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Seven is the safest number - Tactical Ninja

Jul. 24th, 2012

11:06 am - Seven is the safest number

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Today is the day of many things to do. I just got back from the dental hygienist (who says that my flossing is exemplary!), in a little while I have a meeting with the government department my organisation deals with. Then I have to go and Lift Heavy Things with DoomBoy, then I have a lecture about Durkheim that goes for two hours, then I have to run (possibly literally) up to the circus hub for the first acro class of the term. Somewhere in here there's the work I do for money, and I doubt I'll get to play with my ponies today at all.

I now have two countem two Level 2 ponies, a unicorn and a pegasus. They are called Robby and Alan* (no you don't get to name them, the game does it) and I'm starting to see where the challenge is in this game. It's still pretty inane, but yeah. We'll see if I stay interested long enough to win. Turns out it was given so much as a gag gift over the weekend that it's now in the top ten sellers on Steam, people are actually playing it, and there's talk of lobbying Valve to put SotMC items into Team Fortress 2. Hehehe I love the internet.

* Robby and Alan are both genderless and capable of breeding with each other. I predict SotMC slash in 3, 2 ,1....

No really. I have read slash once or twice when people recommended something that stands up as literature, but it just doesn't interest me all that much. I was almost tempted by a Broud fanfic when I was on my cavepeople kick because I always wondered what happened to the Clan after Ayla left, but that was a bit of an exception. And given that the only thing I have that I'd consider myself part of a fandom for is Supernatural, can we just have a resounding "EW WINCEST NO!" and have done with it?

Right then, so about that exemplary flossing.

After I posted that thing about mah mussles the other day (thanks for the laughs by the way), there were a bunch of comments along the lines of "I wish I were that dedicated." So I thought I'd let you in on a little secret that isn't really a secret of my dedication:


Yes, actual OCD, not the one that people say they have if they like their house tidy or the toilet roll a certain way*, but the kind where you feel like the sky is going to fall on your head if you don't perform X ritual repeatedly so you end up wasting hours of your life in pointless repetition of stuff to avoid freaking out.

This was me as a teenager. My thing was that me and all my family would die of some horrible disease like ebola if I wasn't thinking the right thoughts when I finished doing something. It's a bit like being promised a million dollars if you don't think about camels, in that "Don't think about X" becomes the only thought you have, so when you finish (washing your hands, reading a paragraph, closing the door, getting dressed, wiping the table), that's all you are thinking. Clearly then everyone's going to die of ebola so you have to do it again and get it right this time. To avoid this situation, I developed rituals. For me it was sevens. Sometimes just counting to seven would work, but as time went by I needed to add words to the rhythm of seven, kind of like minimalist haiku. So I'd say this seven-syllable phrase in my head, and it would block out the thoughts of ebola, so I could stop opening and closing the door or reading the paragraph and get on with my life.

I was lucky. I was lucky in that my problems were not related to self-harming behaviour like constant washing - weirdly I was able to avoid thinking about ebola while washing quite easily - and I think in the grand scheme of things, it was reasonably mild. I know of people who are absolutely crippled by it, and I never was. My parents noticed and sent me to counselling, but I was able to avoid anyone knowing just how wrong things really were. And I grew out of it. Not as in, I got mature and forgot about the silliness I had engaged in, but as in, my teenage hormones stopped raging and the compulsion to do these things ebbed away. It didn't leave completely, instead it changed to an ability to avoid the (ebola!) unnamed anxiety by taking control of my life and my environment. And here's where mah mussles come in.

You see, OCD (at least for me) isn't all horrible nastiness. Sure, in times of stress it rears up and shows itself by an obsessive need to control my surroundings to the point where I will clean frantically and get upset if anything's left out on the coffee table. People who've been my dinner guests will know about my compulsion to take people's plates away the second they finish eating so there won't be dirty plates on the table. The list goes on. And yes, I still have those little seven-syllable phrases that occasionally pop into my head as a way of 'running the gauntlet' through an idea I'm particularly anxious about.

But it has its advantages. Seven syllables? Phone numbers. Makes them easy to remember because they have the same rhythm as my safety rituals. Obsessive control of one's environment = tidy house. Need to finish things thinking the right thoughts? Make the right thought "I have completed X amount of study and now I can go play horsies" and it makes the donkey work of getting an A really easy. Repetitive tasks like shearing where you can constantly nitpick your technique and strive to get better at doing the same thing over and over again? Well hello feeling of control. And it makes it really really easy to form habits.

