There are fifteen stairs in our house – sixteen if you count the one down to our family room. It takes 25 steps to get from my bed to the coffee pot, 17 steps from my garage doorway to my car door, 42 from my parking spot at work to the office lobby and 38 from my office to our office kitchen. I typically check the door locks at night at least three times before going to bed – sometimes four. There are six doors and a garage door that need checked. I regularly check them, go to bed, then get up to check them again.
I will sometimes walk from a parking lot to a store only to turn around and go back to make sure I locked the car doors – then worry the whole way back to the store that maybe they weren’t actually locked, even though I just checked them. Yes, I have gone back to my car twice to check the locks more than a few times. There is also one, and only one, way to tuck in a dress shirt – even if it takes 20 or 25 minutes in the morning to accomplish it properly.
Although we have approximately 900 books in our living room library, they are grouped by subject or message – not author (except for Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, John Irving, and Truman Capote who each have shelves of their own for obvious reasons). I can walk through the door at night and know, within minutes, if a book is out of place. I’m not bragging – and I wish this were not the case – but it is, and I have no choice but to immediately find the book and return it to its proper home (often before putting down my briefcase).
A popular medical website says, ““Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is like being allergic to life – every waking moment is spent in a state of mental hyper-sensitivity.” I think this is a bit melodramatic, but I get the point they are making (in exactly 20 words – if you count “hyper-sensitivity” as singular).
My routines are not debilitating, but they are time consuming and stress inducing. I know they are common symptoms of OCD and it was obvious from an early age that I had many of the symptoms (but they didn’t diagnose it often in the 70s). I can joke about the ridiculous things I do – even though they can sometimes drive those around me crazy and are regularly the source of frustration for me.
I know the world will not stop and I will not die if I don’t do my routines. I will simply be uncomfortable. My routines, as much of a bother as they are, give me comfort. That’s the only way I can explain them.
As I get older, some of my compulsions have lessened and some have become worse. I must turn my office lights on (I have four lamps in my office) in the same order every morning (this is a relatively new compulsion), while I find that sometimes I forget to check the door locks the third or fourth time at night – I still check them at least twice. As I age, I find myself counting and keeping track of things like the number of steps I take or the number of stairs I climb at different locations. This too is a new compulsion. Whatever.
One of the benefits of being middle-aged is that you realize virtually everyone you meet has some kind of flaw. I’m not a freak – and I’m certainly not alone.
One of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, gives an hilarious account of his battle with OCD in his fantastic book “Naked.” The chapter “A Plague of Tics” is about his uncontrollable urge to touch specific objects – sometimes with his nose or tongue. It was was one the funniest (and saddest) essays I have read.
Sedaris writes, “This was a long and complicated process that demanded an oppressive attention to detail. It wasn’t that I enjoyed pressing my nose against the scalding hood of a parked car — pleasure had nothing to do with it. A person had to do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them.”
The good thing about my newer compulsions is that they are very easy to hide. No one knows I am counting the steps from my car to the restaurant entrance. No one knows that I sometimes spend 15 minutes in the morning getting my socks on my feet just right so the seam is properly aligned with the ends of my toes. No harm, no foul. Just don’t mess with the books in my library or I’ll punch you in the throat (but only after I put the book back where it belongs).