Internal Landscapes

Posted on June 16, 2012 by

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Part of the "El amor por las montañas" series by Guy Laramee, carved books & mixed media

Part of the “El amor por las montañas” series by Guy Laramee, carved books & mixed media

I wring my hands when distressed, occasionally so much that I rub the skin raw.

The world will, at times, end. There will be no rope to follow anywhere, nowhere to go, nothing to do – no good left in it, no bad. I sit and stare and shake. I’m mute, and I wring my hands. I pull my fingers out of their sockets but they rarely pop.

I might have OCD. I haven’t been to see anybody about it – one of my obsessions is self improvement. It belongs in the “armour” series, i.e., the things I do to stave off anxiety by designing myself piece by piece: ruthless expectations, good taste, the “fire-doors” (emotional shut down), perfect things (the perfect…pen, bag, dinner, cat collar, place for stapler, menu order, shopping trip, [fill in NP]), not being able to organise anything at all unless I know what to do with every single object, worrying spots and scabs with my fingernails so much they scar, scrubbing myself clean in the loo until I bleed.

But wringing hands, my history with eating disorders & self-harm, pulling hair out, hitting my forehead against sharp door jambs, ripping the skin from my lips with my teeth – these things are different. They’re drains for emotion to sluice out of – vile stuff, too much of it about.

I read this with sympathy. It’s a deeply personal criticism by autistic writer Julia Bascom of therapy that prevents autistics from stimming (doing things that aren’t traditionally thought of as “purposeful” like hand-flapping). Julia is a fan of the show Glee, and she wrote the post in response to a moment in the show where one character covers another character’s hands to prevent movement.

I skimmed the comments – until this:

Just FYI, the woman in the image is diagnosed OCD and, if memory serves, she’s going into a hand-rubbing/praying ritual after an extremely stressful event that her boyfriend (the man in the picture) caused. He’s trying to stop her from rubbing.
– a commenter on the blog

I’m aware. I’m a big Glee fan, as you can see from my blog, and wrote this as a response to that scene. This is exactly what I’m talking about.
– Julia B.

It’s very possible Julia didn’t mean to speak for OCD sufferers – but that comment reads like she did, especially in the context of the last two sections of her post. She lambasts the assumption that autistic people are better off without “purposeless” movement; she generously extends her protection to OCD sufferers. It’s okay, she’s saying. Don’t let them stop you from compulsing.

Alas that OCD is treated best by that very thing! A mixture of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and medication is the only form of treatment that has shown reproducible, significant results in OCD patients. CBT specifically involves a patient learning to resist compulsions: to sit with her anxiety, and to let her brain adapt. I understand that Ms Bascom feels sympathy with an OCD character given her own experience, but should I need to point out that OCD and autism are fundamentally unrelated?

Autism (from what I understand) is a condition that results from nonstandard input processing. OCD, by contrast, is to do with overactive pattern matching. OCD patients experience normal sensory input; their difficulties are with metadata. These are not only different beasts, but different genera, different phyla.

We come back, full circle, to me. If I am not stopped, I might easily hurt myself. Yes, my compulsions soothe me – but they are not good for me. They don’t help; they only reinforce, getting wilder and more desperate each time they loop.

I didn’t feel torture in that clip – I felt the warmth of my husband’s hands bringing me back from an echo chamber filled with increasingly incoherent words.

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