My OCD is a metropolis of order. The strictures I’ve imposed upon myself are ranked according to power and authority, like angels. An individual stricture’s power isn’t derived from its posited consequence, because the consequence of lesser and greater strictures are usually the same: whatever my overriding fear is at that time. The strictures’ power comes from the severity of the punishment that comes when they’re broken.
The basic system here is this: when a stricture of any sort is broken, the usual compulsion is to perform a Correction. What the correction is differs depending on the stricture broken. For instance, if a stricture says that I can’t think certain thoughts, and I do think those thoughts, then I have to think certain counter-thoughts to correct them. If I say certain things that I’m not allowed to say, I have to say other things to balance out the infraction. And so on.
Say that I break a stricture, but go a day or two resisting the drive to correct it. In these cases, if I’m unsuccessful in my resistance, there’s the original correction to do, but also lots of sub-corrections for things I’ve done of a certain permanence in the violated interim. That “certain permanence” general means anything less transient than (most) spoken words; anything that remains to some degree: writing emails, sending texts, buying things. So then in the process of correction the sub-corrections I’ll delete the emails and texts, return the things I bought. In some phases of a certain severity I would have to reread anything that I read in the interim again, after all the other corrections were in place, to correct those read words as well.
It’s hard to remember all these interim things that need correction after the original thing is corrected. Sometimes I’ll only realize days later that I forgot to correct some certain thing that I did after the initial violation. So a period of violation lasting maybe a day or two might could take a week or more to fully correct. And obviously anything meeting that criterion of permanence that I do before I remember that something that I forgot to correct from that original interim, also needs to be corrected in its own sub-interim.
Sometimes, with a lesser stricture, I can eventually process a violation without going back to correct. But I have to process the infraction slowly, like a snake swallowing some cumbersome dead thing much bigger than itself.
And sometimes, I can argue myself into believing that what I originally perceived was a violation of this or that stricture is not, in fact, a violation at all. Violations can be ‘tried,’, proven or disproven in a little interior court. This isn’t as much of a victory as it sounds like, because the original stricture is still in place and its strength still believed in.
And sometimes, for whatever reason or extenuating circumstance (if for example there’s literally no way I could correct it or perform any sort of reasonable approximation of a correction), a particular violation in a particular point in time won’t have its normal authority, and it can be ignored. One good sometimes side effect of traveling, for instance, is that since I’m not in a place long enough to develop an architecture of (self-)control there, I can usually ignore more than I can at home.
But in general, the punishments come sweeping in for any violation. There are two different aspects of the punishment to consider: first, there’s the imagined punishment, what I fear will happen if I let the violation go uncorrected: for instance dying in a tornado.
And more immediately, there’s the neurological punishment, which is immediate, visceral, and real. Various intensities aside, it is essentially an injection of anxiety into the system. Anybody with anxiety knows the different textures and affinities that it can have, and naturally the anxiety from lesser infractions is less intense: the rib cage playing high notes like a harp, a hotbrained few minutes of irrational panic. They pass quicker, although they can recur until a correction is made or the infraction is otherwise disposed of.
For the biggest violations there’s a hook: big and glistening black, it gets lowered invisibly down right into the center of my skull, where its barb sinks into the brainmeat without resistance, like a hand parting a bead curtain. All the thoughts and energies of my brain roll down to the point where the puncture is, and can’t focus on anything other than the word VIOLATION being mouthed liplessly by the wound.
Anything other than the most mindless tasks are too steep. So I ferret through inconsequences: browses my phone aimlessly, watch TV, consider the unwalkable geography of the ceiling or the back of my hand. The gap between conceiving of and doing anything seems impossibly vast.
And it occurs to me now that the leitmotif of these states, big or small, is always the same: a conviction of islandic aloneness. Not loneliness, but aloneness, a profound insularity, a permanent unrelation to all other people and things. Thus final tragedy in any interior affliction isn’t the pain it causes, but the way it proves that there are always going to be distances between us and others.