The first thing you have to realise about my OCD is that it involves more kung fu poses than a three hour Jackie Chan film. And more texting than a teenager with text-it is.
Thus checking the lights are off is impossible without shouting either “dark dark dark” (if the room is dark) or “off off off” (if the room is light) accompanied by a karate chop motion in the direction of the lights. And when I say “a” karate chop motion, I mean I have OCD so I have to repeat this fifty times. The volume of the utterance is important, if I don’t render myself slightly deaf it is not quite loud enough. Naturally this means that no checking can be done while anyone else is around. And that my neighbours absolutely love me and have complained to my local authority about noise multiple times. The reason for the light checking is that (obviously) if I left a single light on the whole house would burn down. Other reasons for kung fu are checking there is nothing plugged into the sockets and that all the sockets are switched off as, yes you guessed it, if this wasn’t the case the house would burn down again. This involves moving around the entire floor of the house making multiple karate chops towards each socket and shouting “checked off, checked off” in the direction of the socket. You might think doing this once would be enough, but a crucial fact about OCD is that people who have it do not believe what is in front of their eyes. So I have to go round each socket at least four times.
The weirdest use for a kung fu pose is when I set my burglar alarm at night. Firstly as I stand in front of the display saying “Night Set” I have to do umpteen karate chop movements to impress it on my mind that the alarm is actually set. And then it is vitally important that between my setting the alarm and the two beeps going off to confirm it is set that I have time to get up the stairs to the landing and leap into a kung fu pose. If there is not a sufficient gap between my assuming the pose and the beeps I have to set the alarm again. You will not be surprised to find out that the only difference between someone who has OCD and psychosis is that the OCD person realises they are irrational.
I mentioned texting, nothing in OCD terms can be done without a text and in most cases a photograph. Thus in order to go to bed at night at my home (a four hour ritual) the following needs to happen. I lock the front door (in case invisible people might come in while I’m checking and disturb the house). I check the garden doors by banging on each of the three locks 300 times (as this often happens after midnight I’ve been reported to my local authority more times than the noisiest ghetto blasting crack house) The reason I can’t stop is because if I don’t check the doors 900 times a serial killer could get in and rape and murder me. I then text myself about the doors, then move onto the kitchen. I have to have positive evidence that the boiler is switched off as if the central heating was left on overnight obviously the house would burn down. I therefore have to photograph the boiler at least 15 times in order to get at least 10 clear shots that the boiler is off. If the photos aren’t completely clear I have to start again. I fear a fault with the boiler as much as being run over by a bus.
I then have to check that the washing machine is switched off (multiple times) and that the kettle is unplugged. The kettle makes funny noises from time to time so obviously if it wasn’t unplugged overnight I would be burnt alive in my bed. Then the nightmare of the stove begins. It was at a 12 step meeting for OCD that I learned about checking the stove – I wasn’t previously checking it but when everyone at the meeting said they were checking the stove I thought, my God, there’s a gap in my checking, I must add it to my ritual right away. While realising this is irrational, I think that if there is a single speck of dust on the stove obviously, you guessed it, the entire house will burn down. I therefore have to spend at least half an hour cleaning the stove praying that motes of dust from the air don’t fall on it to spoil my work. I then send myself a fifty line text to confirm that everything in the kitchen has been checked.
The front door is another ordeal. Although it is locked, I need to unlock and lock it again (so I can see myself locking it) making sure that the bolt on the top is undone (if not everything has to be done again). I turn the key in the lock 400 times (to make sure it is locked) I then pull the handle of the door to check it is locked 400 times then (in case this pulling has dislodged the lock and unlocked the door) push it in 400 times. I then check each bolt is locked, you guessed it, 400 times, then I have to text myself about each individual lock and the number of repetitions. Then I have to shine the torch on the lock for about 15 minutes while texting myself “checked bottom lock is locked def locked def locked def locked shining in torchlight def locked shining in torchlight…” This text goes on saying the same thing 50 times. I have to stick to a certain amount of times to check everything as there are “good numbers” and “bad numbers” a problem common for people with OCD. Even numbers are “good” while odd numbers are “bad” unless, of course, they are multiples of 3 or 5.
I haven’t mentioned the windows. It is clear to me that anyone who sets foot in my house has a sinister urge to open all my locked windows, thus exposing me to rape and attack by serial killers. If anyone has been in the house, even if I’ve concealed all the keys in my pocket while they’ve been there, I have to check all the locks on the downstairs windows at least 400 times. In case you wonder how I have time for this, I have no social life, cannot answer the phone for the 10 hours a day I’m checking and have had to stop going to recovery meetings as I’m checking instead.
