OCD, the short form for obsessive compulsive disorder, is getting to be as well known as autism or dyslexia for diagnosing people once just thought to be weird, who refuse to communicate and too lazy to focus in school (in that order). Now, those who can’t develop social links to people, and thus the social mores that we need to relate to the people around us – for example the concept of sharing, of looking people in the eye and making conversation, in simplified terms – are most likely autistic. And those who can never grasp reading, or lessons in books, may be dyslexic, where words look jumbled up, among others.
These are mental health issues, and not only were they diagnosed later than other physical health problems, the stigma of suffering from these conditions also led to denial. Previously, if a child cannot smile at his mom or dad, and beat his head against the wall repeatedly, he was “mentally disabled”. And these “mentally disabled” children ended up in a care facility, at home and treated like a dunce for the rest of their lives, or in extreme cases, chained up in a cage “for their own protection”. And yes, it’s still happening now. With the diagnosis of autism, there are now methods in which to “communicate” with autistic children, in the hopes that they become, not totally “cured”, but functioning people who are able to take care of themselves.
Same goes with dyslexia, where for years, slow learners get sent to “special classes” with the most disinterested teachers in the school. The teachers feel like they are being punished by having to teach the backward students, and the children – who are generally bright – feel like they’re being cast out of normal society just because the words dance around on the page. Now, dyslexic people may take oral, instead of written, tests, and learn to read in different ways.
Of course, there is a (very wide) spectrum for the severity of autism, dyslexia, and mental disability, in general, and unknowledgeable people (like me) can’t say if a person is one or the other. That’s where you need experts.
So these experts are now also beginning to realise the severity of OCD as a disease and not just a quirk put down as “eccentricity”. For an example, see Tony Shalhoub’s character in TV series Monk. Thing is, Monk’s OCD becomes funny, even as he is still functional.
What it doesn’t delve into is the impetus that causes OCD – the voices that tell one person to wash his hands over and over, not stopping even when the skin is raw, or to check that the door is locked, 30 times over.
It’s the anxiety, according to an article I read in Men’s Health magazine. An anxious feeling that if a person doesn’t do this one thing, something bad will happen. We all have some level of anxiety, but it is quelled by other voices – yes, I checked the iron before I left, I remember switching it off. Sometimes, it’s not really off (we forget), but we are not going to think about it any more than a few anxious moments. We are not going to go back into the house, check the iron. If it is off, switch it back on, then off ( to make sure it’s really off). You want to go, but can’t, because the voice is saying ‘is it really off? If it’s not really off, the iron will short circuit, the house will burn, taking the block with it, and people will die.’ Then switch it back on, then off. Voice. On, off. Voice. On, off. Lights, on or off? Stove, on or off? Shoes in perfect alignment with each other, no knick-knack out of place, clothes hangers must be no more or less than four inches apart from one another. Any other way, and the person is so anxious that he cannot function – not at school, at work, or anywhere.
Seems these voices can also be about feelings, as the writer of the article claims. The writer gave an example of the voices which told him that each and every girlfriend he had was cheating on him, every night, so he demanded explanations and proof of their whereabouts. (Though I’m not convinced that it wasn’t just voices plus insecurity, although he claims to have been cured via pills.)
Anyway, the basis of it all is anxiety, going into full-panic mode if everything “isn’t just right”. And that is what is absent in people just saying they have OCD if they like their clothes hung in a certain way, their knick-knacks on the table in a symmetrical arrangement and if they have all their books arranged in alphabetical order. Yes, if things are out of place, they will bitch and moan (who moved my Zidane figurine?! It should be to Raul’s right, not left!), move it back and carry on. If there is a dirty plate in the sink left by their husband, they will wash it and put it away, even though it’s late, and then, job done, they go to bed.
They are obsessive, yes, but not compulsive, and not to the extent that it affects their life. And too many people use the excuse of having OCD, if they like their things just so.
I said so myself, just last week, and now I’m recanting. I do not have OCD. I like my hangers to be same colour and make, and for them to face in the same direction, but I’m not anxious if they want to move around. Sometimes they want to mix in other hanger stratas. I would love to have all my clothes hung in colour-coordinated groups, as this makes it easier to dress. But when my white shirt goes galivanting with the black skirt, it doesn’t bother me that much, I just separate them and promise through the tears that they’ll get to see each other again the next time I want a black-and-white ensemble.
And maybe I have a bit of a perfectionist attitude, which comes and goes with the moods. Or I just say that because I’m a lazy bugger and can’t be bothered to alphabeticise my CD collection, or when I say I can’t get C done because I don’t have A and B in place, I just can’t be bothered to get C done.
Case in point: I signed up for guitar lessons today. Normal thinking would be: I need to get a guitar, I need a place set up in my house to put the guitar so that it won’t fall over and get damaged but it has to be within easy reach for whenever I want to practise, and I need to set up a proper place to practise, with a stand for the guitar book and a comfortable chair, and thick curtains so that I won’t bother the neighbours when I play, and only then can I start lessons.
And today was: no guitar, no nothing, but signed up for lessons. Whether I’ll stick with it is another issue, of course, probably relating to my (possible) fear of commitment, and fodder for another post some other time.
I’m learning that these are excuses, maybe based on other reasons, like fear of failure. I’m planning to write a book, but I can’t get started because I don’t have a car to take me to see the people I need to see for the interviews. I don’t have a tape recorder to record the interviews. Maybe I’m just scared that no one will be interested to read my book? But I’m not really anxious up to the point that I can’t function, and that is why I don’t have OCD.
For now, there is a CD case on my desk that is not completely aligned with the edges of my laptop… but I’m OK with it. Alright, I actually moved it, making it square with the edge of the table, but I wasn’t anxious about it. Not really. Now I’ll get on with my day… after I rearrange my closet.