When Bink first started at Mander Portman Woodward tutorial college (after losing her place at St Paul’s Girls’ School because of going into the Florence Nightingale Unit) she struggled to study at all.
In some ways, being unable to touch is a far greater disability than being unable to use other senses: the deaf can read, or paint; the blind listen to audiobooks, perhaps play a musical instrument or read with their fingers. But if you can’t touch anything…?
One of Bink’s A level subjects was English. In a reasonably well-booked household, almost all the syllabus is going to be on the shelves. But Bink couldn’t touch any of the books we had already.
We lived round the corner from a lovely shop in the Fulham Road called Nomad Books. There was nothing for it but to buy new copies of the Dickens and Austen and Shakespeare she was supposed to be studying. These new paperbacks waited patiently, in the brown paper bags Nomad provided, for Bink to garner courage to take them out.
A week or two later she asked if I could please get her new ones, as the copies she had were now “dirty.”
Because they had been sitting in her room.
It went against the grain to buy one more copy of Oliver Twist (or whatever it was) when we already had several knocking around the house. But to buy a completely new replica of one I’d just bought a few days earlier...
“Excuse me. Um. Ok. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book, which I bought from you the other day. It hasn’t even been out of its bag. But would you mind very much, please, taking it back and swapping it for another one exactly the same?”
“Can I exchange it, please?”
“What’s wrong with this one?”
“But you want another the same?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous...” What do I mean, sounds? “...but you see, my daughter has very severe OCD...”
Roll on another week.
“I’m so sorry. You very kindly changed this book for me last week. For another copy of the same. Could you kindly do it again?”
It is a small shop and they were getting to know me quite well.
“Er... this copy of Emma, which you’ve changed a couple of times already...”
“I’m really sorry, but we don’t have any more copies of Emma in stock. It’s on this year’s A level syllabus, and they’ve all gone.”
“Oh dear.” Stumped. “Ok. Tell you what. Here’s my receipt, for this copy. Could I return it, please, and you give me the money back?”
Business with till. “Here you are.”
“Thank you. Could you please now put it back on the shelf? That’s right: the book I’ve just returned. It was quite new. Still in its bag, as you saw.”
“You want me to put it back on the shelf? Like this?”
“Please. Great. Now... you don’t happen to have a copy of Emma you could sell me, do you please? Oh look, there’s one right there on the shelf behind you. How fortunate: it seems to be your last copy. Could I buy it, please?”
I can understand why psychologist Professor Paul Salkovskis calls OCD a contagious illness. We were all barking mad by this time, the staff in Nomad as well as me.
I asked Bink why on earth she thought a book on the shelf in Nomad was cleaner than one which had sat in a paper bag in her bedroom for a few days. “For all you know,” I said, “someone’s been in, thumbed through it, picked his nose, continued thumbing through, and put it back on the shelf.”
“Of course,” she said. “But I can only control what comes within my orbit. Even I am not going to attempt to keep the whole world clean.”
Well, there’s that to be grateful for, I suppose.
Bink rang at lunchtime today in some distress.
Her therapist in the Priory thought she was ready to start on the Addiction Treatment Programme, and she was terrified.
That she might be thrown out of the Priory if she couldn’t do what they wanted
That she wouldn’t have time to wash, and would become a lot more ill
“Bink, sweetheart, you need to talk to them.”
“I’m too frightened.”
It was quickly resolved, of course it was. If she wasn’t ready yet, that was fine. She rang back later, perfectly happy, having been reassured by her therapist. (And encouraged another time just to say so…)
What I find fascinating – and, yes, pitiful, given the history – is what she most fears: her treatment being withdrawn.