My hair is an obsession. In the past, I have not cared to keep it clean. It is only lately that I have become too grown up for my step father to want to watch me shower, so I can afford the extra time to rinse my locks. I like how it falls in sheets on either side of my face. When it was unclean, there were peep holes and I was forever pulling on it, trying to get it to join up- adhere into a casing for my face. Also, to my delight, I have found that braiding it at night plumps it up in the morning, ensuring an opacity that is a temple of solitude.
This measure of safety comes at a great price. Braiding has become a part of my nightly ritual. It comes after I brush my teeth three times, rinse three times and of course, wipe my face three times. I am still in the habit of running fast from the bathroom back to the relative safety of my room and so I also spend time picking splinters from my feet. Often I pick for so long and with such soothing detachment that I lose track of time and my feet are bleeding. This is the best kind of time spent- when I have passed further into my life without notice and without grief. I do not have to carve at my skin to obtain that feeling as long as I have drawn blood elsehow.
I cover my feet in dark socks and start in on my hair. I part my hair down the middle and inspect for strays. It is imperative that each and every hair is on the correct side. From my box of sharp objects, I use a shard of broken mirror to inspect the back of my head. If the front of my head is a patiently enacted work that soothes my soul, then the back is the wicked toil that starts me on my frenzied downward slide into distraught perfectionism. Bed time is at nine-o-clock, but I begin my rituals at seven, knowing that it takes time to achieve immaculate release-My hair is a torturous conduit to my eventual rest.
Each section of my thick hair is kept separate with a tight rubber band. I have used the kind of hair tie that has balls on either end and intertwines, but I found out the hard way when my hair came loose after two hours of preening, that I would need something more secure. I cut the rubber band out of the hair I have collected on my left side. I always start with the left side. I brush one hundred strokes through my thick cover. I have gotten good at counting carefully, because otherwise I will have to begin again.
The braids must be perfect, though I have no definition as to what that is. It just has to feel right. It has to have un-cuffed my angst somehow before I can allow it make the final cut. I begin at my forehead and execute the start of a french braid- each time picking up a section of hair and smoothing it under with utmost care. I cannot afford a mistake- hair that lumps too much or a piece that falls loose means that I will have to start over. First I will have to brush one hundred times again.
Most nights each side will have been belabored at least ten times. Often, there are clumps of hair strewn about and spots of blood on my hands. My step father did teach me to do a job right the first time around and when I can't get my hair to settle my soul, it is most definitely disconcerting for I have broken a cardinal rule and the shame is unbearable. To know that I am unable to carry out his sage rule drives me to madness. I am programmed to do this, yet I fail and though this has begun as a soothing ritual, I eventually self-distruct each and every time. Each time I fly into a silent rage, ripping blankets from my bed, screaming silent cries into them, wringing them as if to strangle myself, wrapping them around my head and throat until my lungs beg for air. Eventually I tire myself with the strain of this meltdown and go about remaking the bed- not a wrinkle, perfect hospital corners.
It is past midnight. I will have to get up for school by six-o-clock. I might get to sleep soon if my step father has not burst from his own bed, awakened by his own obsession that must become my undertaking. Now I just have to lick my hands clean. There is still the other side to be done. And when that is completed, I am too. I can lay my throbbing head on my pillow having made myself virtuous- cleansed of my sins for now.
This a pretty succinct article about how children experience OCD traits and why: