Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shower Power

So, I'm lazing in a chair tonight, fantasizing about the shower I plan to take in the morning.  You see, now when I shower, I enjoy it again.  I might use some scented shower gel that makes me feel girly and pretty.  Luxuriate in the delicious feeling of the warm water flowing through my hair, the thick sudsy lather washing my hair clean clean clean, the sensual slipperiness of the conditioner, a quick tingle of the shower massage wand rinsing my "business" clean (since I'm in Cali, and we're in drought, my conscience won't allow more than a quick tingle with the shower wand.)

I realize, now, how crazy his never-ending rules were, but at the time, I wanted to please him - and many of his rules did have a certain logic.

Beginning bathroom rules:
We cannot install a shower massage, but use only (his) water saver shower head, even though the shower massage also has a shut-off feature.  (Which I use, at my new place.)
I get the entire shower caddy, he gets the entire tub ledge. We also cannot share drawers in the vanity - he gets two, I get two. Under the sink, I get half the available space, he gets half.  No co-mingling supplies; nothing can touch each other.  (Why?  Why?  Girl-cooties?)
Electric wall heater can never be turned on for any reason whatsoever. If it’s freezing cold in the bathroom,  and you're coming down with the flu, too bad.
No toilet tank sweaters or lid covers allowed, or bathroom rugs with rubbery backing.  Bathmats or rugs cannot be left on the floor to keep one’s feet warm while brushing teeth, etc., but must be hung on inside shower door when not in use.  (Now I have thick, soft, fuzzy rugs all over the bathroom, to the delight of my bare feet every time I shower or use the commode!   bwaaaahaaaahaaa!)

All shower fragrances must be pre-approved (and none are enjoyed by him, just - "I guess that's not as bad as those other ones you were using.")
Showers must be taken in the morning, so there is time for the bathroom to air dry before bed, with one bath per week allowable on Sunday evenings, provided it is taken early enough.  (I insist on taking a tub bath and shaving my legs once a week, whether they need it or not.) 
Taking a shower rules:
  • Window must be opened.
  • Fan must be turned on, low.
  • Bathroom door opened or closed depending on time of the year (and whether or not he’s in the living room.)  I never was able to decode the secret algorithm he used to figure this one out, and got tired of being snapped at for guessing wrong, so I just gave up and always asked him whether he wanted me to leave the door open or closed.  Half the time he didn't even know what he wanted!
  • If not rainy season, bucket must be used to capture "start-up" water while adjusting temperature, and used later to water garden plants.  (this one, I'm in total agreement with - it's a drought, wasting water is very, very naughty!)
  • When in shower, wet self, turn off water at water-saver knob, lather, rinse & repeat.  (ditto, I'm good with that)
  • If hair captured in drain, remove hairball during shower and place on tub ledge for later disposal. Do not open shower door for any reason during shower, even with water saver knob on.  (Sometimes I would leave the hair in the strainer, so the water backed up, & my feet would get a better soaking.  I'm such a rebel!)
  • Following completion of shower, shower door tracks must be dried with sponge kept on tub ledge for this purpose.
  • Hairballs may now be dropped into trash bin.
  • Fan shall now be turned up to highest speed.
  • Shower doors must be ajar to allow tub and inside tiles to dry.
  • Towels and Bathmat must be hung to dry after use.
  • Collected water in bucket taken outside and applied to plants.
Any steps missed, otherwise noticeably bungled, like not turning the fan speed up or leaving a bathmat on the floor, would meet with a mournful-faced reminder if he was in a good mood, a long, rambling lecture if he was in a bad mood, or an out-and-out tantrum if he was in an especially pissy mood.  Eventually, I managed to do most of them, most of the time, though sometimes I would still goof on something if I was tired or sick.  Not that that was any excuse!!

Are you stressed yet?  Have we managed to suck all the joy and sensual pleasure out of taking a shower, and replaced it with grim necessity and a knot in your stomach over what you might have skipped?  But wait, there's more...

New Rules  (unlike Bill Maher, nothing funny about New Rules with an OCPDr):
  • Pre-shower, spare towel must be placed under toilet tank to catch drips from sweating tank.
  • Shower doors, not just track, must be manually wiped down with sponge - and sponge must be wrung out afterwards "enough."
  • Empty shampoo bottles, etc, cannot be left in waste bin until weekend cleaning, but must be carried out  immediately to recycle bin.
  • Towel from under toilet must be left under tank until all danger of water drips has passed, and only then hung up to dry.  (But for gosh-sakes, don't forget to hang it up!!)
So, I'm working to perfect the new rules, while not omitting any old ones, and one day he calls me into the bathroom.

ME: <wearily> What now?
HIM: You really have an attitude, don't you?
ME: Yeah, I guess so.  So, what did I do this time?
HIM:  Do you have any idea how hard it is, going around all day, picking up after you?  I know you're a slob, but can't you at least try to keep this place together?  <Gesturing>  Look where you left the shower doors!  <he points, then adjusts them - I kid you not - about two inches further in on each side.>  I guess you don't care if this place falls apart.
ME: <laughing>  You realize, you're insane.
HIM:  I really don't appreciate your attitude.  I wish you cared about keeping the place up like I do.
ME: Honey, I will never, ever, care like you do about whether the shower doors are eight inches from the wall or ten.  Not ever.  I wish that was the biggest and most important thing I had to think about, but it's not, and never will be.

