Mental Health

A Project to Understand My Obsessive Compulsion

Want a glimpse at what my OCD is like? Try this project.

I revealed my obsessive skin picking and obsessive need to apply lip balm in my last mental health blog post. Since then I’ve received a lot of supportive messages, but one statement really stuck with me; “I wish there was a way that I could understand what OCD makes you go through.”

I thought about this, and I focused mainly on my Lip Balm Compulsion. Then  I came up with an idea. It’s a simple project, that anyone can complete over a 24-hour period. Completion of the project will give the participant a small glimpse of what my Lip Balm Compulsion is like.

First, I’m going to share an excerpt from my last mental health post with you. This excerpt is what prompted the message I received, as well as the project idea;

“Lip balm [application] is one of my obsessive compulsions: it’s a repetitive behavior that I feel the uncontrollable urge to repeat, over-and-over, in response to my obsessive thoughts. I probably apply lip balm every 5-10 minutes. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true… And it doesn’t matter what I’m doing; showering, shopping, walking my dogs, eating (mid-chew), I even wake up throughout the night to apply lip balm. It’s an all-consuming compulsion, but it means that I must have lip balm with me (within reaching distance) 24/7.”

So, how could I possibly create the need for someone to do something, repetitively, every 5 to 10 minutes, while also making them wake up throughout the night to replicate the behavior?

Cell phone alarms.

The Outline of My OCD Replication Project:

In this project, you’ll be using cell phone alarms to replicate my lip balm compulsion.

First, pick a day that you want to complete the project. It will need to be a full 24-hours. I ask that you start at 9:00pm one night and end at 9:00pm the following night (I’ll explain why I want you to start at night later). You’ll need approximately 15 minutes of prep-time before the project starts.

I feel the need to apply lip balm every 5 to 10 minutes. Additionally, I wake up 7 to 15 times throughout the night to apply lip balm. Therefore, you’ll need to replicate this, using your cell phone alarm. And here’s how you’ll do it…

Pre-Note: Set all of the alarms before the start time of the project. My suggested start time is 9:00pm. So, make sure all alarms are set, and that you are finished completely before 9:00pm comes. Keep reading for alarm instructions…

Starting at 9:00pm, begin setting alarms that will go off every 10 minutes. Replicate this alarm schedule for a full 24-hours; setting an alarm to go off every 10 minutes from 9:00pm until the following 9:00pm. Sounds annoying, right? That’s the point.

The only exception is the time that you are asleep. During the time that you are asleep, only set 10 alarms, randomly, throughout the night. For example: if you sleep from 10:00pm until 6:00am, only set 10 random alarms during those hours.

If you need adaptations, see the “Project Adaptations” list at the end of this post. I offer many adaptations; to make the project easier, to time the project with other devices, and to time the project differently using your phone.

Keep reading to see the Project Requirements, and other really important information…

Why I Want You to Start at Night:

I want you to start at night because I need you to experience a horrible night’s rest before a full day of this project. Having to wake up 10 times throughout the night will make you feel awful. Thus properly preparing you for a full day of obsessive compulsion.

Project Requirements:

Annoying Alarm: Don’t pick a pleasurable alarm sound. Pick an annoying and agitating alarm sound. What goes on inside my mind isn’t pleasurable, so your alarm shouldn’t be pleasurable. Also, the longer it takes to get to your phone (to silence it) the more agitated and panicked you will become, this is an important part of this project. I get extremely panicked if it takes me more than 30 seconds to find my lip balm. The annoying alarm sound will help replicate that feeling of panic.

Pick the Phone Up: Every time your alarm goes off you must pick your phone up, completely. For instance, if your phone is sitting on your desk when the alarm goes off, you must pick it up in your hand. You can’t just push the “silence” button while it is sitting on the desk. I have to pick up my lip balm, take the lid off, apply it, put the lid back on, and put it back down every single time… so you have to pick your phone up – even while you are sleeping.

No Silencing: You aren’t allowed to silence your phone, even if you are in public. My compulsion doesn’t silence in public. Sure, my compulsion doesn’t “make noise”, but it is very noticeable by the people around me. If this keeps you from going out in public, that’s fine. My OCD keeps me from going places all the time. So, stay home if you want. My OCD makes me stay home all the time.

