This summer I have been at my university’s biological station, previously taking a class and now working as a TA. The station is sort of like camp for adults, plus biology classes. We work along a lake and live rustically in cabins. As you can imagine, we dress pretty casually and don’t bring too many clothes with us, since space is limited. When clothes choices are already limited and then OCD gets involved, choices can then become very limited.
An aspect of my OCD I haven’t mentioned before on my blog is difficulty picking out clothes. Sometimes I get stuck trying to decide what to wear because OCD is telling me certain items “aren’t allowed” or are “bad,” for a wide variety of reasons. I get caught in a cycle of rituals because I am trying to find what feels like the “perfect” outfit for the circumstances of the day.
These rituals are something I’ve worked on before and have seen improvement with, but it’s definitely an obsession that isn’t totally flushed out. While at the biological station I have caught myself several days ruminating about clothes, spending too much time deciding what to wear, and of course avoiding certain items. Avoidance often seems to be anxiety’s most powerful tool for exerting control. I have been here for just over four weeks now, and there are items of clothing I still haven’t touched. I began to realize I was doing this a few weeks ago, and had been making small efforts to occasionally wear something my OCD wasn’t totally okay with. Today though, I decided enough was enough and it was time to do a larger exposure.
I committed that my entire outfit was going to be clothes OCD had been trying to convince me weren’t “perfect” or “safe enough” to wear. My pants, shirt, and sweater were all items I had not worn yet while here. Additionally, I had to follow a rule I’ve used before with decision making: I have to go with either my first or second choice, no matter what. There’s no standing around ruminating for half an hour about what to wear allowed.
I decided to go with….a blue t-shirt with a map of Earth on it, capri leggings, and a sweatshirt with a colorful elephant on the front. (This isn’t Vogue people, it’s a biological station.)
Surprisingly, the exposure went pretty smoothly and my anxiety had faded before I even got to breakfast. It’s likely this was due to the fact that I had done several mini versions of the exposure leading up to the big one (which just goes to show how powerful repetition is for exposures). I’m glad I did this exposure and have regained the rest of my closet. And you know what, I quite like my elephant sweater.