March 5, 2015

Me & The Other Me

Rodger Hoefel interviews his
Obsessive-Compulsive side.

There’s me, and then there’s the other me. I have to deal with both of them. One, the Real Rodger (RR), is attempting to function as a normal human being. The other, Obsessive-Compulsive Rodger (OCR), is sabotaging every attempt.

1. Rodger, In Conversation With The Other Rodger

RR: Hi OCR, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.

OCR: Of course, you know I’m always here for you.

RR: I know. Even when I don’t want you around, you’re always here.

OCR: I’m glad you’ve finally realised there’s no escaping me.

RR: It took a long time.

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OCR: You tried to drown me! You tried to silence me with anti-depressants! And then you brought in “Mike.”

RR: “Magic Mike.”

OCR: Ah! Please don’t say it!

RR: You don’t like it do you?

OCR: I hate it.

RR: We’ll get to “Magic Mike” later. First, please introduce yourself.

OCR: I’m your worst nightmare. I’m a mental illness. My name is Obsessive-Compulsive Rodger and I’m here to destroy all the confidence the Real Rodger has in himself. I have one mission: to sabotage all your daily activities, no matter how mundane they are, with poisonous self-doubt and hesitation.

2. Checking Symptoms

RR: Let’s demonstrate. An average day together looks like this:

6:44am – Alarm rings.

OCR: Good. It cannot be 6:45 or 6:50. Whole numbers are too perfect for me.

RR: Why?

OCR: I have a thing for certain numbers. There is no pattern to this though. I decide and it changes when I want.

RR: 6:55am – Go to gym. Walk out door. Lock Door.

OCR: Stop! Check it’s locked. Three times.

RR: I did, as quietly as possible. The neighbours are still sleeping.

OCR: Oh yeah. Remember last week? The downstairs neighbour yelled “It’s fucking locked!!!!!!” Haha!

RR: 7:00am – Put clothes in locker at gym. Lock locker.

OCR: Check locker is locked. Three times.

RR: Why do I have to check three times?

OCR: These repetitive rituals relax me. And, therefore, you. Without me being calm, you ain’t getting nothing done.

RR: 7:15am – Exercise bike for 22 or 24 minutes. The resistance is set at 12, 14, 16 or 18.

OCR: Thank you. No odd numbers allowed.

Check the heater is off. Check gas burners are cold. Check gas knobs are on zero. Check coffee machine is off. Turn coffee machine on. Turn coffee machine off.

RR: 7:25am – I see a woman getting ready to use the sunbed.

OCR: You know those things give you skin cancer, right? Right? I know it! Focus on that thought. Do you have skin cancer? Do you? Do you? Maybe you should get checked out? Do you? DO YOU? Oh, so Rational Rodger who lived in Australia for 27 years. The country at the bottom of the globe. The one with the gaping hole in the ozone layer sitting right above it. Inviting deadly UV rays to come in and stay for a picnic. Penetrating skin like the Grim Reaper’s acupuncture.

RR: Shut the fuck up, will you? I got checked out last week.

OCR: Maybe they missed it? How do you know!? Oh, I can’t relax. Can you get checked again this week? Huh? Maybe? Maybe? Probably? There’s time on Wednesday. Please, please, please. I need to relax.

RR: 7:50am – Finish gym session. Wash hands.

OCR: Nope. That’s not good enough. Wash them again, thoroughly.

RR: 8:00am – Arrive home.

OCR: Wash hands again, thoroughly.

RR: 8:30am – Time to go to work.

OCR: Not so fast. Check the heater is off. Check gas burners are cold. Check gas knobs are on zero. Check coffee machine is off. Turn coffee machine on. Turn coffee machine off. Check phone charger is not plugged in. Check laptop charger is not plugged in. Move unplugged chargers to tile or glass surface. Nothing flammable! No carpet! No wood! Imagine if there’s a fire! OMG! The travesty! Unplug hairdryer. Turn lights off. Turn lights on. Turn lights off again. Check coffee machine is still off. Check gas hasn’t switched itself back on. Check hairdryer is still off. 

RR: Done. Deep breath. Open door. Shut door. Lock door.

OCR: Turn key in lock three times. Three more times just to be sure. 

RR: 8:50am – Break a light sweat. Walk away. Finger hurts.

OCR: Walk back to door. Turn key three more times. Finger bleeds.

