superstitions, compulsions and unfinished business

While I was cleaning the bathroom the other day, I came across at least three spiders, and instead of just spraying them with water and letting them swirl away down the drain like any normal person, I left them and cleaned around them, all because of that superstition that says it’s bad luck to kill a spider inside your house. They’re meant to be like house guardians. I don’t even know the actual wording of the superstition!!! And yet, I still allowed it to control me.

Then two nights ago, I was about to go to bed, when I saw a thick spider on the wall. Normally the spiders I come across are just Daddy Long-legs, and I leave them to roam about the house as they wish, but this juicy, squat specimen had to go. What if it crawled in my ear during the night and laid eggs? What if pushed it’s way into my mouth and I swallowed it and added to this statistic? No, it had to go. I squashed it with a slipper. A painless death, but a death all the same. Will I now be haunted by seven years of bad luck? Will horrible things keep happening to me, until I can atone for the sin of killing a spider inside my own house?

The weird thing is, it was harder to kill that spider, than it was to decide to leave the other three Daddy Long-legs while I was cleaning. The compulsion to obey this vague superstition, this curse, was too strong, so when I killed the thick spider, it felt like I was breaking out of chains. I felt a vague and ridiculous thrill at not doing what I was told, which just added to the danger and the sense of validity surrounding the superstition itself. This is a pretty personal post I guess, because it’s not something I talk about usually, but there are so many things that have this compulsive hold over me, and while I do manage to keep it all under control most of the time, when I do slip up, it’s like the house decides to enslave me.

Do you ever have really weird and morbid thoughts? Maybe something makes you think of funerals and you imagine a friend or family member dying, and then imagine the funeral in unwanted detail and obviously the thought of that is horrible and maybe makes you really anxious, but you can’t stop? Or you’re walking along outside and you see a rusty nail on the pavement and you imagine stepping on it and having it carve it’s way through your entire foot? And you don’t want to be imagining these things, but there is nothing you can do to make your brain just chill out and stop producing anxiety when there really is no rational reason for it. Well, I have lots of morbid thoughts at really random times and I hate them. Now that I’m older, I can more easily decide to think about something else, but while I can consciously think other, more diverting thoughts, I am still aware of the morbid ones lurking just below the top layer of my mind. It feels like I am merely sitting on them and squashing them underneath a heavy wooden board, but then I feel them squirming beneath and know with terrible certainty that they will eventually be able to toss me aside and take over again.

Sometimes, the only thing that makes it better is touching a piece of wood (another superstition), or if I’m at home, and the morbid thoughts happen to involve someone breaking in perhaps, or something burning on the stove and setting the entire house on fire, then the only thing that helps get rid of the anxiety these stupid thoughts cause is giving in to the compulsion that wants me to regulate the parts of the house that are involved in them. So, it wants me to check and re-check and re-re-check that the front door is locked, and that all the burners on the stove are off, to turn the lights in a room on and off, on and off, so that I am sure that there is nothing that’s creating a fire hazard, or a choking hazard for our dog, even though I can see after the first check that there is nothing. Nooooottthiiiingggggg.

Now that I’m out of adolescence, I am able to disobey these compulsions much more easily, some of the time without any anxiety at all, but when I was younger, it wasn’t so easy. It still elicits a peculiar set of emotions though. It feels deeply ridiculous to be walking up and down the hallway while checking that the door is locked, because you know that it’s fucking locked, and it feels comforting to know that you are doing something to prevent catastrophe, and shameful that you’re giving in to this irrational demon on your shoulder, and also hopeful that the scribble of anxiety in your gut might lessen a bit, if you just stay obedient and do what your brain is telling you to do, while all the while knowing that you need to stop, and that you’re going to stop right now or you’ll never be able to keep on top of this. It makes you feel like you’re both in control, and very deeply out of control, all at the same time.

There is a kind of ritualistic aspect to it too. You find yourself feeling like a ghost, repeating the same movements over and over again, touching the same objects over and over again, interacting with the same parts of your house over and over again. It’s no wonder that ghosts or hauntings in stories get fixated on certain rooms or certain areas of their house. Those ghosts that always walk down the same staircase, the ones that always open and close the same cupboard doors, the ones that only make their stomping footsteps heard in certain hallways, they’re all feeling the compulsion of unfinished business, and they’re giving into it. It’s actually deeply sad. They’re trying so hard to do this one thing, because they think something good will happen if they finally do it right, that they’ll finally be able to leave, without realising that they could just let go, disobey, and float away in freedom to whatever place of peace awaits them. :[

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2 thoughts on “superstitions, compulsions and unfinished business

  1. Hey there! I know you posted this a long time ago, I’m not even sure if you’ll see my reply. I ran across your blog post while searching for superstitions about daddy long legs. So, yeah, I feel your pain. I used to do things, still do sometimes, like say “if I make this in the basket (ie, playing basketball) then…” and I’d keep doing it over and over again until I got the answer I wanted..because I really felt like it made a difference deep in my gut. Now that I’m older it seems really silly, stupid even, but I still find myself compulsively doing similar things occasionally. Walking under a ladder is another one, or not opening an umbrella inside or breaking a mirror. Anyway, I wanted to suggest something, and please don’t get offended because it’s not an insult. Its coming from a place of understanding. Have you ever talked to a doctor about obsessive compulsive disorder? That’s what you’re describing sounds like to me. While I don’t have OCD, I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder (after years of being told its just depression) and I strongly feel as if that’s been a part of my problem all along. I know what happens for you has to be annoying and sometimes extremely frustrating..like nights you’re so tired you can hardly stand but you have to get up and check everything in the house, like locks, or there is this deep seated feeling that something bad will happen if you don’t. Again, it’s been a while since you wrote this so perhaps you’ve figured it out by now. Either way, I wish you the best!

    • Hi :] Thank you very very much for your comment. You’ve made me want to come back to this blog. I’m not offended at all – it’s very touching that someone you don’t know can write something so kind and caring. I know in my rational mind that I probably would be diagnosed with OCD, and a couple of people irl have told me so too, but no, I’ve never spoken to a doctor (or anyone really) about it. It feels too frightening and shameful, which is odd because this whole thing is completely rooted in fear to begin with so it’s just a weird circular thing. I hate asking for help too and try to never do it. Have been reading a bit more about OCD since I saw your comment at work earlier, and identify so much with the descriptions of what people with this illness experience. Mine doesn’t seem to be as severe as some people’s, and doesn’t affect my life in major ways, so I think that I’m ok. But your comment meant a lot, and I just wanted you to know that and thank you for it :]

      Totally understand and empathise with your experiences too. It’s exactly like you said, that it’s a feeling deep in your gut that something terrible will happen unless you “stop” it from happening through these rituals. I never open umbrellas inside either! It’s so funny, the way superstitions develop as well. I’d never heard of this next one, but one of my friends told me once that it’s bad luck to put your handbag on the floor, because all your money will “leak” out into the universe, and since then I’ve never done it! So stupid, but…

      I hope that finally receiving a diagnosis that feels correct has been helpful to you. And I’m sorry you had to go through years of people telling you it was something else and minimising your experiences in that way. Have you been able to find a way of coping or dealing with your bipolar disorder? You seem like a very thoughtful, kind and capable person and I wish you all the best too! :]

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