I once consumed an entire packet of ginger snap biscuits in the space of a few minutes because the voice in my head told me to. It is one of my most distinctive OCD memories. I didn’t want to eat them. I don’t particularly like ginger snap biscuits. But I had to eat them. Either that or be consumed with overwhelming waves of anxiety for the remainder of the evening. When OCD is master of your mind you learn quickly to bend the knee. Or it will destroy you.
You see OCD is a sly and slippery adversary. Just when you think you have it pinned down in one respect, it will seamlessly reshape and attack you from a different angle, effortlessly sliding its rapier blade beyond your defences. Cutting deep and drawing blood. It is a relentless opponent. It never tires and it never grows bored. It will grind you into the ground. It knows no mercy.
On this occasion (many, many years ago before I met Fionnuala) it was preying on my obsession with my weight. I have always worried over this and, as such, have often had an unhealthy relationship with food. Before I discovered running I would indulge in crash diets interspersed with sporadic outbreaks of binge eating where I would comfort eat in order to allay the feelings of despair threatening to submerge me.
Just as much of my OCD is numerically triggered so it was with my binge eating. On this occasion I had set my latest diet a wholly unrealistic target of 1500 calories a day. I meticulously maintained a record of how many I was consuming and if it were to go even 10 calories over the prescribed amount the day would be constituted a failure and I would have to face the consequences. In this instance not one but two days of chaotic binge eating, where I would literally wolf down everything within sight.
It had to be two days. And if at the end of those I had failed again then the next punishment would be four days. And so on. Odd numbers would not suffice which I found wryly ironic as so many of my other obsessions focused around the numbers three and five. But OCD is not a rational adversary its unpredictably making it an even more formidable foe. How do you defeat an enemy who penned the rule book and who can rip it up and start again at the slightest whim.
To make the challenge even more fun, at the end of the two days (or four or maybe eight if it were feeling particularly mischievous) the OCD would make me follow a bewildering series of routines in order to kill the obsession to binge. This is where the compulsion bit comes in. I would have to eat two biscuits before I went to bed so that I could go to sleep with a clear head and wake up the next morning ready to climb back on the crash diet wagon again.
The biscuits would have to be from the same packet. I had to memorise the brand of the biscuit and the company that made them; right down to the exact spelling and any punctuation on the packaging. If I forgot or the fog of OCD tricked me into thinking I had forgotten I would have to start again with another two biscuits. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.
I would have to hold the biscuit a certain way before I placed it in my mouth. My feet would have to be positioned in a certain manner with all my toes in constant contact with the ground. I was not allowed to spill crumbs. Nor leave the room until the entire biscuit was consumed. I was not allowed to perform the routine seated. Nor talk to anyone while performing it. If I fell prey to any of these rigid regulations I would have to start again.
The routine was mentally exhausting. Every time I thought I had nailed it the voice would rhyme off some petty misdemeanour and coldly order me to start all over again. There was no margin for error nor appeal process. Before I knew it, minutes would have become hours and I would find myself surrounded by dozens of biscuit wrappers. I ate until I felt physically nauseous while on the inside my soul curled into a tight foetal ball and weeped silently for it all to end.
That was then and this is now. Thanks to prayer, the support of loved ones and medication the OCD (not my OCD as I disown it) rarely flares up now. Like alcoholism though or drug abuse I do not believe you can be totally cured of it. It is still there, lurking, just waiting for a chink in your armour where it can burst through and wreak havoc. It is dormant but not dead. It fights a guerilla war now, sniping from the fringes of my consciousness.
Even to this day I don’t like ginger snap biscuits. The memories repulse me. It was a type of self harm. I performed the compulsive rituals in order to gain temporary release from the unrelenting pain that this mental illness brings. And like any form of self harming it has left scars. Scars heal but they never truly go away. Which is good because I don’t want them to. I need them.
I need the memories. I need every last excruciating one in microscopic detail. So that I never go back from whence I came, so that I never allow the passage of time to dilute or gloss over the horrors of those evenings standing by the biscuit tin. I won that battle but it was a pyrrhic one. Because this is one war that will never end and one enemy who will never surrender.
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