Today I am blogging to you live from Starbucks. Surrounded by the chatter of coffee drinkers, caffeine having given them a burst of energy on this cold mid morning.
Recently I have developed an obsession with nail varnish and the delights of nail art. Each nail design lasting a week before the white of my nails begins to peak through beneath the vibrant nail polish I’ve been sporting. I don’t do chips, only ones of an edible nature.
But on Sunday night, as I peeled my nail varnish off, too lazy to use nail polish remover, I suffered a small shock. As I peeled the layer of hardened but pliable nail varnish, a layer of my actual nail came off with it, stuck to the solidified polish . I then examined my real nails and didn’t like what I saw. They were ruined, flakey, breakable and a weird colour despite my base coat. Damaged.
It saddened me that I had ruined the nails that had served me well for the last 21 years. I guess my nails just aren’t used to the constant weekly smothering of nail varnish and remover. They hadn’t been given the chance to breathe, suffocated by the many layers of suffocating varnish, unable to see the light of day. So I vowed then and there to go on a nail varnish detox for two weeks. Two long, colourless, sparkle free weeks.
As depressing as this option was, I don’t want to have weak, ugly nails. I don’t want to have to paint them because the real thing are to gross for anyone to see. They’re really not that bad, but to save them from getting worse I am stopping. Before they get worse.
This whole nail disaster got my mind working. Thinking about the cracks we cover up on a daily basis. The things we try to hide from others like our brokenness our hurt, secrets and thoughts that we’re ashamed off. It made me think about the English attitude in particular, this attitude of a stiff upper lip, of keeping calm and carrying on, of painting over the neglect, the damage, the ruin, and protecting and hiding what we don’t want exposed.
OCD is something I have always tried to cover up. I’ve struggled with it for a long long time and tried to hide it so desperately, something I didn’t want anyone to know about. Because I was embarrassed. I think it really flared up during my A-levels, where I felt this huge pressure to do well. A pressure that only came from me. The more stressed I got, the more wild my imagination got, the more I had to check things. I thought I hid it well, but my best friends knew something was wrong. I think every one has an element of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, everyone has rituals and habits. Everyone has bug bears. And fears. Fear is what it was really. And this monster that attacked me on a daily basis magnified every irrational fear I had, robbing me of any security from rationality and God. OCD for me was like an invisible cord and when I had to lock the house, or my locker, when I had to leave somewhere, the cord would tighten making it short and impossible to move so that I couldn’t go anywhere. If I tried to walk away it was like being pulled back, on one of those bungee bouncy castle things. Only it wasn’t exhilarating or remotely fun. I was always late because I couldn’t trust myself, I couldn’t believe that the oven was off and the front door was locked. And it’s a hard thing to explain to people who can do that easily. Images of fires and burglars and general disarray clouded my mind and I couldn’t see that iron was actually off and it wouldn’t explode. I think responsibility scared me back then.
I was a different person to who I am now. A girl who always had sore hands from washing them too much, a girl whose phone was actually broken from checking it was locked and turned off too many times. A girl whose phone was full of pictures of empty, turned off plug sockets because that was the only way I could leave the house. I felt insane. I had counselling, hoping to find some way of combating it, of overcoming this fear and panic. It didn’t really help. The counselor talked the whole time. At me. And putting things into metaphorical boxes was far from helpful. But we did work out the trigger. I guess I’d known what had caused it all along. My Grandma was looking after me and my sister one day, I must have been about 4 at the time. My parents were at a wedding or something and I was misbehaving, refusing to eat the fish fingers she had prepared. She got quite cross and told me that if I didn’t eat every last bite then my parents would never come back. Nice Grandma, real nice. I can still remember it to this day, the pressure and the panic that their return lay in my little hands.
I’m not into blaming people for things, a bad workman blames his tools after all, but my OCD definitely stemmed from that small moment. From then on I took it upon myself to ensure that my parents didn’t leave my sight, funny how things change. I wouldn’t let them go outside at night when I was in bed. I used to ask, ‘Are the windows and doors shut? Will E.T come in the night? (I hated E.T) Will we get burgled?’ I had quite a routine of questions each night, which only grew as I became more aware of the world. As I got old enough to have worries. I remember one night, I was lying in bed, it was summer time, still light outside. I could hear my parents laughing in the garden and I jumped out of bed, angry. How dare they be outside. I remember storming downstairs and demanding that they come in. Making sure that the doors were locked after them.