It was at that point, six months ago or so, I really "got" it.  Like the imaginary mildew in his mind, those bathroom rules were going to keep on growing, and growing, and growing...

That was really the beginning of the end.  Me realizing that I had put up with a lot of crazy, for a long time, and it wasn't getting better, just worse.  That I did not want to spend the rest of my life getting lectured about how far apart the shower doors "should" be.

So now... I'm back to enjoying showers again.  I'm conscientious about not wasting water, of course, because that's how we roll in Cali.  Sometimes I squeegee down the shower enclosure, and sometimes I don't, depending on my best judgment as to whether I think it'll dry or not - and whether I feel like it or not. 

So far, no Mildew Monster has eaten me during my middle-of-the-night pee trips.

Do you have crazy bathrooom or kitchen rules, too?  Did your Significant Other's list keeping growing and growing?  Comment on your "shower stories", below.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Backsliding, again

I've realized that although my plan is to have nice, strong boundaries, I've actually got holes in mine big enough to let a Great Dane through.

So easy to see, to advise when its somebody else, to hard to recognize and follow through when it's yourself.

Part of the problem is I've been trying to coax my b-f along, to lure him into making changes.  Instead, consensus is, I've given him the impression he can lure me

I thought I was being patient, being kind, yet when I honestly think about it, maybe I've just been giving him false hope.  I'm not sure, even if he began getting help today, that I would ever be open to living with him again.

I know I am not willing to live with the old, leaky camper rusting into the ground.  The battered truck and the stacks and stacks of videotapes he simply can't bear to part with, even though everything has been re-recorded onto DVD and there is no longer any reason to keep the tapes. 

Like his brain, his physical life is constipated with junk.  I need flow and change in my life, and his OCPD makes him so miserable with anything new or different.

He desperately needs me - well, he needs somebody, and I was willing to play along.  Did he ever really love me, the person I am, or just see me as something he could fix?  There certainly were eighteen billion things he found wrong or annoying about me, as he constantly pointed out.

Did I ever love him, or just a fantasy of him?  I still see glimpses of a very cool person in there, but he comes out to play so seldom.  I know I feel deeply sorry for him.  I want to take care of him, I worry about what's he's doing, how he's feeling - but I know, in the logical part of my brain, that's co-dependence, not love.

So how do I move what I know, in my head, into my heart, where I feel it?

Do you have problems with boundaries or co-dependency, too?  How'd you get over it - or are you still struggling?  Please share in the comments section, below.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

My new apartment has a tall, gated fence around the swimming pool - here in California, most of them do.

Theoretically, of course, parents and caregivers should always watch their children, but, in reality, people get distracted, and accidents happen.  And of course, people "should" control their dogs and not let them run loose onto their neighbor's property, and most of them do, but then there are the others...

I was thinking about this physical concept as it applies to psychological boundaries - something I've personally had problems building.  I've always worked very hard to keep my own dogs in the yard or on the leash, as it were, and not let them ravage other people's property.  To be respectful of the thoughts, feelings and independence of other people.

But not everybody trains their dogs.  Some people seem to be not-so-secretly proud of having huge, uncontrolled dogs leaping and running and taking a big stinky dump wherever they want to go.  Or little annoying barking dogs scampering around tearing up the flowerbeds.  "Isn't he a rascal?" they ask fondly.

I can keep on the way I have in the past - tackling it one dog at a time, asking nicely and reasonably,  begging others, "Please don't let your dog run onto my property, jump up on me and knock me down, or destroy the flowers I spent so much time cultivating."  Some people have been responsive, others... not so much.

And doing it one dog at a time is exhausting.  There will always be more neighbors, and more dogs.

So, I'm committed to fence building.  Though a few may slip in during the process, my plan is to eventually have a nice, tall, strong fence, where no outside dogs are allowed.  Until they're invited, and then they will be required to behave themselves, or leave.  And absolutely no more dumping on me!

I haven't quite figured out what to do about the cats...

Which of your boundaries get crossed?  And what can you put up in terms of an electric fence?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Be kinder than necessary....

Apparently, the original version of this came from Plato - or Philo, depending on who you ask: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  James M. Barrie added the "try to be a little kinder than necessary" part, so today what's floating around is a kind of hybrid.

However it's said, whoever said it, it's certainly true that many, many people are going through nightmares we can't even imagine.  Right now, my nephew's fiancee is going through yet another bi-polar psychotic break, despite faithfully following her medication regime, watching carefully for any sign of a manic episode and doing everything she can to avert one.  She's a beautiful, kind, intelligent, wonderful person - when she's not "off her nut."  When she's in the grip of mania, she's frustrated and angry and rages at all who are close to her - which means my nephew, her (adult) daughter, her family and friends...  So, during the day while he's out working, trying to function like a "normal" person, his mind is coming from "crazy" in the morning, and knowing that more crazy is waiting for him at home.