RR: This is fucking ridiculous. “Magic Mike.”

OCR: Ahhhhhhhh! Noooooooo! (choking sounds) I’m dead.

RR: Walk away.

OCR: Pssssssssst. I’m not really dead. He can’t kill me.

RR: “Magic Mike” is a keyword solution I have developed to deal with Obsessive-Compulsive Rodger. Sounds crazy, right? I used to live next to a bus stop that featured a large ad space. One day I was locking my door, then checking, then locking as per usual. I looked up in the middle of my routine and the bus stop displayed the poster for the movie “Magic Mike.” I read it aloud: “Magic Mike.” It sounded good. “Magic Mike.”

OCR: Ah! Stop it. It’s so weird. I can’t deal with it! I’m outta here.

RR: It serves as a memory landmark. Something unique. Something easy to remember. I check the door three times and say to myself: “Magic Mike.” I walk away.

OCR: Then I come back. Check again.

RR: No. I say to myself “I said Magic Mike, so it must be locked.” And then there’s calm.

OCR: Adios.

RR: Well, that is until I got to know Magic Mike too well. You figured out that I was trying to play tricks on you. I changed the keyword to “White-winged dove” from Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks. A dove had flown by in the middle of my locking routine.

OCR: It was an albino pigeon you idiot! There are no doves flying around Amsterdam.

RR: Look, for whatever reason, it didn’t have the same effect. Maybe you’re right, it was flawed from the beginning. I took “Magic Mike” back. It worked. There’s something so crazy about it, it still works.

3. When Did It Begin?

OCR: Yep. Hey, let’s take a moment to reminisce. Do you remember when we met?

RR: Vividly. It is my first clear memory in this world. Thanks to you, I was plagued with self-doubt. I was 5 years old. I could read: A is for Apple, B is for Bee, C is for Car. One Saturday afternoon I sat in the back seat of the family car as we pulled up at the traffic lights. I spotted a street sign out the window and read it aloud.

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“Turn left at any time with car”
“Come on, Rodger, you know what that says,” said my mother.
Yes, I did.
I knew the difference between ‘care’ and ‘car’ perfectly well.
But I didn’t say it.
Why?
I didn’t trust myself.
I was too scared to commit to the answer I knew was correct.
A wave of guilt and shame instantly crashed over me.
Why did I say “car”?

OCR: And there I was! Hello! You and me, Rodge, we’re just like Chachi and Joanie. You’re the cheese and I’m the macaroni. 

RR: And there you were. The completely irrational and ridiculous side of me was born.

OCR: Let’s talk about how irrational I can be. Remember being a teenager?

RR: In high school, I remember being too frightened to raise my hand in class to answer the teacher’s questions. Usually, the loudest or most confident child would answer. When they had it wrong the teacher gave the correct answer. I usually always had it. But I was too scared. I didn’t trust myself enough to risk public ridicule. I hated that feeling.

OCR: I stopped you. What if you did have it wrong! You can thank me later.

RR: At 16, I was selected to try out for the state basketball team. I made it to the final round but missed out by one. The coach pulled me aside after the trial: “You’re good. You just need to decide if you want it.” I thought, “I do want it!” I was too scared to call for the ball. Too scared, that if I had the ball everyone would be watching me.

OCR: What if you missed! What if someone stole the ball? What if you turned it over? What if you get the ball and everyone sees the pimples your face? Alas! The shame!

RR: You overwhelmed me with irrational and unwarranted fear, you fucking asshole. It restricted the demonstration of my ability. I never got the ball. I never scored. The coach saw a lack of commitment. I missed the cut. I walked away drowning in a sea of self-disappointment. I was absolutely aware that you, and the myriad of irrational thought you put in my head withheld me from displaying my true potential.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. Where did you come from? Thoughts of frustration and confusion clouded my head.

OCR: Aww, there, there. You want a tissue, snookems? All teenagers are shy, awkward, and have pimples. What made you feel so special?

RR: Most teenagers don’t have to deal with you! Besides the fear of embarrassment, I also began your ridiculous checking rituals. I found it impossible to avoid them. My schoolbooks had to be arranged in height order inside my bag. Lunchbox in the front. Occasionally, I would hastily throw my lunchbox in my bag after eating lunch, then run off to play basketball. When I picked up my bag and went to class, the books were out of order, lunchbox in the wrong place. You would fill me with uneasiness. I could not escape until the books were rearranged. Then I would be late for class.

