Stuck in the Mud

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Reader’s Question

I have a weakness for seeing beautiful garments muddied. I don’t just want to watch someone get something muddy. I want to do it, as well. When I have the urge to get something muddy, it is like a compulsion. I can’t refuse it. When I try to, I get clammy and sweaty and my heart pounds and there are butterflies in my stomach. I can’t speak. I can only deny the urge for so long. I have had this feeling many times throughout my life, even when I was very young.

Sometimes, I plan trips well in advance to secluded lakes with muddy shores, bogs or flooded fields, with a specific garment in mind to muddy.

It is always something I want not to ruin. It is oftentimes a garment that is very special and something that I personally hold in high regard, or honour and respect.

When I get muddy, it relieves all the aforementioned feelings. It is a very soothing, relaxing, de-stressing, enjoyable thing to do. It is also a very expensive hobby. It is also something I keep private, as much as I can.

I have developed mostly successful methods for cleaning delicate garments and fabrics. As I said before, I want to not ruin the things that I end up getting muddy, but it is difficult to not ruin something when you are lying in the mud in it.

The urge to get garments muddy is something I’ve had almost my whole life.

Maybe when I was four years old, I stole my sister’s Barbie doll that was wearing a wedding dress, to rub mud on it. Later, I found muddying dress shirts to be satisfactory, but as my knowledge of world costume grew, so did the list of things I want to get muddy.

I believe that I came up with the idea of “Trash the dress” before anyone else did, but I didn’t commercialize it.

Over this past weekend, when I had the strong feelings I described, I decided I want to know what drives them. When I was lying in the mud on the shore of a lake in very expensive clothing, I decided it’s time to get to the bottom of this.

Psychologist’s Reply

The way you describe your feelings about muddying clothes make it sound like this is a true compulsion for you. The DSM-V defines a compulsion as “…repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform…according to rules that must be applied rigidly.” (DSM-V, p. 235) Compulsions are a classic symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which can have onset in childhood, just as you described. Typically people with OCD do not find their compulsions pleasurable, although the feelings of relief that you describe are not uncommon.

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When someone with OCD acts on their compulsions, it is usually in response to anxiety produced by their obsessive thoughts. An example would be a person who has obsessive thoughts about their house being robbed; that person then copes with their anxiety by compulsively checking that their doors and windows are locked. You don’t mention any obsessive, anxiety-producing thoughts that your compulsive behavior relieves. However, your desire to keep your behavior a secret suggests that that muddying clothes is not simply a relaxing pastime for you. If you felt comfortable with your odd, but harmless, hobby, you would not feel the need to keep it to yourself, or feel uncomfortable with the tension-building-tension-relieving arc that you follow each time it occurs.

I strongly recommend you seek a consultation with a psychiatrist for an evaluation to see if you meet the criteria for OCD. If so, please know that there are both pharmacological and psychological options for treatment that can help relieve your symptoms and allow you to feel more control over your behavior. If you do meet criteria for this (or a different) disorder, your psychiatrist should be able to advise you on your different treatment options and collaborate with you on your next step.

I want to close by confirming that, as you described it, your compulsive behavior is only harmful to you, and then only to the extent that this drive to complete it is distressing and disturbing you. I also encourage you to read Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals , by Ian Osborn, if you are interested in learning more about OCD on your own.

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