“Folder, journal, book, phone, computer. Folder journal, book, phone, computer,” I say in my mind on repeat, listing the items I’m carrying upstairs.
Then I remember, “This is OCD. I shouldn’t be ritualizing.” So I stop, sit with the small spike in anxiety, and continue with my evening.
List-making OCD is a flavor of OCD I’ve had for years. The obsession is that I won’t remember “important” information and the compulsion urge is to list it repeatedly. Truthfully, the information is unimportant and often nonsensical.
Years ago, when I was still deep in the trenches of OCD, I would make physical lists on post-it notes or in my phone because listing it in my head wasn’t enough. I didn’t trust my memory. I call it “information hoarding.” In the DSM hoarding falls under the OCD umbrella, so it makes sense that there would be similarities. I would make these physical lists, and then I was unable to throw out the post-its or delete the digital notes, at least not without feeling a rush of anxiety.
So, that’s exactly what I did as part of exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) (with a therapist who specialized in OCD). It began with a dramatic act of literally setting all my saved post-it notes on fire. It was a fun way of showing OCD who was boss. Then, I got to work deleting some easier notes off my phone. I gradually increased the difficulty getting to information my OCD deemed “more important.”
Now if I’m being honest, there are still lists on my phone I could work on deleting. I’m in recovery from OCD, but that doesn’t mean I never do the occasional ritual (What Recovery from OCD Means to Me). The difference is I keep working on it, and the exposures cause me far less anxiety now.
And as a bonus, I intentionally messed up my list at the beginning of this post by omitting one item. I wasn’t going to let OCD ritualize that easily.