29 April 2013

There's method in the madness (sometimes)

There are some positive aspects to my OCD, one being that most of the time I can find what I'm looking for. Whether keys, mobile phone or socks, everything has its place, and I know exactly where that place is. 

It seems only logical to me that I should know where my belongings are. In fact, much OCD has its basis in logical behaviour.

Most people lock their cars and front doors to keep out thieves. The person with checking OCD will repeatedly verify that they're locked, because they never feel quite sure, and are likely to have a heightened sense of responsibility for protecting others.

Most people wash their hands after using the toilet, or before preparing food, to avoid picking up or spreading germs. The person with contamination OCD will scrub themselves repeatedly, because they never feel completely clean, and may, again, feel a greater degree of responsibility than most.

My OCD takes a different form, but still has its roots in 'normal' behaviour. Most people store their belongings in a logical fashion: tins in kitchen cupboards; clothes in wardrobes and drawers; and books on shelves. The difference is that my storage system is a lot more precise.

So, back to the socks I mentioned last week. I don't just throw them into the drawer in a jumble, I sort them into categories: long and short; summer weight and winter woolly; walking and sports etc. As I'll have already arranged them in pairs on the clothes' airer - did you expect anything less? - it's a simple matter of transferring them to the right section of the drawer. 

It saves time looking for the right pair, or, indeed, any pair. You won't catch me rootling through drawers with windmilling arms and rising levels of irritation, or having to resort to one black sock and one navy. No, siree.
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

And I'm not the only one. You can actually buy drawer dividers for your socks: just check Amazon. On the sliding scale between method and madness, I'm still firmly in the method camp.

Except, actually, I'm not. There would be method, and it would be a 'simple matter', if all I did was throw the pairs of socks into their respective piles in the drawer, but I don't. No, I have to lay them on top of each other, smoothing all the bumps and wrinkles out of the fabric as I put each sock down on top of its partner. It's a kind of fingertip ironing, which takes ages, and is where my approach tips slowly, but surely, back towards madness. 

It's a very fine line - be careful how you tread, because anyone can cross it without even realising.

22 April 2013

Put a sock in it

While chatting with two girlfriends over dinner recently, I realised that I hadn't told them much about my OCD.

In an attempt to convey what the condition makes me do, I described the regimented arrangement of the things on top of my chest of drawers (see last week's post). Employing items on the table - salt and pepper pots, glasses, cutlery - I illustrated the point with an impromptu demonstration of spacing, centring and pattern-making.

Friend A frowned a little. Friend B shrugged and said it sounded 'quite normal'. Not quite the reaction I was looking for.

I girded myself to share a more 'weird' practice, something that would really prove the point - and settled on my bathroom light pull. How, you might wonder, can OCD influence your approach to a light pull?

Photos: Peter Gettins Photography

Here's how. The pull is a teardrop-shaped piece of wood with a fingerprint swirl of grain on each side; one dark with only a couple of whorls, one lighter with multiple loops. On leaving the bathroom, I swivel the pull around, so that the lighter side faces me, and the fingerprint is centred. I don't know why, it just 'feels right' - which is the basis of much of my OCD. An inexplicable feeling of things being 'right' or 'wrong' that traps me into repeating a compulsion, until I feel the internal shift to 'right'. 

As Friend B didn't seem to be getting it, I moved on to another aspect of my condition. 

'I've lost sight of what normal is,' I said. 'I mean, how do most people arrange their socks?'

Friend B sat bolt upright. 'What do you mean, arrange their socks?'

'Well, you know? How do you put your socks away?' I was uncertain why she was so agitated.

'You arrange your socks?!' she said, genuinely horrified.

So that was it. She had finally come unstuck over one of my lesser OCD evils; one which, to me, is only a few steps removed from simple tidiness. At least I'll know how to get the message across next time: go straight for the sock drawer.

15 April 2013

It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it

And that's the whole point of my form of OCD. 

