It is amazing that after years of therapy, I am still learning things about myself. What I’ve learned recently, now that I am recognizing the signs of anxiety and the OCD features, is that I am a very tactile person. Touch is a primary way that I can ease the anxiety.
I learned that when my counselor suggested aromatherapy, to find a scent that would relax me, and all the scents I tried didn’t do anything for me other than make me sneeze. But she got me thinking about what I do when I’m sitting and anxious.
I pick at things: skin, hair, scabs, cuticles, fuzz. I pull hair out, which I discovered is a diagnosis all by itself and part of the OCD spectrum called trichotillomania or TTM for short.
I’m attracted by textures. In fact sometimes I wish I could wear a tallit katan just so I could finger the knots in the tzitzit (fringes). A friend suggested worry beads but my first reaction was that it would be mistaken for a rosary!
So I went on a scavenger hunt around home and started collecting things in an old small sewing box:
- satin binding from a childhood blanket
- set of four 1-inch ball bearings, to manipulate in my hand
- palm-sized smooth stone
- pair of strong magnets to play with
- hand-held bathing brush with bristles on one side and pumice stone on the other
- Koosh ball
- Rubik’s Cube
- and to top it off, hand lotion in a Eucalyptus/Spearmint scent that I can massage my hands with
Then for Chanuka my husband gave me a home manicure set from Israel, with Dead Sea minerals (or so it says). I tried it on one nail and it’s smooth and shiny like I polished it and lately I’ve been rubbing it instead of picking at hair.
My counselor thinks it is great that my answers to anxiety are things that are self-care. I fear becoming vain or superficial, yet at the same time these things are allowing some of my hair to grow back.
While I don’t usually like labels because I think they often are unhelpful, having a diagnosis to help me understand why I do what I do–when I’m not thinking about what I’m doing–has been very helpful. Finally I can stop fearing the manic episode that has never come and work on finding ways to deal with and tame my anxiety before it turns into depression.