Obsession and compulsion

“Spoonie” is a term that some disabled people use to describe themselves.  It comes from an analogy that someone used to described how energy and capability is like being given a fixed amount of spoons each day and when you run out of spoons then nothing more can be done until the energy and capability is restored.  To be honest I find this term both limiting and not specifically descriptive of disabled people.  People without illness or disability run out of spoons, granted not quite in the same way, but they do and regularly.  I find it limiting because it encourages a sense of helplessness in me by predicting that today I’ll have problems when perhaps today I won’t.

I’ve often discussed the use of this with the consultant psychiatrist that I saw for a decade and with my GP who I’ve seen at least monthly for the past 13 years.  We have agreed, of course, that anyone who finds the term helpful and find it can grease the wheels of discussion about disability shouldn’t be put off from using it.  Why I found it didn’t quite sit rightly with me was a mystery to me until this morning.

This morning I visited my GP for a blood test, a repeat of a test I have done regularly.  Last time it was done the result was less than good and, as it is done to determine the levels of lithium in my system, it’s an important test.  We talked about why the level of lithium in my blood stream is under the level considered therapeutic and the short answer was that I’m not taking it often enough.  Despite the fact that I know that lithium is a fantastic medication for me and provides me with a stable base from which to start.  Like many other people who take lithium I find it revolting.  I have to take it in liquid form because I just can’t swallow the tablets.  We talked about the period in the last year where my dread of lithium led me to not only be unable to swallow it in tablet form but also produced a reaction where I couldn’t swallow solid food and for two weeks lived on a liquid diet.  We talked about how, no matter how hard I tried at the moment, I was struggling to take lithium even half as often as I needed to.

As we talked the conversation evolved into something else and we began to talk about time management, my inability to do everything I needed to do to get through my days and why I disliked the spoonie description.  As the talk moved I spoke of how my hobbies, the music I listened to and the literature I read were compulsive and obsessive.  Last year the weather was so awful during the summer months I don’t think I took even 100 photos in three months.  I was also incapacitated with a colon problem during this time and was confined to home a lot.  Strictly speaking, not being able to take photos should have freed up time for me to do other things, but it didn’t.  Photography is a compulsion and nothing can take it’s place.  Photography is a borderline obsession and I will always fret if I cannot make time for it.  If I pick up one book by Kafka I will read everything I have that he has written; if I listen to one song by a favourite band then I will listen to all of them.  Once the read/listen cycle begins there is no telling when it will stop.

When I factor in the simple fact that I can’t do everything that I want to whether it is a result of having bipolar disorder or not my life becomes an endless battle against time and the lack of it.  It’s  a balancing act I often fail at.  Each morning has the potential to be eaten up by deciding what it is I can or can’t do in any given 24 hours.  A series of actions can make my life easier, make the decisions less fraught and these are:

  • Make a to do list the night before and put only three things on it one of which is a reward.  Rarely will you not do all the things on such a short list.  Break the tasks down if necessary.  If I just write “vacuum” I won’t do it.  If I write “get the vacuum out” with the intention of doing it a different day I’ll usually accomplish that.  Don’t be afraid to trick yourself into action!
  • Remember that no one can accomplish everything all the time.  Many things limit us – age, time, unforeseen circumstances.  If we don’t do everything it’s not necessarily illness or disability that prevents that. Cut yourself some slack.
  • Plan regular days off.  This sounds odd if you don’t work/study but it’s important that you have days where you can go and do something away from your day to day environment.  it gives you little targets to aim for.  If I’m going through a phase of poor sleep then I’ll plan a day where I can, with the okay of my GP, take the medication necessary to catch up on sleep.  It’s  day off of sorts and it really helps.

My psychiatrist used to describe me as “sub-ocd” which was a way of saying that I had obsessive-compulsive tendencies but, thankfully, they hadn’t erupted in a big way.  I can’t leave the house without checking several times that the heating and all the power points are switched off but, currently at least, I’m not tied to a ritual that takes hours to go through.  I have to check the door several times behind me when I lock it but, since I’ve went out without the door unlocked more than once, it’s an understandable action.  The steps I’ve listed above to help me may not even make a dent in the life of someone who is badly effected but I can only share the coping mechanisms that I have, not the ones that I may need.

What I do try to do each day is to give myself time when I do try to do things.  I talk about mental health and I won’t be ashamed of having bipolar disorder whatever someone’s reaction is.  I don’t beat myself up about the little stuff, there’s plenty of other people in the world that will do that.  Above all I tell myself don’t be afraid, don’t lose hope, don’t forget who you are or what you can be.  It’s important to believe in yourself and remember above all that there is nothing in this world that could be considered perfect so don’t aim for that.  I don’t even aim for happiness.  The best I can hope for realistically is contentment and, if I achieve that, then I’m happy.

Anyone who needs information about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can click here.

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