OCR: I just love a neatly arranged backpack

“Rodger, if A=9, what is x?
“I’m not sure. Sorry sir, I was somewhere else.”

RR: My wallet always had to be in my right pocket, keys in the left. I had to check, recheck, and triple check throughout the day to reassure myself they were still there.

OCR: Were they always still there?

RR: Yes.

 OCR: Your wallet is still there now, correct? Never lost it, did ya? No worries, mate. 

 RR: We had a Nintendo in our house. After playing a while the transformer got hot. I had to unplug the hot transformer and place it on a non-flammable surface, metal or tile, not carpet or paper. Later, I would ride my bike to school, stop at the top of the hill to look back toward my house and check for smoke. During class I would experience vivid daydreams of the hot Nintendo charger catching fire. The carpet would burn, then the curtains, before the entire house was engulfed in flames.
My maths teacher was explaining trigonometry as I sat transfixed in a hellish daydream.
“Rodger, if A=9, what is x?
“I’m not sure. Sorry sir, I was somewhere else.”

OCR: Better to be safe than sorry!

4. Irrational Fear

RR: This was the moment I began to realise OCD was more than just double-checking locks and unplugging plugs. These vivid, hellish, horrific irrational thoughts, no, correction, scenarios, were playing over and over in my mind. They detached me from the real world, rendered me useless. They were so irrational, so outlandish, I was swept away from whatever I was doing into a world of fear.

OCR: Yep. That’s me. I told you I was your worst nightmare. Besides locking locks, I create irrational fear.

RR: This is what I hate the most. Describe it to them.

OCR: To who?

RR: The readers, asshole. They have to know who you really are.

OCR: But they won’t think I’m cute anymore!

RR: You’re not cute. You’re not Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets. You’re not just arranging shoes in coloured order. You’re not just switching off the lights in the middle of the night. You’re a demon! A devil! The fucking Anti-Christ!

OCR: Whoa, take it easy! Relax a little, will ya?

RR: Tell them about your fear of contracting an incurable illness.

OCR: Yikes! When Rodger is walking through the streets, I am on high alert, scanning everything within our view for something white. Something syringe shaped! What if we step on it! We would get sick. We would die! Oh, Lordy!

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RR: And how do we look today? Do you, maybe, have abnormal concerns about the neatness of our personal appearance and environment?

OCR: So what? I make you apply deodorant twice in the morning, just to be sure you did it the first time. Maybe once more before we’re out the door. When you look in the mirror, I see more than just the face, I see the veins in your eyes, the deepest pores in your skin, and the finest hairs are all in place. Why pay so much attention to such minute detail? It’s perfection, baby! During conversation I make sure your fly is not open. Let me check that one more time. Soon they’ll think we’re playing with it! Haha. Check your teeth with your tongue. What if there’s something stuck! Imagine that! A piece of spinach in your teeth! Oh, the shame! How would you recover? You wouldn’t! You could be forever remembered as spinach teeth.

RR: And the need to align objects just so?

OCR: I like things ordered. I’ll flood you with uneasiness if you don’t have the laptop parallel with the edge of the desk. The phone that lies next to the laptop must also be perfectly parallel. The magazines underneath the monitor should be perfectly parallel with the laptop. Both positioned exactly between the two speakers on either side. The plant that sits on the speaker must be equidistant from all top edges of the speaker. The coffee cup sits in the middle of the coaster, all sides equidistant from the edge. The pen between the laptop and the screen is perfectly positioned. The post-it notes on the monitor are stuck in a perfect horizontal line across the bottom of the screen, and colour coordinated. What’s so bad about a little organisation? 

RR: Let’s go a little deeper. What about the intrusive, sexually explicit, or violent thoughts and images?

OCR: I make you feel like you’re going bonkers, right? I place frequent thoughts of this nature in your mind as often as possible. Remember last week at the supermarket? You looked down at the shopping basket, BAM! Now you’re naked.

RR: I thought I lost my mind.

OCR: You looked up, hummingbird heart, hoping no-one was looking! Ha, they weren’t. You weren’t naked. It was just me fooling you. Flooding your mind with irrational fear. I like to give you a jolt every now and again. Feel alive, motherfucker! It’s like touching an electric fence.

