Continuing last week’s discussion about my OCD, this week I’ll talk about my need for symmetry. First off, I don’t have an obsessive need for everything in my house or my life to be exactly symmetrical, where everything looks the same on one side as it does on the other. I don’t know how you’d ever get anything done if that were the case. “Symmetry” is just what I call it, and I’ll do my best to explain what I mean.
Ever since I was little, I’ve had this compulsion that if something touches me on one side of my body, I have to feel it the exact same way on the other side of my body. So if I walked through a doorway and my elbow brushed against the doorframe, I would go back and try to recreate that exact sensation on my other elbow. And it has to be exactly the same. If I scratch my right cheek with my right hand, I’ll then have to scratch my left cheek with my left hand. I can’t just use my right hand to cross over and scratch both cheeks, either. If I do that, then I’ll also have to use my left hand to cross over and scratch my right cheek.
This urge can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, though; some are subtle, some not as much. When I go out to eat with someone, it might not be as obvious that I try to press my drinking straw into the right side of my lips and take a drink, then the left side, then exactly in the middle. If it doesn’t feel right I’ll have to start all over though, and that can be more obvious. Sometimes I can get away without doing that whole dance and just place the straw in the middle of my lips, but it has to be precisely in the middle. It’s more noticeable when I’m driving, because there’s a completely different setup to be operated by each hand. My wife has had to stop me more than once because I was bending my fingers all sorts of unnatural ways because one side of the steering wheel felt differently from the other and it has to be the SAME!!! Just now while I was typing, my right index finger brushed again the slight bump on the “J” key, and I immediately and without thinking tried to simulate that exact sensation with my left hand on the “F” key. I haven’t been able to yet because the bump on the “F” key isn’t as pronounced, but I can’t just brush my left index finger on the “J” key and call it good. If I did that I’d have to brush my right finger against the “F” key so it would still be symmetrical.
You should all feel privileged I’m telling you this, because it’s usually not safe for me to do so. Normally when I explain this bit of craziness to someone, they’ll spend the rest of the day brushing their finger across my face or arm and laugh at me while I frustratedly try to brush the other side of my face in the same way. After the third or twenty-seventh time in a row they do that to me, you’d think it would get old, but it apparently never does.
Just like my other compulsions, however, this is something I can ignore if I choose to. I can “talk myself out of” having to contort my body to feel that symmetry I crave, and I have to make myself do that if I’m starting to get too twitchy. But what is a compulsion anyway? What prompts that feeling, and why is it symmetry and not something else? I can’t explain to you what it feels like if I don’t have this “symmetry,” or the feeling of relief I have when I finally bump into that desk with my left leg the exact same way I did on my right. It just feels better somehow, and I guess I can’t even definewhy it’s better. I can’t tell you how many times over the course of writing this I’ve mindlessly smoothed out my left eyebrow hairs, and then my right, or bit the inside of my right cheek, then the left, then the middle of my lips, or pushed my fingers against the keys in the exact same way until I can match them up, or scratched my face with both hands, or tried to suppress those feelings so I could get something done for once. It’s like when you mention someone you know has lice and everyone starts scratching their heads without realizing it.
See?! I got you!!!