When I watched the movie As Good As It Gets – I think this was in 1998 – I finally understood what had been plaguing me for my entire life. I was living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and I never knew it. Oh, I’d heard of the condition in my then twenty-two years on the planet, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never made the connection between the medical condition and the series of strange ticks and behaviors that were such a large part of my world.
Before I delve into my tales of OCD, I need to say something. I don’t have it that bad. In fact, compared to some poor bastards I know, I barely have a kissing cousin level of intimacy with the disorder. Yes, my life has been made appreciably more difficult by living with OCD, but I’ve never approached the crippling level, so many others do. Also, I’ve been taking serious medication for both OCD and Bi-Polar disorder since 2012, and the results have been beyond dramatic. I still have my ticks, but they are much more manageable and no longer haunt me as they used to… Maybe that’s why I’m less embarrassed to speak of them now.
I know I’ve exhibited symptoms of OCD most of my life, but the first instance I can point to with 100% clarity occurred when I was in the third grade. We were living at my pseudo stepfather’s farm, we’d been there for just over two years, and it was the day after a major spring storm. We had an oversized tree in the front yard – seriously the thing was four or five stories high, and the canopy had a diameter larger than the house – and the storm left a minefield of fallen branches beneath it.
Mom decided I had to clean them up.
If I’m a lazy adult, I was a lazy preteen of Jabba-like proportions, so I was less than thrilled with her decision. After threats of grounding, I finally relented in my prepubescent whining and trudged out into the gorgeous spring day to begin my herculean labor. In reality, there was just a smidge more than a full wheelbarrow’s worth of branches on the ground and the job should have taken fifteen minutes at the most. Of course, I dawdled and drug my feet for an hour before I finished, but I did finish.
Then it happened.
I dumped the branches behind one of the farms old out buildings and went to put the wheelbarrow away. I think it was the one with all the dead cars in it, but it’s been thirty plus years so forgive me if my memory is less than perfect. As I walked there was an increasing tug at the back of my mind, at first, I ignored it, but with each step, it became clearer and louder. It wasn’t a voice, but if it had been it would’ve been repeating some version of the following litany.
“Did you get them all?”
“Are you sure you checked everywhere?”
“What if you missed one?”
The feeling built to a nearly crippling cacophony, the result of which was me spending another hour walking a grid pattern under the tree picking up every twig I could see. I didn’t stop because I’d finished my task. I stopped because my mom thought I was diligent and told me I could stop. I wanted to sob with relief when I heard those words. I didn’t believe I was done, but my mother had unknowingly given me an out. She’d given me the task and therefore was able to release me from the grip of my compulsion. That twist to my personality made it possible for me to go to school and hold a job as the years marched on because if SOMEONE ELSE gives me the task they can tell me it’s done. Of course, that only works on assigned tasks, when it’s something I start on my own… well, it can be bad. Following that first bout of severe OCD, things snowballed.
I count things. Numbers are a major element to my OCD, and this biggest example is subconscious and conscious counting. People, doors, lights, cars, miles, items on a shelf… I could name a thousand things and still not get them all, but the point is I’m always counting. This may explain my singular fixation on my word counts when I’m writing. Who am I kidding, it IS the reason my word counts drive me crazy. If all I did was count, I doubt after all these years it’d be a big deal, but my fixation on the number five throws a monkey wrench in that idea.
Five is the perfect number in my universe. I have struggled for literally decades at this point to determine why I hold the number up as the center of my mental universe, but I have come up with vapor. In my world, I’m only truly comfortable when things are organized in fives or factors/multiples of five. If I count, organize, arrange, or fuck even set the volume on the television it must be a divisible number of five.
It’s every bit as exhausting as it sounds.
That’s the big two. I’m sorry to say I’m not going to go over each incident or give specific details of the rest. Not because I don’t remember them, but because I’ve repeated ad nausea for a man who produces at the level I do, that I am still a surprisingly lazy… oh, so lazy man. That said let me give you a brief list of the most noticeable OCD manifestations I experience on a regular basis.
I always stay to the right. I know Americans are conditioned to stay the right in the halls at school and on the road, but for me, it goes deeper. There have been incidents where I’ve been left paralyzed when it was impossible for me to stay to the right, and don’t get me started on left side interstate exits. The person who thought that was a good idea needs to be boiled in oil.
The dreaded curve. I have to arrange things to right angles. From tables, papers on desks, tools in a box, to washcloths hanging across the middle of the sink items must be at right angles. This tick has relaxed more than any other since I started taking medication, but it still rears it’s ninety degree head from time to time.
In the rear and against the wall. No this isn’t my preferred way to have sex. Well… that’s an essay for another day. This one has barely been affected by medication, and I think it’ll be with me in full force until my curtain call. I have to be at the back of the line. If there are people behind me, I will ALWAYS become paranoid and fidgety. In theaters, restaurants, and even in my bed I have to have my back against the wall. On the rare occasion, I’ve been unable to sit in the back row of a theater; I’ve spent the entire movie fighting the urge to flee and suspecting the people behind me are talking about me.
There are so many other things I could and maybe should mention, but I’m tired. Writing this was more difficult than I thought it would be. There have been so many documentaries and television shows devoted to the subject of living with OCD I fear this entire thing is just pointless naval gazing. Despite that, thank you so much for humoring me.
Besides, I doubt you really want to hear about the way I wear my underwear.