Is it Sunday? There’s not as much traffic as yesterday on the street…
It’s windy. No, it’s Thursday. I’m thirsty too – let’s go and have a coffee…
This joke used to be funny. But that was when I was not yet almost completely deaf, and when I thought I would live for a thousand years.
And here I am, waiting to die. I’m so sad and lonely. All I have to look forward to is… nothing. Not even the thought of the next meal excites me. Only cooking it, does. I used to love my food… the kitchen was my domain… I baked up a storm during the weekends, and cooked wholesome meals during the week… and even made a couple of lunches for children who lived in my street, whose parent(s) could not be bothered. Their smile of gratitude was payment enough.
But now… I have fallen into a rut as high as my chin. Today is like yesterday and the day before and will probably be like tomorrow and the day after. To add insult to injury, some tell me it’s my own fault.
The irony is that for many people, OCD is one big joke, a term used to describe someone who wants everything just so.
Just because I am fastidious about my surroundings, it does not mean I am crazy. I have come to the conclusion that if I isolate myself, nobody will try and rile me by coming into my house and sitting down on the sofa cushions, rather than removing them.
They call me super-organised. They mean I am insane. It hurts. They laugh at me behind my back. I know. They don’t have to point their fingers and snigger to goad me into a reaction.
I have managed to rig up a hairpin-and-paperclip whazzit to make sure that the fridge light goes off when I close the door. Otherwise, I would have to open it again, and press the button to make sure it is still working.
Nowadays, I use a spirit level to make sure that all the picture-frames are straight. It took me forever when I used the inch-tape. And I was never totally sure whether it would have warped or stretched.
I have habits. Some would call them rituals. So what? I am not the only person who checks doors and windows, am I?
I am not the only person who wants magazines and books lined up with the edges of furniture. You have to understand that the brain is not just there for understanding, and storing memories, and to produce sensations and consciousness. There are things that we do not know, yet, about the brain. Things that we will never know. Like when you blurt out something totally inappropriate at a meeting, because your mind was elsewhere, and a scent or a word triggered a memory and you put something related to it, into words.
So, these days, as I said, I avoid people – because that way, I avoid the circumstances where I can misspeak and get weird looks.
Every day is the same. Almost. I wake up. I check to see whether the doors and windows are still locked. I check the pictures on the walls, and I check the magazines and books on my tables. I shower. I have breakfast.
The only difference between one day and another whether I have to call the greengrocer or any other shop for deliveries.
I cook. I love cooking. I sometimes cook extra, and leave the dish on my doorstep for the lucky recipient to collect.
That is the only time that I allow dis-order into my life, because my kitchen is the place where all this happens. I never take food into the sitting room or the bedroom.
I do get vague misgivings when I realise that the knives and forks and spoons will not be nesting properly in the drawer until the cooking is done and everything is cleared away, but then, I love cooking, and I sometimes sort of enjoy the food… so the trepidation is worth it.
I am blessed. I know my limitations, and I go along with them. My laptop is my lifeline. I connect with my ex-schoolmates, my ex-pupils, and my ex-teachers – and hundreds of other people. So, my past present, and future are a chain of events.
It is a good thing I can work from home. My commute used to exhaust me. I would be tense, hoping that the person in the seat near mine on the bus did not touch me, albeit inadvertently.
Who would have thought that I am the author of Fighting Fit, the vade mecum for those who are actively trying to cure themselves of OCD? Of course, I wrote it under a pen name, and I didn’t have an official launching. If only I could follow my own instructions.
I always was fussy about the order of things, but I think my stance – what some call a condition – became full-blown when I had an operation called Hypothermic Cardiac Circulatory Arrest for a life-threatening aneurysm inn my brain. You might have heard of it referred to a “standstill”, where the body temperature is lowered to 60o, the heartbeat and breathing stopped, the brain waves flattened, and the blood drained from the head… as good as dead, but not quite.
When I came back, and I realised that I was still alive, I sobbed, and promised myself that I would “pay attention” so that nothing would ever, ever, go wrong again.
It began with wanting my bedroom slippers to be near each other, but not touching… and then it progressed to the food on my plate having to be all of different colours, and cutting all my nails if one of them broke.
People tend to smile at the antics of Monica Geller from Friends, but I tell you, OCD is not funny at all. It’s draining. It’s a plethora of thoughts fighting for precedence; did you brush your hair 100 times; did you lock the window; is the doily exactly in the middle of the table… and so on, and so forth. It is like the refrain of a record, without the lyrics, being repeated on a loop… a constant static that is much worse than tinnitus could ever be.
I know I waste a lot of time – and that is why each day is the same, because I waste time on the same things… but I refuse to say I have an obsession. My life has not been taken over by my OCD. I still can write for hours at a stretch, and I still cook, and I still communicate with the outside world.
What is irrational, even ridiculous, to others, but they are very real to me. I like honey, Nutella, and peanut butter... in that order. I scoop out teaspoonfuls from each jar and put them on a plate. That is my ration for the day, every day. When there is not enough to scoop out, I pour hot water into the jar and make special coffee. I take great pains to see that there does not come a day when two jars have to be rinsed out.
In the course of my research for the aforementioned book, I came upon the story of a woman who did not use her cooker just so she did not have to keep checking whether it was really off. It gave me nightmares for a month.
Adrian Monk uses his clinical OCD to solve crimes; I use my similar foible to keep my house clean and my life orderly. Stop calling us neat freaks, and saying that we have obsessions, or compulsions. Stop drawing cartoons with stereotypes who check, count, and retrace their steps.
Stop telling me to grow up already, or to just stop it, or to learn how to control myself. I am convinced that if I wanted to, I could do it.
But I don’t.
It is the only way to quell the motion sickness in my brain.
It could be Sunday, today. There’s not as much traffic as yesterday on the street…
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I like this story as it explicitly points out the pain that some go through when called crazy for some oddities which they would so much like not to perform but absolutely cannot. Hope it make some more sensitive towards others, odd as they might seem.
Mental ill-health is never a laughing matter. Thank you.