I think my grandmother and mother used to call me a “fuss budget”. I had no idea what the hell that was until I was older but basically sitting still and not doing anything isn’t really my thing. Not to say I don’t enjoy naps or sleeping in or vegging out on TV every so often but for the most part, any type of stagnation, in any form is like nails on a chalk board to me (I also hate actual nails on a chalkboard). To most people they would say this was point blank ADHD, and maybe it was. My brother has ADD so it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch but it was never discussed, at least not in regards to me.
While I was still in pre-school, my mother and I got in an accident during a pretty bad thunderstorm and it really affected me. I was petrified of being away from my mom when a storm would hit. I would make excuses to go to the widow at school to see the clouds develop or reasons to go home sick. My mom (who had enough experience with my brother and his ADD) knew something was up and took me to a psychiatrist. She explained the situation and the subsequent events and the doctor told her it was likely I had anxiety induced OCD. I wasn’t put on any meds but did cognitive behavioral therapy to help alleviate the anxiety, fear and compulsions. Eventually I grew to love thunderstorms (insanely ironic I know).
But while my anxiety about thunderstorms eventually went away, my brain had now been mapped to cope with anxiety in the form of OCD. If I couldn’t control even the smallest thing, I would start with new compulsions. They changed for each situation. I used to wash my hands to no end (I don’t exactly how that one started but now I have chronic eczema to thank for it) but I think the most poignant and long lasting compulsion born from anxiety is how I cope with unfamiliar surroundings or stressful situations. I withdraw into myself, I become highly organized/prioritized. I do the exact same thing the same way all the time. Order controls me when I can’t control my surroundings.
I dealt with this all through my childhood and still to this day deal with it on some levels but with much greater control. My mom’s graduation present trip to me to Europe for a month with 40 strangers, living out of one bag, re-wearing clothes that may have not been washed, sharing rooms and bathrooms (bathrooms are a VERY anxiety inducing place) with people I had just met. Thinking back on it, this trip should have been an absolute nightmare. I never rewore clothes. I never shared an bathroom with more than one person (and I usually cleaned it before using any part of it). This was in retrospect complete madness. Maybe my mom knew something I didn’t. Maybe she had the hunch that throwing me into this chaotic world would help me snap out of some of my anxiety, and that’s exactly what it did.
The only things I could control 100% on this trip where what I ate and what trinkets I bought. Everything else was out of my hands. We had a schedule, everything was planned and mapped and I was along for the ride. We could only call our parents at certain times. We could only have two alcoholic drinks with dinner. We had our one duffle bag. We did get to chose our roommates (and those were sort of determined on the fist day) but nothing more than that.
The rooms were a mess (not like vegas bachelor/bachelorette party gone horribly wrong). Clothes were everywhere. Toiletries found their home where they could. Everyone (ok mostly the girls) borrowed each other’s shit because when it came down to it, we ALL forgot something or lost something at some point. So there was absolutely no way in hell, I could keep up my compulsions and OCD tendencies without ruining the trip for myself, ruining the trip for others and going 100 % insane and having to be shipped back home (which was not an option for my mom).
For the first time, something outside of a doctor or medicine made me drop the anxiety and compulsions and embrace the chaos. I firmly believe that if I had not taken that trip, those same compulsions would still be controlling my life. They’ll never fully go away but that trip was a HUGE first step towards understanding what makes me tick and how to recognize the signs of anxiety and control them.