The Woman Who Thought Too Much

Inside the magical—yet destructive—thinking of OCD.

So Does It Run in Your Family?

Like mother, like daughter?

There are compulsions, and then there are compulsive behaviours. The purpose of an OCD compulsion is to ward off anxiety. Compulsive behaviours on the other hand, are motivated by the need or desire (you choose) for gratification. In practice, the difference between the two can feel subtle, or even non-existent.

Skin-picking, which I discussed a few posts back, is one example of a behaviour which can become compulsive. Other relatively common ones include gambling, internet use, sexual behaviour, eating and shopping.

I've been thinking about shopping lately. My mother died a couple of months ago, and I'm in the process of clearing out her flat. She had quite an impressive shopping habit, and every shelf, cupboard, drawer and basket in the place is packed with the evidence: coats, tops, trousers, occasion wear, scarves, bargains with the tags still on, purses, handbags and luggage. An impressive collection of luggage: before she got ill, my mother went on a lot of trips, and there was always some reason or other why the luggage she had already wasn't quite suitable for the climate, terrain, journey or length of stay this time around. Ditto her clothing. I know this because my mother always needed to justify her purchases aloud: she was, like me, a reassurance-seeker.

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She could use the phone for that. And she did. Compulsively. My mother seemed to have a need to be in constant touch with everyone she knew, vocally and textually. She couldn't stay over for one night without checking her e mail. One of her accidental catchphrases was 'Can I use your phone?' And when I sit on the sofa of an evening, supposedly watching television, but with my little black touchscreen slab glued to my palm, I can't deny that I take after her. If there is such a trait as compulsivity, she had it and I inherited it.

But she was a good soul, for all that: kind, generous, conscientious and hard-working. Many of the phone calls and e mails were made or sent in pursuit of good causes, or out of concern for other peoples' well-being, mine included. A lot of the shopping was for other people too. I won't miss the unwanted gifts I had no room for, but I will miss the love that motivated them. There are few behaviours that are either totally good or totally bad, and the same goes for mothers. I'm glad to have had the one I did.

Joanne Limburg is an award-winning writer whose memoir, The Woman Who Thought Too Much, explores her life with OCD.

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