RR: For the following 5 minutes I am in an unbreakable cocoon of thought, trying to rationalise why I would be naked in the store. I’ll come home without the item I went shopping for. Not funny.

OCR: A little bit funny? 

RR: Nope. And what about trying to confuse me that I might be homosexual?

OCR: You were coming of age in your early 20s. Besides that, you were drinking like a fish, trying to drown me. It was easy to manipulate you. It was easy to make you think you were gay. Does this look gay? Do they think I’m gay? Is this gay? You’re not gay. Are you gay? You like fashion, you like art. You must be gay. But you like girls. So, you’re not gay. Right?

RR: I kissed a boy when I was 21, just to show you I wasn’t gay.

OCR: Well, you got me there, didn’t ya. Smart ass.

It’s not just a single thought, it’s a scenario, a terrible private horror movie playing for an audience of one.

RR: Here comes the reason I want you truly finished. What is it with the aggressive and horrific thoughts about harming myself or others? They are appalling.

OCR: I don’t know, man. I am truly sorry about this. I don’t know why I do it. These violent visions are my worst character trait. When you’re in the car, I don’t actually want you to swerve across the road into oncoming traffic.

RR: It’s not just a single thought, it’s a scenario, a terrible private horror movie playing for an audience of one. You make me imagine pedestrians getting hit. Dogs going under the wheel. Rear-ending another car when approaching the traffic lights and the car concertinaing. The handbrake is left off, the car rolls, someone gets squashed. Oh man, these thoughts never end. Crossing the road, thoughts of getting hit by a bus and dragged along take hold of me. Going shopping, the glass freezer doors explode into my face. On windy days, street signs get blown away and I will stop there. It is just so horrible.

OCR: I’m really sorry, dude. I’m not perfect.

RR: I want you finished.

OCR: You tried that, remember? It didn’t work. The anti-depressants just made me feel like I’d been smoking weed, man.

RR: The psychologist gave me two options: See a specialist who will do a complete diagnosis over a six-month period and treat accordingly, or take anti-depressants and see what happens. I was busy dealing with my injuries, my career, and my social life. I had no time for a six-month diagnosis. I took the pills to kill you.

OCR: I’ve got balls of steel, buddy. It would take a real commitment to shut me down.

RR: I was prescribed a low dosage, two 50mg tablets per day. I stayed on track for two years. In the beginning, they masked you out. I checked the door lock less frequently. At the same time, I was full of pain killers for my legs. They also kept me in a haze. I don’t know which was stronger. However, as time went by, I could feel I needed to up the dosage to get the same effect.  I had read an article about a housewife in L.A. who stopped taking her pills midway through her prescription. She went off the deep end. I stopped taking the pills for fear of a similar end.

OCR: A little dramatic, maybe?

RR: Maybe. The truth is I didn’t want to take anti-depressants. I thought I was better than that.

OCR: Hey, relax. I think you gotta love me a little. Without me you wouldn’t be who you are. Most importantly, you wouldn’t be creative. I think every creative person has a little bit of me inside them.

RR: To some degree you have helped my creativity. Due to the organisational nature of OCD my design style adheres perfectly to a grid system. Josef Muller-Brockman would be proud.  I always wondered how some designers’ work could have typography breaking across the page, or their Indesign files could have no guides. Mine are all ordered with military precision. There is a painful level of detail in my work.

OCR: I make sure your fly is not unzipped in client meetings.

RR: I can do that myself. You’re annoying. For example, I will have a creative presentation with clients. If I drive there, I am late because it takes me 10 minutes to check the handbrake is on, the lights are off, and the doors are locked.“Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find the parking ticket machine” is my excuse. My anxieties are firing at full capacity when I walk into the meeting. They will ask me for creative feedback and you are in my head screaming: Is the car locked? Was the handbrake on? Do I have food in my teeth? Are my shoes clean? Is there chewing gum on the bottom of my shoe? What If I cross my legs and there is chewing gum on the bottom of my shoe! They will see it! They will laugh! Is my fly unzipped? Check. Did they see me touch my fly?! And so on.

OCR: I save you from embarrassment!

RR: You’re a mental illness. You’re destructive by nature. The negatives far outweigh the positives. Your self-doubt poisons any confidence I have in my own work. Luckily, I have found a few ways around you. Posting my work online and getting feedback, entering award shows and winning. The affirmation helps overcome the self-doubt.

OCR: In 30 years, no one has ever really noticed me.