Back then rude words used to invade my head, the rude words at the time were things like ‘Shit’ and ‘Big bum’ repeated endlessly in my head, which sounds hilarious and it is but I remember that it upset me greatly. Horrible images of people falling down the stairs and people I loved getting hurt and dying used to haunt and terrify me. I remember this used to happen at night a lot and I would sit up and shake my head, a number of times to shift these horrible things and say things like ‘No. They are fine. They are fine. They are fine,’ I was being bullied at the time, so I think I was more vulnerable. My Mum and Dad used to comfort me and gave me a Psalm to read which I wrote down and stuck to my ceiling. Psalm 4 verse 8 to be precise.
‘When I lie down, I go to sleep in peace; you alone, O Lord, keep me perfectly safe.’
This helped enormously. I had a bunk bed so I could see it clearly, knowing that God was with me was a huge reassurance. And it still is to this day.
Aside from this I was a normal and extremely happy child with an amazing childhood. And the most wonderful parents. I wasn’t scared of the dark, or monsters under my bed but I was scared of the world. I was scared of loosing my parents, of car crashes and of cancer. I still am a little terrified now, that must be why I don’t watch the news.
OCD is anxiety and being unable to get that fear, however irrational, out of your head. The only way for it to subside is to check or perform a ritual. In my teens that was counting. Before that it was searching for reassurance from my parents, the ones who I saw as invincible and the ones who knew everything. The amount of times I counted was entirely dependent on my level of anxiety. It could be twice, four times, even up to eight times. Four lots of four was the most common when it was at it’s worse. But normally counting wasn’t enough and there had to be an action as well, so pumping the door handle up and down four times. Or looking behind me at my recently vacated bus seat for a certain number of seconds before I got off the bus; I was terrified of losing things for some reason. This ritual or compulsion released the panic and fear. If I checked that the door was locked four times, then in my head no one could possibly break in. If they did it wouldn’t be my fault because I had checked four times that the door was locked. Weird. I know. I have it mildly too.
I think one of my worries about University was that my OCD would cause an issue. That people would find me weird. But it was fine. No one knew about it. My only responsibility was my room and as much as it pained me that my housemates left their hair straighteners plugged in when we went out, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t until second and third year when I was in a house again that it reared it’s ugly head. Not as bad, but noticeable. It was our weak front door that freaked me out the most, because if you didn’t turn the lock anyone could walk in. My housemate used to get annoyed that I always turned the kettle and toaster off at the wall when I’d finished using it. Oh and I couldn’t tolerate the TV being on standby. Sharing a house with people who were carefree was hard, but it did wonders for my OCD. I found myself relaxing a bit, knowing that there most probably wouldn’t be a fire or a break in. Although one time someone did leave the gas on. Not cool. Needless to say I was not a suspect, not even for a moment.
But in my final year, with the stress of my dissertation, essays and the fear of the future it was hard again. Checking consumed me at times and submitting assignments was horrible. I felt enormous panic up to the deadlines, putting off the checking until it really had to be done. Referencing was an absolute nightmare. Once I’d proofread at least 6 times, I generally felt relieved, confident that I couldn’t have missed anything.
I doubted myself a lot, I still do. As humans we do that. I’ve always been a worry wart, jealous of the laid back. How funny being jealous of someones ability to run down the stairs and out the front door without so much as a second glance. I used to check that our front door was locked at uni, pulling on it a number of times, my housemates shouts to stop were the only thing that freed me and stopped me from breaking it. Apparently I broke/weakened the door in second year, although thankfully the landlord didn’t notice. I don’t know my own strength! But now that I’ve left Uni my OCD is even better. I think it will always be a part of me, lurking in the back of my head, dozing until stress appears and he can really get his claws in. But fear can be overcome, there is always light in the darkness.
We all have our crosses to bear. We all have nails that we paint over. If you have OCD, know that you are not mad. Even though you feel as if you are. I think that’s the thing with OCD, you’re aware of how ridiculous you’re being, yet you can’t help the rituals. We’re just incredibly careful people. I found that taking a picture of empty plug sockets and a fire that clearly isn’t on, really helped. And the funniest thing is that I never look at those pictures again. Having that accessible proof was enough. You can overcome it, you can quash it. Don’t let it control you, you are more than those 3 letters.
If you suffer with it, you are not alone. There is help out there. You’d be surprised how many people have it.
So after my extremely long personal spiel, in an effort to fulfill my nail varnish craving, I have decided to relive my Nail art experimentation through the wonder of the photograph.
Look after those cuticles of yours. Face what you strive to hide. The mind is a very powerful thing. Believe me.