I don’t obsessively wash my hands; in fact, I spend most of my time barefoot, germs faze me that little. I don’t feel an inexplicable need to count things. I don’t have any good luck charms, either physical (objects) or mental (numbers, letters, etc.). But I do have moderate OCD that has, over the course of my life, manifested itself in various ways at varying degrees of intensity.
OCD runs in my family; both my late grandmother and my uncle were/are incredibly repetitive people. My mom also has certain OCD behaviors; leaving her neat and orderly nest to go to college caused my OCD to emerge so I could instill a sense of order that I needed to feel safe. Looking back, my most extreme periods of obsessive compulsive behavior coincided with times when I was most unhappy, stressed, or conflicted about something. Attending to my various OCD needs gave me a place to focus all my anxiety and helped calm my mind. For a few years, I cleaned my apartment constantly, mopping the kitchen floor three times a day and fretting over whether my bedspread was laid perfectly symmetrical across my bed. I could spot a dust bunny from 30 feet away. It was maddening, but you could eat breakfast off my bathroom floor.
Nowadays, for a variety of reasons — medication that manages my associated issues with anxiety and ADD, general satisfaction with my life, ongoing therapy, a housekeeper who comes once a month, and new learned coping mechanisms — my OCD is much better. Sometimes I let dishes sit in the sink overnight. My remote control does not have to sit perfectly straight on my coffee table. I would vacuum less if Lucca didn’t shed so much. But my OCD does come out in some kind of random, less obvious ways. Here are some of them…
1. I have to make my bed. In the last nearly four years of being single, I have probably skipped making my bed … a dozen times. Tops. It doesn’t matter if I’m running late for work or am not even going to be home until right before bed — I always make my bed. Sometimes when I come home from work, Lucca, who clearly knows her mommy’s Achilles heel, has messed up the bed, burrowing underneath the covers, pushing the pillows onto the floor, etc. And guess what? I make the bed again. Even though it’s 7 p.m. and I’m going to bed in just a few hours. Maybe I’ll ease up on the bed-making when I move into an apartment with more space (I currently live in a decent sized studio), but for now, the bed must always be made! And, by the way, I’m finicky about it: all nine pillows need to be ordered in specific away.
2. I clean my apartment the night before a potential hangover. By most people’s definition of what’s considered clean and tidy, my apartment always passes muster. But I need a certain level of orderliness to feel comfortable relaxing at home. The dishes need to be put away or in the dishwasher, all of my clothes need to be tucked inside my closet (with the closet door shut — I don’t like so much stuff on display), and there can’t be visible dog hair on the couch or rug. When I’m home, I’m always tiding up as I go along, but I also like to plan ahead. If I’m going out at night and I think there’s a good chance I might be couch bound with a hangover the next day, I clean my apartment extensively beforehand. Because nothing will make my hangover worse than what I perceive to be a mess. I won’t be able to concentrate on my egg and cheese sandwich and my reruns of “Beverly Hills, 90210″ if I know there’s a ring of soap scum on the bathroom sink and a dishwasher that needs to be unloaded.
3. My yoga mat has to be flush with the grain in the hardwood floor. Whenever I go to yoga — NEWSFLASH: I went three times in the last two weeks! — I have to make sure my yoga mat is PERFECTLY STRAIGHT on the floor. How? The top of the mat must be in line with the grain of the wood floor it lays on. Now, sometimes as I’m flowing through the various poses with the grace of a limping hippo, my mat moves around a tiny bit and all it takes is a minute in Downward Dog for me to notice that it’s no longer straight. Which means that I get out of doing a few Chaturangas Dandasanas because I have to get up and readjust my mat. But I can’t help it. My mind can’t be zen and my Ujjayi breath is all stressed sounding if my mat isn’t straight.
4. Everything is symmetrical/straight except for when it’s purposefully asymmetrical/haphazard. Speaking of needing things to be straight and even, my obsessiveness about such things applies to everything in my apartment. For example, there is a well thought out mixture of symmetry and asymmetry to the setup of my living room. Allow me to explain:
- The TV sits on the far left side of the long TV stand/bookshelf; six perfect (i.e. unbroken) and large seashells sit in front of it. (This, incidentally, is another way my OCD manifests itself. I am an avid shell collector, but I only collect whole half shells. They can’t be broken in any way.)
- The right side of the TV stand is taken up by the DVD player/cable box and a vase. All of my lesser-used remote controls sit aligned on top of the DVD player.
- My coffee table is situated on the rug, its legs matching up with the lines in the carpet, perfectly centered with the TV stand.
- Both the end of the couch and the end of the TV stand sit at the edge of the rug, but because my couch is longer than the TV stand, the coffee table in front of the couch is slightly off-center from the middle of the couch.
- But that’s okay because I have two perfectly stacked floor pillows to the left of the coffee table, which makes the coffee table/pillow combo centered with the couch.
Make sense? Probably not without a diagram (I can draw diagram if you want?). But it makes sense to me and it is exactly the way it’s supposed to be! Phew. Sorry, just fell into an OCD k-hole explaining that. Feeling a little excited.
5. I check to make sure my flatiron is unplugged three times before I leave the apartment. But this is mainly because Lucca is left at home while I work all day and I would absolutely die if my apartment caught on fire and she perished because of my goddamn need for styled bangs. The first time I check is when I actually unplug it, and acknowledge to myself that I’ve done so. Then I check it again when I get back from walking her. Then I check a third time before I head out the door just incase. It’s a habit.