Superstitions & rituals, we all have them; saluting a magpie, not walking over three continuous drains or just having lucky clothing that brings us luck but what happens when these rituals and superstition take over our lives? Well, after nearly 12 months of seeing my therapist I think I’ve finally accepted that I like pattern and not just the polka dot kind. My obsession with following rituals and superstition over the course of the last five years has become anxiety flaring central and today I wanted to discuss this.
We live in a society which encourages our generation to discuss depression and anxiety to the point they’ve become normal conversation points. This is great considering we spent years in denial about mental health and we no longer are ashamed of speaking up about these points to our colleagues, bosses, friends, family and of course to our GP’s and medical teams. However, recently my therapist shed light onto my anxiety and the triggers of it; this being routine. She believes that it is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD). She told me this in May time. I was in denial because I like so many other people see OCD as the cleaning your hands 4 times before leaving the house or touching the same item in a particular way. OCD contrary to belief is in fact; the obsession with an unwanted or unpleasant thought image or urge repeatedly entering our minds, causing these uneasy and anxious thought patterns. It’s also what society has imbedded, that OCD is the compulsion of repetitive behaviour or mental act caused by anxious thinking patterns. I realised that this OCD thinking pattern has actually been with me for years without me realising and I’ve managed to pin point the route cause.
It begun in 2011 when I got an A* on an early sitting of a GCSE English Lit paper; I wore a navy polo top. At that time, someone said to me that must be my lucky top. I then was told to remember the pen I’d written the paper in because that was probably lucky too. So at the age of 15, I’d been given rituals to live by. I listened to these suggestions which saw me for three years get all A’s in my exam results. So, my brain had put together that using this pen in the exam and wearing this top on results day would = good exam results. It was only in 2014 when my exam results were not what I had expected, wanted or needed that my regime had been flawed. It then triggered depression around the whole thing and left me clutching onto something that would give me comfort. I threw the t-shirt away and the pens I never went near and to this day have never bought or used- with the fear that using them will spell disaster. Removed the type of pen from my sight and vicinity. I then, remember, believing at University that if I left at the same precise time and drove on a particular road at the same time it would always mean I’d get a parking space. Any later or a diversion would result in no parking spaces and utter chaos. I never saw this is as being OCD, other than me being really superstitious.
I then had the eureka moment. At the end of one year, a male that I’d spent months seeing talking and developing feelings for- ghosted me and i never spoke to him ever again. At least i got some cracking one liners out of it. But that year things happened, things started changing in terms of luck- I got great marks at Uni, great feedback at work, my blog started blossoming and I started losing weight and becoming attractive to the opposite sex. In the following year, I thought that it was me being hung up on him and being fixated with him but in actual fact it wasn’t heartbreak, heartache or me being dumped but in fact- it was me believing that his part in that year was the reason why things went so well in that year. I saw him as a lucky charm rather than seeing him as the time wasting, obnoxious boot cut jean wearer he actually was. In the following year, my world collapsed when I was diagnosed with ME something that was so random and so out of the blue. He had moved on and I’d fixated in my head that his presence would’ve bought with the luck, the positivity and of course good health. I believed, that if he dumped her and slid back in my DMS that somehow, the ME would go, the luck at work would change and things would improve again. When in fact, I’ve come to accept that shit happens, life has ups life has downs. We cannot protect ourselves from bad luck or shit, we cannot shield ourselves and nobody is above the universe chucking something crap in our way.
However, this wasn’t the only wake up call to my ways. It was how, I was refusing to wear certain bras, tops, dresses and shoes due to possible bad luck having worn the particular clothing item on a previously bad day at the office, bad luck or just a shit day. I’d associated the clothing with that luck. I’d also fixated myself on routine, to the point of what I ate, drunk or if i used mouthwash but the timing was the most important. I also stopped going down certain routes on the way to work because the previous time they made me late or they had impacted the rest of my date at work. Now, if I start thinking rationally and through the approach CBT gives- a piece of clothing and the choice of route I do to work is not going to change the day or even give me impending luck because as I’ve said, we cannot change whats there and we cannot be inferior to luck or even what’s round the corner. My therapist mentions that, this is the good person concept- which means we believe that because we’re good people that nothing bad or unlucky should happen to us when we all know this is is wrong. We can’t stop shit happening because we’re good people and if we could wouldn’t you think, we’d all be wearing yesterdays clothing just to stop it happening?
I’m not saying that because I’ve spoken about my recent awakening to my OCD that I’m suddenly cured and all my rituals are a thing of the past. In the same way, that when someone says ‘dont worry’ my anxiety is suddenly, not cured. This isn’t the case but what is the case, is that I know what the issue is and can begin exposing my self to what gives me the anxiety and this is breaking the routine, breaking the rituals and doing something that once gave me a shit experience. I need to accept that the coloured thong I wear or even the choice of lipstick I choose to wear is not going to dictate the day I have at work neither is it going to change the way that day happens. My head has a habit of going over bad times and fixating on the build up to it; what did I wear? What shoes did I wear? How did I get up, what did I watch the night before? But, when trying to break a ritual, routine or habit my brain will seek to find evidence to prove why it cannot be broken despite there being possible evidence to suggest that you can now break the curse my brain has fixated on that one time that wearing those shoes was on the same day that you had a bad day in the office. All these go through my brain to then prevent the bad experience happening because i acted in a previous way the time before. My brain sees that if I stick to a particular routine or even wearing the same shoes that somehow nothing bad will happen, no bad luck will enter my world and nothing controversial will ever happen because somehow that choice of underwear dictate what happens; when it happens and if it’ll happen.
OCD was one of those things I dismissed for a long time believing that because I didn’t wash my hands twice an hour that somehow I couldn’t be in the same position; perhaps this is because we all have a habit of saying ‘I’m a bit OCD with my cleaning’. In the same way, that we say ‘oh they look anorexic’. No, anorexia, is a mental illness not a body shape, type of diet. I wanted to share it because by sharing and writing about it- I somehow accept it and can expose myself to these issues such as wearing the unlucky clothes, going down the route to work that scares me, buying a certain brand of yoghurts. I’ll probably be told that in sharing it, I’m making it worse and dwelling on it when in actual fact I find writing about it helps me deal with these problems and note that I’m not insane or even a maniac. What I’ve learnt, is that it’s far braver for someone to open up about the problem and seek help than it is to hide away from the problem and mask the problem away- something I did for a long term when coming to terms with my Chronic fatigue syndrome.