On Being OCD…

I suppose this may turn into some kind of confession, but it would be seen as such only by people who see me on the train, walking down the sidewalk or in a grocery store. Strangers might not guess that I have an obsessive compulsive disorder.

My friends and family are well aware of my frenzy for a sense of harmony and order, though I don’t impose my mania upon others, except maybe my partner Jim, who doesn’t dare leave an unfinished drink on a table for fear of returning a moment later to find the glass washed, dried, and put back into the cabinet, or a clean shirt innocently draped over a chair and being found just seconds later in the dirty clothes hamper upstairs. I don’t do these things to aggravate others. My actions are simply automatic responses to what my mind (or what’s left of it) sees as parts of my world being in some way out of alignment.

Part of all this nonsense is based upon my excessive desire to be able to find things right away when I need them and not to see them scattered about. An avid fan of the TV show Hoarders, I am repeatedly fascinated by people whose lives seem to have no anchors of material organization and for whom even finding the household vacuum cleaner can mean calling in a team of professionals to do a major search, while wearing masks to avoid the fumes from the pumpkins and grapefruits that have been on the kitchen counter since 2003. Of course, those hoarders might see me as an extraterrestrial creature too, one that organizes linens and pantry items by color. Maybe a TV show about obsessive compulsive folks like me would entertain the crap out of hoarders. Who knows?

A friend told me last week that I was so OCD that I should really be labeled CDO, only because of my inclination to number or alphabetize everything in my home. Though Don was spot on regarding the issue, I was a bit put off by his remark, because I see myself as being politically liberal, generous to friends, family, and worthy outside causes. I would never dream of judging or criticizing organizational habits of friends, even if those habits resembled those of Ma and Pa Kettle.

I admit to being Felix Unger, and I believe that Jim would have to admit being Oscar Madison. I make sure that Jim’s wallet never goes through the washing machine cycle, but he solves problems involving plumbing, carpentry, and electricity. He asks me almost hourly where things in the house are, everything from an electric drill to a paperclip, and I invariably know the location. Our two worlds collide in practical ways, as one partner takes care of the other, always defusing anger that for other couples might mean one of them being found eventually buried under a freshly poured concrete driveway.

The advantages to someone living with an OCD person are that there will never be dirty dishes in the sink, that clean laundry will be folded neatly and organized in drawers and on coat hangers, that there will be clean windows, carpets, and floors, and that everything in the house will have its place in an environment of comfortable, physical stability. The downside might be that the Oscar Madisons in these households will feel, by contrast, even more like slobs than they ever did before.

If it were up to Jim to organize the house, it would contain stray shopping carts found on the streets and filled with our worldly possessions. Our tax records and other important documents would undoubtedly be stored in old pizza boxes, possibly by year but more than likely by the dried pizza toppings on the outside of each box.

I shudder to think of the rebuttal Jim might create in response to my little diatribe, but if he writes one, I’ll be glad to post it, if only in the interest of sequences, organized communication, and humor itself.    JB

About John

About John John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BS and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado, where he resided for ten years before moving to Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth book is, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014. John’s most recent book is a novel titled Resisting Gravity, A Ghost Story, published the summer of 2018 View all posts by John →
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7 Responses to On Being OCD…

  1. Neal says:

    Very good John, now we will see what kind of reply will be forth coming from the other side of a seemingly normal relationship. Some refletion, some self preservation, some rebuttal, some defensive statements, we’ll see.

  2. Jim says:

    Ok, So here it comes, from the ever mysterious and elusive “Jim” that occasionally appears in John’s blog. I’m often referred to in passing, sometimes with a slight tone of exasperation, as one would mention a wayward child who is cute and funny, but just tracked mud over the freshly mopped kitchen floor.

    John’s OCD is of a limited scope, and the longer we live together, the easier it is to live with. I admit, somewhat guiltily, that I actually enjoy being the benefit of some of his particular habits.

    I can trust that laundry is done every Monday, and that when I come home from work on Monday afternoon, the sock and underwear drawer that was growing dangerously close to empty has been refilled with fresh, clean and neatly folded items, ready for the week ahead. With him not around, there are days I have to decide if I’m going “commando” to work or digging out the underwear I don’t really like to wear because it pinches, and wearing the slacks that really should be put in the “use these for yard work” pile.

    I know that dinner will be ready come hell or high water at 6-pm sharp, even if I’m not hungry.