Then comes the ritual of the loft door. All the furniture from my rental property is stored in the loft, so it’s impossible to walk around. This didn’t stop me climbing over all the furniture for months to check that invisible people hadn’t opened all the windows, naturally because of the infestation of serial killers in my local neighbourhood. Unfortunately, my entry into the loft meant I had to do the dark dark dark thing with the lights 50 times, and the whole thing brought back painful memories of the violent row I’d had with Fred at 6am in the loft when he’d hit me and smashed up the house. So I decided I would lock the loft door. But that doesn’t stop the invisible people from getting busy with my locks. So every night I have to OPEN the loft door to check that no marauding serial killers have opened the door leading from my house to my gorgeous roof terrace. This involves not touching the lock (as it sets the burglar alarm off) but using a torch to forensically inspect the frame and glass of the door to prove it is closed and that I’m not under imminent attack. Of course for a normal person it might be possible to just look at the door but, for someone with OCD, I have to shine the torch slowly and carefully on every inch of the door. Then repeat that process 10 times.
Then there are the lights on the roof terrace which I fear would cause annoyance to my neighbours if they were left on at night. That requires a karate chop motion round every light 50 times. Then I have to lock the loft door and check it 400 times. You can see why I have no life. And why I kept phoning my social worker at the psychiatric crisis unit saying I wanted to cut my throat.
I was forced to move out of the main bedroom after I kept being woken up by a car alarm at 3am. As I was (literally) having a nervous breakdown trying to manage the building project at my rental property these 3am wakeups could not be endured. I first tried to board up the windows with sound proof boards, leading everyone in the street to assume that I had died. But when this was ineffective moved into the tiny back bedroom of my house. There was nothing in the main bedroom I’d moved it all out with me. But that didn’t stop me checking the locked door 200 times every night. Then I had to do the karate chop ritual with all the first floor lights. Then lie on my stomach (on top of a special towel to prevent germs) and hang over the top of the stairs and do (a slightly different) karate chop ritual with the downstairs lights.
Then I had to lock the door of the back bedroom turning the key in the lock 400 times, try to pull the door open (to prove it was locked) 400 times. Then close the bolts and check they were closed 400 times. As this back bedroom had no ensuite bathroom I would have to go through this half hour ritual every time I went to the loo, which clearly wasn’t possible so I was back on the bucket instead. But every time I did a wee in the bucket I had to do about half the door check again. Then I would check the chest of drawers and cupboards for miniature serial killers. Although the room was locked all day and so no one could get in those pesky invisible people who could get through locked doors forced me to check all the locks and bolts on the French doors at least 200 times. I say “French doors” due to my fear that an agile serial killer could put a ladder up to the 1st floor window I had had my builder board up the French doors with ply. I never saw daylight in that room.
Then finally before going to bed I would have to set all three alarms – and check they were set at least 50 times. And then because of my pathological phobia of being woken up in the night check my mobile phone and alarm clocks were switched off at least 300 times.
Believe it or not this exhausting list I’ve gone through is less than half of the total checking I had to do. I should point out that every time I left my home for my rental property in the morning a frenzy of checking erupted. Although I had checked the house for four hours the night before and no one had been in the house, there is always the chance that those pesky invisible people will have interfered with the locks.
Thus on 16th April 2014, the nadir of my checking, apart from everything I’ve gone through above this is what I had to do at my rental property. The fear of fire at my rental property is even greater than at home as most of my capital in invested in my rental property and it forms the basis of my financial security. The reason the checking took so long on April 16th is because I hadn’t been in my rental property for a while. I was nervous at resuming the building project and therefore had only 3 hours sleep. As I’ve said before, if I’m tired I need to check more. I should also say with my rental property that the builders had drilled through a load of electricity cables, knocking out most of the lights on the ground floor. Although my electrician had repaired the cables, and the lights were fine, there was in my mind still a dangerous electrical fault.
The Roof Terrace
1) Repetitive checking – with a frenzy of karate chop moves – that the builders have left nothing plugged into the sockets and that the lights are all off. My neighbours think I am doing a new form of feng shui gardening.
2) Forensically check every inch of the roof terrace to confirm the builders have left nothing behind that would fall onto the heads of my very expensive neighbours in Notting hill. This would (obviously) lead to a massive lawsuit against me which would mean I would be out on the street.
The Top Floor
3) Photographing the switches of the boiler, immersion heater and the boiler display to prove both are turned off. As I fear the builders have done something to the boiler if it was left on overnight the house would burn down.
4) Checking the French doors and windows.
5) Checking the sockets (“checked off” with a karate chop move).
6) Forensically checking every inch of the floor to see I have left nothing behind. If I left behind a wrapper of empty chewing gum the builders could obviously clone me and steal my identity.
