I appreciated the fact that she was trying to gain a real understanding of what my need for order and symmetry meant in practical terms, so got down to the nitty-gritty of it.
'Well...after I've cleaned my teeth, the brush has to go back in the holder at a particular angle. It's hard to describe, but it's somewhere between facing forwards and facing sideways. I just know when it looks right.
'The toothbrush holder has a square base, which I have to check is still at the correct slant to the edge of the basin. That stands to the left of the taps.
|Photo: Helen Barbour|
At this point, I noticed my friend's glazed expression. She was obviously already regretting her request, and I was barely ten minutes into the day she'd asked me to describe.
As I caught her eye, she said 'Okay, okay', which I interpreted as a full stop on the conversation: she has a genuine interest in mental health issues, but this level of detail was too much for her - it would be for anyone. Frankly, recapping my day in this way was wearing me out, too.
Yet the reality is that much of what I do is actually indescribable, because it's subjective. The 'right angle' and the 'correct distance' means what feels right or correct, when I look at the object I'm positioning.
Some OCD sufferers persuade their partners and families to participate in their compulsions, perhaps, for example, by observing the same rituals as they do to avoid contamination. I'd never be able to get anyone to copy mine, as the way I carry out most of them is determined by a feeling of 'rightness' that can't be articulated. No matter how detailed the description of my rules, it would never be enough to enable anybody else to follow, or fully understand, them.
Even I showed someone the required angles and spacing for all of my belongings, they would then have to rely on memory, rather than the gut instinct that guides me; and no one's memory is that good - with the possible exception of illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown. Now there's an idea for a show...