Like flossing every day - if I don't do it, I get anxious**. The anxiety reminds me to floss.
Going to the gym or training - same thing. It's no coincidence that I started doing this when Mum went into hospice. Now I have a ritual habit and I'm compelled to do it. If I don't, I feel anxious, and am now working on developing the ability to have a day off and be ok with this. Logic is prevailing so far, go me. I had a day off yesterday and once the time when I'd normally be training was past, I was fine. I spent the time getting nacho stuff for dinner.
Studying - I can tell myself I have to do two hours a day, and the OCD makes me do it.

So as an adult, less crippled by irrational anxiety and more in control of how I shape my thoughts, I have been able to turn Pointless Rituals to Avoid Overwhelming Anxiety into Meaningful, Useful Rituals to Avoid Vague Anxiety. It's actually really useful for achieving goals, to the point where even though I know and accept that I am obsessive/compulsive, in this part of my life I don't see it as a disorder - not when it makes my life so ordered and helps me achieve what I want to! ;-)

I have a vague background fear that it'll come back stronger as I go through menopause like it did at puberty, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Nowadays, I have a name for it, the world understands it more so I don't have to hide it, and I have more tools for coping than I did at 15. Here's hoping that even if it does come back, I'll be able to turn it to something good.

* Personally I think such things are a spectrum, and liking the toilet roll a certain way (and getting upset if it isn't that way) to me does say there's a tendency towards needing to control one's environment to avoid anxiety that's on the OCD spectrum - just at the milder end. Just saying.
** I no longer think my family is going to die of ebola, the anxiety is now much less fatal and more "I'm a bad person with no discipline" focused.

I should probably also predict My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Secret of the Magic Crystals crossover slash as well, eh?


[User Picture]
Date:July 24th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
How incredibly insightful! I'm amazed and confused. Is it then in fact OCD you experience? Or rather, a form of autism. The numbers would seem to be the clue to me. The numbers empowered you, as I see it.

But then again - I'm only going by what I'm reading here. I could be way off base. But, I loved reading this all the same and look forward to more of your insights.

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[User Picture]
Date:July 24th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
I don't know a lot about autism but my limited understanding was that it relates to an inability to perceive expressions of emotion in others (and thus respond appropriately to social cues). I've never had a problem with this, therefore I figure autism spectrum stuff is probably not involved.. however I'm quite big on pattern recognition and spatial manipulation. The counting thing was more about the rhythm of seven than the numbers themselves.

I just read this, which compares AS with OCD, including the similarities and differences. It's quite interesting.
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[User Picture]
Date:July 24th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
A lot of what you say re: how your OCD manifests now strikes me as similar to the type of OCD/control issues that folks with eating disorders have-- they are often sole of the most successful, achieving people out there (at least when they're out of hospital, that is.) I wonder if your insights could really help folks who are still struggling with unhealthy compulsions by helping them understand how to turn them into healthy ones...?</p>

Sadly I just have the obsessions*. I believe it's called "Pure O" and one of the hallmarks is avoidance. Feh.

*(I also get the "my family is going to die of Ebola" thing. Usually happens when I'm traveling or out of contact. Therapy had me use the mantra "I don't have that power" which sort of helps, but most of the time When it happens I just feel like barfing, and not much makes it go away till it just peters out...)

I agree with your spectrum insight!
And I'm glad you feel healthy. :-)

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[User Picture]
Date:July 24th, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
You're right, I've spent a fair bit of the last ten years struggling with compulsive eating. Mostly I'm on top of it but it's an ongoing thing. It seems that the more control I have in other areas of my life, the easier I find it to avoid bingeing - like when Mum was sick I ate god knows how much ice cream, it was at least a tub every two days.

It's weird. I stopped biting my nails the day Mum died (after a lifetime of doing it). Just stopped. I have to carry a nail file because if they get a catch I will chew them to the quick to make them smooth again, but I don't compulsively bite any more. I still chew out the inside of my mouth without realising it, and that's another thing I've been doing since a teenager. I have deep lines around my mouth from this. ;-*

I don't know if the way things are for me would help other people - as I say I consider myself very lucky that the worst of it seems to have been puberty-related and that as an adult it's been more of a tendency to be aware of than a crippling problem, you know? Also, I don't really know how it happened, except that I fell into a lifestyle that made it easy for me to go with the OCD flow in a healthy way.

I can see how that mantra might work, if the rational part of your brain still had any sway. For me, the mantra was complete nonsense and only existed to mask the bad thoughts because if I finished whatever I was doing without thinking the bad thoughts, I was free. There was nothing rational about it. "I don't have that power" would be a good mantra for when I wasn't stuck.
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