7) Going back to the bathroom velux to check the self closer was on. Unfortunately when I closed the window again I did not hear it click shut and therefore had to go back to it and check it 50 times.
9) Check all the doors and windows.
10) Unplug the kettle, microwave and toaster then photograph them with the plugs on the counter so I have a record they are unplugged. If plugged in, obviously, the house would burn down.
11) Check the sockets and switches.
12) Check all the appliances are switched off (4 times).
13) Repeatedly twist the knobs on the gas stove to make sure they are in the maximum off position. Then photograph them multiple times.
14) Forensically check the floor for nothing left behind.
15) Check all the sockets (the builders do often leave things plugged in downstairs so this takes about quarter of an hour).
16) Check the rear windows which, although screwed shut and impossible to open, could obviously be opened by the invisible serial killers.
17) Check the uplighters in the floor under the stairs and in the hall are switched off (4 times).
18) Because I’ve blinded myself looking at the very bright hall lights I cannot see when checking the front ground floor windows so check these 400 times. The insurance company specifies that the house is not insured unless these are locked. I fear not being insured more than being run over by a bus.
19) Turn off half the breakers on the fuseboard as I fear the builders have interfered with the circuits with their drilling frenzy and that, if they are left on overnight, obviously the house will burn down.
20) Photograph the fuseboard at least 20 times to prove that the breakers have been left in the off position. Examine the photographs and if they are not clear enough do again.
21) Set the alarm.
22) Unfortunately as I am leaving the house and trying to send the text about the alarm, my mobile screen goes blank. This is obviously totally unacceptable so I have to set the alarm again.
23) On leaving the house for the fifteenth time, following various texting problems, the two beeps that confirm the alarm is set are not quite loud enough. This obviously means the alarm may not be correctly set and that there will be a burglary overnight and it will all be my fault. So I set the alarm again.
24) I lock the door, texting myself. But unfortunately I haven’t texted myself that I have locked the door to the right. Without that crucial qualification I may not have locked the door at all so have to lock it again. After re-locking the door, turning the key in the lock 400 times and completing the checking ritual 400 times, I then stand out in the street for 15 minutes staring at the house, saying “dark dark dark” with a karate chop move in the direction of all the lights. And then forensically check in front of the house that I have left nothing behind. My neighbours witnessing this obviously think I am insane and that care in the community is not working for me.
25) As I drive off one of the weirdest elements of the OCD takes place. Every time I leave a parking space I have to stop my car in the middle of the street, leaving the engine running and the doors unlocked, and leap out of the car into a karate pose. I then stare fixedly at the parking space, doing a karate chop movement and shouting “nothing left behind.” Obviously motorists stuck behind my car don’t seem to understand. But if I didn’t do this obviously I could leave something crucial like a credit card or key behind and my identity would be cloned and I would be raped and attacked by serial killers.
26) When I get home I have to undertake the ordeal of checking the car. The crucial fear with the car is that the car will be broken into or stolen because I’ve left something valuable in it or haven’t locked the doors or shut the windows. This would obviously be my fault and, as the car is irreplaceable as it is no longer manufactured, I would torture myself for years. This fear of making mistakes (remember the demon possessing my brain when I made a mistake on the building project) is behind the car checking.
1) I spend 15 minutes parking the car as it has to be precisely aligned to avoid a lawsuit. The wing mirrors cannot be over or anywhere near the pavement or some trigger happy claimant could trip on them and sue. The car wheels cannot be on or outside the lines marking the parking space or someone could crash into my car and sue me for parking it wrong.
2) While the engine is running, I push the buttons to raise the windows 50 times on each side. Even if the windows have not been opened those pesky invisible people could have tampered with them again.
3) Repetitively photograph the cigarette lighter to prove that I haven’t left
the cord for my Iphone plugged in. This would mean the car would be broken into and it would be my fault.
4) Using the brightest torch available, I have to forensically check every inch of the inside of the car to check nothing has been left behind while chanting loudly “nothing left behind.” I then repeat this 5 times.
5) I then lock the doors and (as there is a small gap at the top of the window that terrifies me) run my finger along the top of the window, lighted by the torch, at least 50 times on both sides while repeating “closed closed closed.”
6) I check the doors on both sides, luckily there are only two, at least 500 times.
7) I check the boot 100 times.
8) I have a great fear that I will have dropped a key in the street around the car. So I spend at least quarter of an hour looking underneath the car with the torch, then circle around the car with the torch at least five times saying “nothing left behind.”
9) I send a 50 line text about the car.
The car takes about 45 minutes, the whole checking ritual doesn’t finish till 5am when I collapse into bed exhausted, not knowing how I’m going to go on.
Next week: my life changing recovery from OCD – I leave my house overnight for the first time in 5 years and reduce the checking from 10 hours a day to half an hour.