    I have to physically restrain him from polishing my shoes. I really don’t pay much attention to how I look, my cuffs are frayed, my shoes un-shined, and I go to the barber when my hair finally becomes completely unmanageable. I often don’t notice dust. Part of this is the fact that my eyesight is terrible, but a lot of it is also because I really have things more fun to do.

    He spends the winters in our condo in Florida. Every December 1st, I hear this “harumph” sound from the red chair in the library, and a muttering of “I’m retired, I don’t have to *do* winter”, and before I know it he and the dog are packed up and gone. This of course usually coincides with the 2nd or 3rd time that enough snow has fallen to require the drive to be shoveled.

    While he’s gone, I have free reign of the house. I can put a glass down on the counter and know that it will be there tomorrow, or the next day should I have need of it. At any given moment, there is likely to be dishes in the sink ….or at least near it.

    The bed gets made when I change the sheets, which I try to do weekly, or so – unless I’m having company over, in which case I debate rather or not to make the bed, or just shut the door to the bedroom. I do my laundry, and sometimes have to run the dryer several times before I actually take the stuff out and hang or fold it, and sometimes it’s a few days or a week before the clean clothes make it upstairs into the dresser or closet – and often I find myself stumbling down the stairs in the morning to pick up whatever clean item I ran out of upstairs. John would be comatose if he had to live with me and be unable to satisfy his itch to make things orderly.

    My tax paperwork is ….hmmm. I think some of it is down in the basement in a drawer, some of it is upstairs shoved in a cubbyhole of my desk, and I know for sure that my 2013 tax paperwork is sitting in a blue bag on the floor right by the front door where I put it when I came home from H&R Block (two months ago) after they did my taxes this year. I know that would keep John up at night, so I probably should move it somewhere before he comes home.

    It’s not like some of the awful things you see from OCD people on TV or in the movies. He doesn’t sit in the corner pulling his hair out strand by strand, he doesn’t have to walk around the room clockwise three times before removing his hat, his OCD is fairly unremarkable unless you are around him long enough to notice the little quirks.

    And I’m not a candidate for the Hoarder television show that he so loves to watch. (You should ask him to explain why he can watch COPS for hours on end too….). I’m not nasty, I’m just sometimes a bit …unorganized.

    He has begun to talk to himself though. I worry about this because I don’t recall hearing it when we first began to live together. Perhaps he has always done it, and because I tend not to notice things like that, I just never noticed. Maybe I only notice it when I’m visiting him at the condo in Florida during his winter stay because there isn’t really much else for me to do except hang around and listen and observe.

    We are a symbiotic being in our two selves. He makes sure things are orderly, and that I can find the things I need. We’re definitely not “two peas in a pod” as many couples are who have been together for long periods. We have enough common interests to keep us together, and enough that are separate that we aren’t out measuring that spot under the driveway to see if the other one would fit.

    He does old-fashioned things like send thank-you notes and birthday cards, and makes return invitations to dinner if we’ve been asked out to someone’s house. It makes me proud to be near him, because I can’t ever remember to do those things.

    The truth is, he makes me comfortable, and as much as I grumble about his OCD habits, I have to admit that on many levels, I secretly appreciate them, look forward to them, and sometimes feel slightly guilty for taking advantage of them.

    • John says:

      Wow! I understand and like you better than ever. Reading your comments was like finding a valuable illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages and being able to enjoy and share its beauty. Still, I hope we never have to pour another concrete driveway.

  3. Ron Adam says:

    I enjoy your writing. I think the important part is that you can clearly see how you two benifit each other. Quite often that isn’t the case.

    As for Jim… My experience with living with him is, he’s an organize by need type of person. Yes, the pizza box would work just fine for filing mail until tax time, as long as he knows where it is. Then when the need arrives, he will sort it, organize it, and file it. His mess’s tend to be temporary states of partial completeness. At the moment, I’m about the same. When I have ten things going on at once, having everything put away between jumping fom one thing to another isn’t a priority. And if there isn’t an immediate need… some things may take a little longer to get done and put away properly.

    Having someone to help keep things in order is greatly appreciated! Because both Jim and me really do like to feel we are on top of things and in control of life in general.

    • John says:

      Thanks, Ron. I enjoyed your commentary. Your final statement says a great deal about the role of confidence in life and its importance in replacing the frantic need to keep up with everything each moment. Well done.

  4. Ron Adam says:

    Is there a subclass of OCD called DAD, Disorder Avoidance Disorder? OCD covers quite a lot of other things.

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