No Explanation: You aren’t allowed to explain that you are completing an OCD Replication Project. You just have to feel super awkward in public when your phone goes off. That feeling of awkwardness is part of the project. Perhaps, the most important part. If you must say something, just say “I’ll explain later” and leave it at that. You can explain the project, in full, once it’s over.

Do it Yourself: No one else can silence the alarms for you. For example, if you are showering, and the alarm goes off, you have to dry your hand and silence your phone… you can’t let your spouse do it for you. You must do it yourself. My obsessive compulsion is a huge inconvenience, and no one else can apply lip balm for me… part of the obsession is the completing the action itself.

Default Panic: If someone else does happen to silence your phone, that’s okay, just pick the phone up and sit it back down… and then try to imagine the panic I feel when someone else touches my lip balm. Because it happens, and it’s awful.

Take it With You: You have to keep your phone with you, all the time. You can’t leave it behind, that’s not how this works. For example, if you are stepping outside for “just a minute” to walk your dogs, you must take it with you, even if you know the alarm won’t go off during that time. Having to carry something with you all the time can be inconvenient, and that inconvenience is part of this project.

Constant Worry: Worried your phone will die? Good. Imagine how worried I am when a tube of lip balm is about to be empty. So, find inventive ways to charge your phone throughout the day, just as I have to find inventive ways to carry my lip balm around.

One Super Important Disclaimer:

Driving: Turn the alarms off while you are driving. I will be very disappointed if I find out that you let my project run while you are behind the wheel. This counts cars, trucks, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, horseback riding, cycling, boating… any type of driving. It’s not worth it. Put the project on pause. Please.

Project Adaptations: 

Make it Easier: If you want to go easy on yourself, you can set the repetitive alarms for every 30 minutes (instead of every 10). Imagine that you’re having one of my “good days”; when my obsessive compulsions are a little more spaced out. In reality, a “good day” might happen once a month.

Make it Shorter: Not ready for 24-hours? That’s totally okay. Try this for 10 hours, or 5 hours, or even 1 hour.

Phone and Alarm Capacity: Some phones can have this many alarms set at once, while other phones might not have the capability to run this many active alarms at once. If your’s doesn’t have this capability, that’s okay. Simply set alarms throughout the day.

Type of Alarm: If you don’t have a cell phone with alarms, thats okay. You can use a hand timer, or any other form of timer. An egg timer would be good for this, as well, in lieu of a phone. Every time the egg timer goes off, reset it for 10 minutes.

Sleep-Timer: You are welcome to use your phone’s “Sleep Timer” feature (in lieu of setting multiple alarms), if you know how to operate it properly.


So, if you want a glimpse at my Obsessive Compulsive Lip Balm Application, give this project a try. Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

Sincerely, Elizabeth (Uncustomary Housewife)

OCD Project 1

4 comments on “A Project to Understand My Obsessive Compulsion

  1. My kids have OCD I see this on the regular. I’m sorry you have to deal with it!

  2. As someone that has generalized anxiety and panic disorder with OCD, I totally understand. My compulsions are hand washing, counting, and the insane perfections of folded laundry, straight lines of everything, etc. Once my OCD is triggered, anxiety and eventually panic attacks are not far behind. Life is hard enough without the added burden of these disorders. Im glad that you are so open about your struggle. It is hard but it helps so many others. ❤

  3. I have been diagnosed with OCD. I’ve bitten my nails way down until there were mere millimeters left. Thankfully, I have nice, short nails now, but I still pick at them; they tempt me. I still bite my cheeks constantly, obsessively pick at my skin, scratch my head feeling for dandruff or other irregularities. Sometimes I worry if I put the wrong colored tumblers together in the cupboard, someone’s going to die or my cancer will return. I chant when I’m anxious. Songs get stuck in my head for days on end. Other expressions of my OCD include self-torturing rumination and intrusive thoughts. It can be hell. Meds have helped, but they’re never enough.

    I hope it’s helpful to hear that others understand what you’re going through even though the expressions of our OCD might be a bit different.

  4. Pingback: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An Untrendy Diagnosis – Uncustomary Housewife

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: