For a long time I thought the index finger of my right hand was crooked. When I held it out straight as I could, it curved noticeably to the right. I told myself this was because of a certain ritual that I had when I was little, one of my first compulsions.
I don’t remember the specifics fear that forced it into a compulsion, but it involved crossing my fingers and touching, first myself, and then certain things in a certain order: door frames, door knobs, and most of all the AC vents in my mom’s jeep. I can’t remember what I was afraid of, but I do know the purpose was to gather this fear’s potential energy from my person and dispel it: let it run out of the crossed tips of my fingers into these external objects, the same way a lightning rod routes the wild electricity down into the ground to dissipate.
(This concept of bad energy recurred much later in more recent compulsions too. In my modern mode of making Corrections I still felt that, when I was correcting, I had to be standing in such a way that I wasn’t touching anything with any part of my body, other than the ground, because if I was touching something else some energy could be transferred into it instead of properly dispelled through the proper correction; and maybe also that to be in the proper “state” to correct something, I had to be unfocused on any other task or thing; and the act of merely touching something unrelated to the correction was enough to compromise that state and render the attempt at correction invalid.
You can see that concepts not only recur, but can also be repurposed; when I was young I wanted that energy to be ‘held’ inside of objects; when I was older I was afraid of that same concept, so the energy had to be loosed into the air.)
The way my fingers cross, the middle finger presses against the first joint of the pointer; I could envision the warping that would occur as that pressure was consistently applied for days, weeks, months – how long did this crossing fingers phase last? Unknown – in obeisance to what was the first of many compulsions.
But it occurs to me now that it’s not true. All my fingers are curved, and the right index not much more than the left. I also realize I’d actually known this for years, but, on the surface of my mind, chose to believe that I had a crooked hand from my constant finger crossing 19 years ago.
It was a petty play to satisfy a lifelong desire for scars, for some external mark to commemorate internal struggles. Most of my compulsions were internal, unshowy; they weren’t things that others would necessarily notice (the crossed fingers being an obvious exception, actually). Engaging with our or others’ suffering is ugly, onerous, boring, hurtful, utterly draining, endlessly vexing. But considering suffering from a distance we inevitably see a poetry in it, a beauty that we ascribe to some inherent kinship between pain and eternity. So along with any suffering comes the petty wish to convey this suffering to others poetically and easily, so that they might see in us what we see in our own suffering after the fact: thus I wanted some physical relic of what I had gone through and was still going through, albeit in a different form.
Another early manifestation: I went through a phase of washing my hands a lot. A classic compulsion. I wanted all the things I treasured most – and at that age that meant my game systems and accessories – to be as clean as could be, which meant that I had to wash my hands before touching them. My friends, when they came over, had to wash their hands too if they wanted to use my controllers, and they couldn’t eat while using them because I abhorred the idea of grease and oil settling on things ineradicably.
These were two early instances of a condition that became as daily as breathing for me. At the time, I didn’t make conscious connections between these two compulsions, but I must’ve recognized what was happening, if only obliquely, the same way we’re surprised by an afternoon thunderstorm and then realize on some level we’d been attuned to the darkening sky for hours ahead of it.
I’ve noticed this tendency in myself to call things inevitable, and let them approach me instead of taking any active countermeasures to avoid them. Even later, once I had fully entered into OCD, I could feel the pieces of a new presiding fear and its relevant compulsions being drawn up, but would convince myself I didn’t sense anything at all; and then, when I wasn’t spared from the fear and its mandates, I could at least expiate myself of any sense of guilt for not actively working to avoid it because, again, I didn’t see it coming. I’ve always been afraid of conflict, even internal conflict. Call it a metaphysical laziness.
It’s laziness in reaction to complications that come down like a work order. I get exasperated with the mind’s refusal to be all of a piece, to be integral. It can believe deeply both in its fears and in the irrationality of those fears; because it occupies so many levels of reality at once it can turn both things into equal gospels. So you labor under this mulifurcation, moving through mundane reality but burdened by your absurd internal universe and its complicated metaphysics, an architecture of consequence built in and around your every action in the external world; an architecture more delicate than sugarglass that says, if it’s disturbed, it will shatter down around you, and on you, and make your fear comes true, and redirect all the godlike energy of the universe solely to inflict that one specific, personal grief on you…