My obsession with order and symmetry means that I'm compelled to put everything back where it belongs. And where it belongs doesn't mean the cupboard, or the top of the chest of drawers, or the edge of the bath; it means the precise-to-the-millimetre position I've allocated to it.

In originally determining that position, I will have been guided by the lines and angles of the cupboard/drawers/bath, and other objects already located on them, to create what is, to my eye, the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement. 

Take the top of my chest of drawers, for example (may I suggest you also take a deep breath)...

The layout has as its cornerstones a box of tissues in the back left-hand corner and a fabric-covered box containing make-up in the back right-hand corner. Each of these is positioned about an inch from the short edge and parallel to that edge. 
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

Centred between them is an open fan.

Centred in front of the fan is a bottle of body lotion.

Centred between the tissues and the body lotion is a deodorant aerosol.

Centred between the make-up box and the body lotion is a tube of hair gel.

In front of the tissues, and centred to them, is a jewellery box. 

In front of the make-up box, and centred to it, is a vase.

In front of the body lotion...

Got the picture? I hope so, because I'm only halfway through describing the chest of drawers and I have a whole flat like this. 

To those of you unaccustomed to OCD habits, this must sound exhausting. In fact, it's not that hard. If I use my deodorant, it leaves a gap. When I'm finished with it, I simply replace it in the gap, tweaking it as necessary to ensure it's centred or parallel to its neighbours.

Creating the patterns in the first place is the hard part, but I've lived in my current home for 18 years, so most of them are long-established. No one else would be able to figure out the particular physical laws governing my life, though, without the OCD equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider.

Just because it's easy for me to maintain my patterns, however, doesn't mean that I should - performing compulsions fast doesn't make them any less of an issue.

With that in mind, I've resolved to try, once again, to overcome some of them. I'll keep you posted as to my progress.

8 April 2013

Straighten it like Beckham

Tell someone you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and you'll probably get one of the following responses (translations included):

1. 'Really?' - 'I don't quite know what that means, but it doesn't sound good.' This is likely to be followed by an uncomfortable silence and a slight shift in body language, ie to a more defensive position. 

2. 'I know what you mean, I'm always checking the doors are locked.' - 'I've heard of OCD, but I don't quite get what it is.'

3. 'Oh, the cleaning thing?' - 'I've heard of OCD and it mainly seems to involve a lot of soap and bleach.' This is sometimes followed up with: 'I wish someone would clean my house.' - 'Would you clean my house?'

4. 'What, like Howard Hughes?' - 'I had no idea I was acquainted with a crazy person.' This is likely to be accompanied by a significant shift in body language, ie scrabbling to get away from you as fast as possible.

5. 'You mean, like David Beckham?' - 'He's a great footballer, I'll give him that, but he's a complete head-the-ball.' 

With the exception of no. 4, I've had all of these responses to my own 'confession'. Each is understandable, while not necessarily well informed or helpful. 

Most people have little personal knowledge or experience of OCD. Their reactions are either a by-product of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, or the often misleading information gleaned from high-profile cases and depictions of the condition in films and on television.

OCD covers a wide spectrum of behaviours, including a number of related disorders, and affects people to different degrees. The eccentric and reclusive Howard Hughes, whose main obsession was a fear of contamination, was at one end of the scale: he was unable to integrate in society or behave in a way that might be considered even remotely 'normal'. Others, like David Beckham, are affected less severely: they maintain careers, families and friendships in spite of their condition.
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

And me? I'm like Beckham: sadly, not because I'm good-looking, rich, famous or have even the tiniest sporting talent, but because my OCD also revolves around a need for order and symmetry and hasn't completely crippled me.

It's a need that might be mistaken for simple tidiness; it's far more than that. Tidiness doesn't usually extend to arranging the contents of your fridge following the lines of the shelving racks - which is one of my many compulsions. I know it makes no sense, but that's OCD for you: an illogical tyrant.