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I’ve been thinking for a while that, although I have written about my earliest memories and deepest thoughts, I’ve neglected to mention one large character trait of mine (or is it a medical condition?)
It may already be apparent, but I have a mild case of OCD.
OCD is a term that gets thrown around and misused – often referring to behaviours that are perfectly normal, like preferring to be not covered in mud, or finishing one bottle of milk before opening a new one. To make sure I wasn’t invoking its name in vain, I looked it up, and here’s the NHS definition:
Yep. That’s me.
I also read about the causes of OCD, which include genetics (having OCD sufferers in your family), traumatic life events like bereavements or difficult labour and childbirth, low levels of the chemical serotonin (the ‘happy’ chemical), a tendency towards anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, unattainably high standards and an overburdened sense of responsibility.
That’s a tick in every box then.
OCD is oddly selective though, isn’t it? I don’t have a big problem with being messy, although I would prefer my piles of papers to be perpendicular to the edge of the table. I often think that my obsession with laundry ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ is merely common sense – doesn’t EVERYONE separate their washing into 5 or 6 different coloured piles? And while wet clothes are never going to look like a work of art, wouldn’t it be preferable for everything to be hanging up symmetrically, in size order?
I really struggle when Hubby does the washing and hangs it up. There’s nothing WRONG exactly with the way the clothes have been hung up, but they don’t balance perfectly, and aren’t grouped together in categories. Usually I smile and nod and wait… and then when he leaves the room, I jump up and rearrange it all.
If, on the rare occasion I forget about a load, the washing sits in the machine for more than an hour, I feel compelled to wash it again, because I’m actually phobic about the smell of stale wet washing – it gives me a stomach ache.
When the shopping trolley needs unloading on to the supermarket conveyor, I approach it like a military operation. The items have to be grouped together in home-storage categories – refrigerated food, unrefrigerated store cupboard items, vegetables, fruit, bathroom + kitchen cleaning products etc etc. But, not only that, they have to be arranged so that the heavy items are packed FIRST, once it’s been scanned, otherwise delicate or fragile items get squashed.
That’s normal too. Right? No?
I’m self-analysing here, but I suppose that needing to feel in control is a large part of my OCD.
As a confused, linguistically and socially challenged child, organising my pencil case provided me with some order in this crazy world, and might explain the extreme anxiety I would feel if a random child asked to borrow a rubber or pencil sharpener. I knew sharing was important, but I couldn’t stand for people to touch my things. A classmate once stole a rubber of mine, and while I was upset that the rubber had disappeared, I was even MORE upset when it turned up again – soiled, blunted with use, and covered in graphite marks and holes.
I realise most of this just sounds like I am unnaturally uptight, fussy and a real downer to live with, but all that is just peripheral… The REAL problem, is my issue with germs. I can almost see them. It sometimes makes life a misery.
This bit is the hereditary trait, passed on to me by my grandmother.
I’ve never liked getting dirty, but that’s nothing special. However, when I had my first child, suddenly I became hyper-aware of the teeming, filthy, bacteria-infested world that surrounded him.
And although both he and his sister have grown up strong and healthy with great immune systems, probably thanks to the handfuls of cat hair they must inadvertently ingest every year, my antipathy towards bacteria has not waned.
Working as a teacher probably isn’t ideal for someone who ‘SEES GERMS’. The little ones do like to hold hands, and I find it really hard to be OK with this. Children just don’t seem to be bothered by dirt and smells. I’ve been given lovingly draw, but slightly damp, cards that, after accepting, I hear fell in to the toilet; I’ve had tiny hands thrust in front of my face with the statement, “I fell into some poo when I was playing on the field. It’s still on my hands…”; and I once walked into the bathroom to find my little 3 year old daughter rescuing my TOOTHBRUSH from the bin – “Oops Mummy. It just fell in,” she said helpfully.
I know life is too short to mince around shuddering at unhygienic situations, suppressing gag reflexes, and avoiding public places… but I really can’t help it. I do have coping mechanisms – like the bottles of hand sanitiser I keep in my handbag so that we can touch interactive exhibitions in museums, or read library books, go dancing, or open restaurant toilet doors; I wear waterproof flip flops at the spa, so I don’t have to touch the floor with my bare feet.
Mind you, I have stopped going to the spa – the last few times I went, I observed such disgusting behaviour, I just couldn’t go back. People were full-on sneezing in the steam room; coming out of the sauna all sweaty and walking straight into the jacuzzi; and memorably, one woman exfoliated her feet all over the steam room floor. Much more of that, and I’d have required a Michael Jackson- type oxygen tent to exist in.
I am aware of the problem, and I’m trying to deal with it.
I find that being pro-active is surprisingly effective – undertaking challenges that help me to meet the world head on, rather than sitting back passively and letting the world and its bacteria seep into me. Like weight lifting. I never look at a barbell and think, “Ew. I wonder how many people have touched that today…?” There’s something oddly sterile about an activity that requires me to come out of my cave and makes my muscles roar in primitive confrontation.
I WILL start swimming again one day, when I can get past the idea of the thousands of mouths that have been dribbling saliva and snot into the water. I WILL keep dancing with strangers, and I WILL keep holding these little children’s hands if they want me to.
I refuse to let something so tiny dictate my life. Bacteria may be alive and well, but so am I.