, she enjoys camping (in a trailer with running water so she can wash her hands often, of course), travelling to exciting new places (that have five-star hotels), escaping the day-to-day with a good romance novel, and writing kitschy fiction books. She currently resides in Calgary with her husband and a menagerie of fur babies.