A dear friend had to deal with her husband's rapidly advancing MS, knowing that every day when she came home from work, he might be on the floor, having fallen and hit his head.  Or that he might have dropped a lit cigarette and set the place on fire.  Not long after his condition became so bad, she placed him in a convalescent hospital for the rest of his life.  Although there was really no other option, it broke her heart, and it seems she still feels a bit guilty about it, though what else she could have done, I don't know.

I know, now, so many people who seem ordinary on surface, who are heroes at home.  My OCPD boyfriend cared for both his aging parents in the last years of their lives, right down to the spoon-feeding and changing of diapers.  I know people balancing the needs of their teenagers with the needs of caring for their own aging parents.  People who are battling cancer and still volunteering to care for abandoned pets.

I got a small taste, myself, of what it's like to try to behave "normally" when it feels like your life is disintegrating. During my first six months of my then-new job, my boyfriend would express horrible jealousy.  I had tried to integrate my work and home life, by telling stories when I got home about the people I worked with, about the kinds of things I did during the day.  I thought this would help make him feel comfortable and part of my life away from him.  Instead, it had the exact opposite effect.  Whenever I was five minutes late coming home, he would accuse me in the crudest terms possible of having an affair with my boss and/or co-workers.

I was already stressed out and exhausted, beginning the new job, learning all kinds of details from how to use the phone system, to what the protocol was for staff birthday lunches, outside of the demands of the actual work.  Leaving work, instead of going to a safe refuge where I could relax and unwind, home became a place where the stress was stepped up.  Sometimes I felt so trapped and miserable I fantasized about slitting my wrists, thinking how wonderful it would be to watch all the pain and drama flow down the drain...

Obviously, I didn't take it that far, or my typing would be a lot worse, lol!  I survived the stress, I learned better ways to make my boyfriend feel unthreatened by my job (learning about OCPD was the key - you can't treat people with this disorder "normally.")

But I remember those days, and think about my friend, my nephew, and others in like situations, and try to give people the benefit of the doubt when they take my parking spot, or cut me off on the freeway, or are brusque or rude when I call customer service.  Maybe they're not just jerks, maybe they too are having an Extraordinarily Rough Time.

And I try to treat everyone I meet with dignity, respect and kindness.

~How did you "cut someone a break" today, and assume they might be going a rough time, instead of just being a jerk?  Did you take time to be kind to yourself, today?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

If I knew then what I know now...

It wasn't until I'd been living with my boyfriend for over five years that I found out about OCPD.  (While he's not officially diagnosed, he fits the criteria to a T.)

In many ways, it was a relief to know he had an actual disorder.  That he wasn't just "being an asshole," that my judgment wasn't so dreadful in starting a relationship with him.  Then, I felt frustrated.  Seems like I've met a lot of control freaks in life, heard about large numbers of men trying to control their partners - or vice versa, and yet, nobody is TALKING about it.  Information on the condition, and on techniques to deal with it, is so small and scattered in so many places, it feels that like that fairy tale story where the heroine has to separate the rice from the dirt in a huge, co-mingled pile.

It's the shame factor, I think.  When I was very young, my mother had breast cancer, and back then, people didn't talk openly about cancer the way they do now.  If someone had cancer, people might whisper about it, or, if it was mentioned out loud, it was "The Big C."  It was like cancer was catching or something.  If you talked about it, somebody in your family might get it!

Mental health problems share the same stigma, though more and more, people are beginning to realize that they're not self-created or inflicted or "faked" any more than being hard of hearing or nearsighted.  Some people need glasses, and some people need medication and/or cognitive behavior therapy to cope with being bi-polar or depressed or OCPD.  Some mental issues are illness; that is, something that can eventually be cured, like post-traumatic stress syndrome, and some mental issues are disorders - a condition which will need attention for the rest of one's life.

Now there are pink ribbons for breast cancer on everything from mascara to M & M's, and dinner time TV ads for prostate cancer and incontinence, and drug ads for depression and bi-polar disorder, but OCPD is still a bastard stepchild when it comes to getting a fair share of attention.  I've heard that some mental health professionals don't even believe it exists.  (I challenge them to live for a week in the household of somebody with OCPD and then say that!)  Too many people have never even heard of OCPD, or confuse it with OCD - which is a totally different beastie. 

Since I've found out about OCPD, I've met, online and in person, some smart, kind, beautiful people, who either have OCPD, or live (or have lived) with someone who does.   We've traded stories, and it's interesting to me how similar the stories of OCPD behaviors are, whether we're talking about a Pakistani immigrant in NYC, a woman in the UK or Wisconsin, or a Danish or Australian man.  The symptoms are the same, regardless of gender, culture, religious background.

So, I'm hoping to shine a spotlight on Perfectionist Personality Disorder, aka, OCPD.  It is "Perfectly Awful" both for those who have it, who are eaten up with anxiety and fear on the inside, despite an outwardly aggressive and controlling exterior, and awful for those who live with and love them.  We exist, we are not "crazy," and I hope that with enough voices yelling loudly enough, that someday soon we'll be heard.  And helped.

What's your OCPD/Perfectionist Personality experience?  Leave me a comment, below.