RR: I hide you away. Keeping you under control is a full-time commitment. I would be a good actor, I think. My whole life has been an act, hiding this second personality from public view.

OCR: Are you embarrassed by me?

RR: Well, you’re not called a mental illness for nothing.

OCR: Why would you be embarrassed?

RR: There’s a stigma attached to mental illness. It’s not socially acceptable.

OCR: Then why are you sharing your story?

RR: I’m detailing my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder so we can understand it better, and smash the stigma.

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5. What’s Next?

OCR: What’s next for us?

RR: What’s next is children.

OCR: WHAT!?

RR: Well, I’m 34 years old and the time is coming. I have a slight concern that these poor kids will have the same mental problems as their dad. Julianne Moore gave me some hope. She scrapped her OCD rituals when she had kids. “Those are the indulgences you can have before you have children. Now I don’t have time to obsess. All that stuff about, I need to go this certain way and do that was an indulgence of my youth.”
That’s nice for me. But what about the kids? Can I never double check a door again? Will they copy me? Does anyone know this?

OCR: Do you really want to get rid of me?

RR: You also affect those close to me. I hide iPhone chargers in weird places and frustrate my girlfriend. I get stuck at the door double-checking the lock and making my friends late.
But, I accept it. I realise I can’t remove you. You’re a miscommunication within my brain. There needs to be some rewiring done. And I ain’t up for that. For so long I’ve tried to fight you. Now I realise it’s a losing battle.

OCR: Hold on, who said I’m a miscommunication?

RR: An article online compared a scan of a normal brain, and an OCD brain. They are structured differently.

OCR: You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, you know.

RR: Sure, It could be a clever marketing tactic to get people to submit to brain-wave therapy. Or it could be your clever tactic to stop me wiping you away.

OCR: I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to hurt you.

RR: Don’t worry, I’ve decided to do it naturally. Recently, my personal coach asked me the most important question in silencing you,
“What happens if your car is left unlocked?”
“It gets broken into and stolen” I replied.
“Then you report it to the police and insurance replaces it.”
“Oh,” I said, astounded.
I had never rationalised my irrational fear.
It seems so obvious. But when your OCD runs through its paces you don’t have time to stop and think.

OCR: That’s a good one. 

RR: It’s the best solution I’ve found so far. If the bike is gone, I’ll get a new one. If the BMW has a ding in it, I’ll pay for it. Shit happens. So what?

OCR: It sounds better than being Gamma Knifed.

RR: I will not be interfering with my brain.

OCR: Why put your story online?

RR: To expose you. I feel so much better that my experience is online. You’ve been such a shameful secret that I have hidden my whole life. Now I feel relief. Others can know who you really are. And now that they know, I hope they can share their experience too, and feel relief.

OCR: Won’t people judge you? Have you just buried your career? Won’t they talk about you behind your back?

RR: Whatever. I am being proactive against the doubt in my head. The more I succumb to your Obsessive-Compulsive thoughts, the more you win. It’s like a muscle, the more you train it, the stronger it gets. The more I ignore you, the stronger my resistance gets. I’m throwing myself in at the deep end. I go to day spas to get over the fear of germs.

OCR: That is so gross! You sat in the same sweaty seat in the sauna that the old guy just got up from. Do you know how disgusting that is? 

RR: I didn’t catch any weird skin infection. Deal with it. I go to events by myself just to prove I don’t need someone holding my hand. It turns out everyone is not staring at me and judging me for being alone. I don’t check to see if my bike is there each night. If it’s gone, it’s gone. So what, I’ll get a new one. I even bought a piece of second-hand furniture.

OCR: Ah! You know how many people have touched it before!? Hundreds!

RR: Deal with it. I’ve got better things to worry about. I’m breaking up with you.

OCR: Don’t leave me! 

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Thanks for journeying with me into the inner workings of my Obsessive-Compulsive mind. Prior to writing this, I didn’t realise I was classified as the owner of a mental illness. They say you learn something new every day. By sharing Obsessive-compulsive stories, we can shine a brighter light on OCD. Hopefully, together we can find ways to handle it better. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,
Rodger Hoefel

Yeah, thanks. I guess.
The other Rodger Hoefel

Credits
Written by Rodger Hoefel
Photography by 
Marieke van Elsäcker
GIFs by
Rodger Hoefel
Illustration made with 
Glitché

 

 

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