In two days time, on the 5th of October 2016, I am having an assessment with a new OCD service that I have been referred to (just clarifying the exact date incase you have invented a time machine and are reading this somewhere in1912 which would make “two days time” a lie. I don’t want to ever lie to any of you. Also if you are in 1912 maybe warn the Titanic to look out for icebergs). I have been waiting for an assessment date for several months now so it should be a relief that the day is finally near and more intense support on the horizon, but my God I am terrified.
Funnily enough, none of that terror comes from the fact it is an assessment where I will be meeting two strangers and having to talk to them openly about my mental health. Over the years I have had hundreds of assessments, I have even had assessments to see if I am suitable for other assessments (seriously, mental health services LOVE assessments. They even sprinkle them on their cereal in the morning), but there is something slightly different about the assessment that is only a few days away. Normally an assessment involves going to a new building, getting lost for several hours down some poorly labeled corridors, and then turning up in a stark room with chairs, a psychologist and a table topped with a box of tissues which I think is supposed to look friendly and welcoming but to me it is intimidating, more a threat of “I WILL MAKE YOU CRY”.
With Wednesday’s assessment however, I don’t have to go anywhere, the two assessors are coming to my house, and THAT is the reason for my currently heightened levels of anxiety.
Like many people who suffer from OCD, I really struggle with people coming to “my” house. I am sure for each individual, the reasons for this vary, but for me it is because my house is my “safe” place. Leaving the house is difficult because I am entering an environment that I have no control over. I do not know who has touched the door handle to whatever building I am in, or when the chair I may be required to sit in was last occupied. Maybe the floor was mopped with antibacterial industrial cleaner minutes before my arrival, maybe it has never seen the bristles of a broom, either way I don’t know, hence why for me, touching things out of the house is more difficult than in my own home. I can’t actually remember the last time I opened a pull door in a public place and I have lost count of the hours I must have spent standing on the side of a road, waiting to cross yet unable to press the little button to alert the traffic light of my presence and inspire an appearance from the little green man. We need more Zebra crossings in this country!
In my house then, it is easier, because I know when everything was last cleaned, who has last used it and I also know that cleaning products are mere moments away should I challenge myself too far and need to whip out the bleach. When other people come into my house however, an element of that control slips from my grasp. For the duration of their visit I cannot control what is touched, moved or anything else people may do with items in my home.
These OCD people (I am sure they have names but for now that is what I shall call them) have said that they want to do the assessment in my house because they need to see me in “my natural habitat”. To be fair that makes sense (although it does make me sound a bit like a tortoise on a nature program being visited in its personal hovel), and as a lot of my rituals take place in my household it will help for them to see the “scene of the crime”, yet in anticipation of their arrival all I can think about is what they will touch during their stay and where they will sit. I have honestly been having nightmares that one of them will have been drinking a lot of tea that morning and need to use the bathroom, aka the holiest of holies, “my tap” (please God let the OCD people be dehydrated just for October 5th).
Of all the people I should be able to be honest with about these kind of difficulties, people from an OCD service would logically be high on the list. If anyone is going to understand my fears it is them, and they are the least likely to come back at me with a dagger of stigma that leaves me feeling like a total freak. Nevertheless I feel I can’t say anything out of the fear that it will be inhospitable.
If it was up to me, whenever anyone comes to my house I would like to put them in one of those little carts you get on a roller coaster, where the bar comes down and you hear that voice asking you to “please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times”!…I wonder if you can get those installed within less than 48 hours…or maybe I could just tie their arms to their sides with tape…is that legal?…I feel like that would be illegal…or at least frowned upon…
Even if it wasn’t frowned upon though I couldn’t do it because like I said it seems too rude. I want to greet these people with the gratitude they deserve for coming all the way to see me for the afternoon, but how can you do that or appear hospitable when you are terrified of the people you are supposed to be greeting? What am I supposed to say? “Hello lovely OCD people, welcome to my humble abode, please make yourself at home but for the love of all that is holy in this world please don’t touch anything because I don’t know where you have been”. Oh dear God what if they want to shake hands. AHHH.
I find it stressful even when friends come over to the house too, but at least my friends know “the rules” prior to their visit. I really hate having to issue guests with a list of requirements alongside their cup of tea, yet I know that if I were not to do so I would be crying hysterically within five minutes which would be even more embarrassing.
Thankfully I am incredibly lucky to have friends who accept my difficulties and respect my level of anxiety. It is a tough balance, as obviously people can’t give into everything when it comes to my OCD. That would be inconvenient for them and would arguably perpetuate my beliefs that their germs are a genuine risk. Nevertheless, there is a distinct difference between following the dictations of my illness, and challenging me whilst not pushing me past my breaking point. My friends know not to take their socks off in the house, not to sit in “my” safe chair, and they know that I will probably take a ridiculously long time if I go to the bathroom due to the necessary washing routines that entails (picture a surgeon preparing to remove someones kidney, soap up to the elbows etc.)
They know that none of my requests are personal, that I don’t think they are dirty people who are infected with a contagious disease, because they know me. Some friends have been in my life since the day of my diagnosis so they grew up with a knowledge and acceptance of my conditions that few would comprehend. One friend was even on holiday in Greece last week and she literally texted me from across the Atlantic (is that right…is Greece across the Atlantic…screw it lets keep it this way, it sounds dramatic), to tell me at 10pm to stop fiddling with my hair as she knew that I was home alone and probably stuck in a hair routine that often takes place during that time (which I was). With friends then, it is ok to tell them not to touch anything, but with strangers no matter how kindly you say it there will always be (in my eyes at least), a little resentment on their part. I know if I went to somebody’s house and they told me to keep out of the lounge for fear of contamination I would probably feel a little offended myself.
It really is a tricky balance trying to be a friendly host whilst trying to manage my anxiety and for this reason I know many people with OCD refuse to allow people into their houses at all, just one reason as to how this illness can be incredibly isolating. If my friends weren’t aware of my mental health I know wouldn’t be able to manage them in the house either.
I guess what I am trying to say is that when it comes to OCD, it isn’t always the behaviour of the sufferer that causes the anxiety, but also the behaviour and actions of those around them. It isn’t just my hands I worry about when it comes to germs, it is everyone nearby. Most importantly though, in feeling this way about others, it is in no way a suggestion that a certain individual is dirty and no personal judgement on a bystander’s levels of hygiene.
Equally then, if you struggle having people in the house, you are not a bad person or rude, just as I am trying to convince myself now that I am not a horrible person for wondering if it is socially acceptable to tie my assessors up with tape in order to restrict movement. Obviously I am not going to do that, I am as always just going to deal with it and hopefully get the courage to speak out so that they are aware of my anxieties rather than suffering in silence, which would consequently make them worse.
If for some reason my assessors are actually reading this prior to our appointment, please know that if I appear inhospitable at any point in your visit I truly am sorry and trying my best. I really do appreciate you making the effort to come to my house and hope you feel welcome and relaxed in my home…JUST PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING OR I WILL HAVE TO TIE YOUR ARMS TOGETHER AND WRITE THE NOTES ON MY MENTAL STATE FOR YOU.
Cheers… See you Wednesday!