I have OCD. I have OCD. I have OCD. There, I said it three times, so now my mother’s back won’t break. Wait, that’s a superstition. Not an obsession. And I think a sidewalk crack should have been mentioned somewhere.
I often see the acronym for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder being tossed around by some of my acquaintances to describe habits or superstitions. I keep my mouth shut because I try to avoid confrontation, but for me, OCD is real. It is not something I like to brag about on Facebook just because bleach is a prime commodity in my home. Like water. And Goldfish Crackers.
I remember vividly my first encounter with OCD. It was not me who was cursed by it initially, but my mother. I won’t go into detail about my childhood experience because I don’t have permission to expose those demons (and I use this word, not to represent some satanic entity, but as a metaphor for the disease), but I will say that it was a sad, nightmarish moment in my family’s life. The repercussions of not obeying said demons were more than a simple fear of contracting a germ that causes the common cold. If the laundry wasn’t done (and redone) a particular number of times, or we weren’t bathed to the point that our skin was dried and cracking, something horrific would happen to our family.
I was nearing the end of elementary school when my mother sought treatment. By then, I recognized that something wasn’t normal about my family. Because I was spending more time at my grandmother’s house, I began noticing odd behavior from her as well. She once fell dramatically in her office chair—breathing heavily with her head resting on her hand—after having witnessed me walk under a ladder. One of the first times I remember her yelling at me was when I threw my hat on my bed. And spilling salt forced her to hurriedly pick up granules, and throw them over my shoulder. In her mind, it was possible that I might become a witch, die, or be possessed by an evil spirit lurking over my left shoulder. Her superstitions were just as crippling as my mother’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was often embarrassed by their actions, but little did I realize I was beginning to exhibit the same behavior, only with different consequences.
By that time, I had already had the short experience in the Pentecostal church that I previously wrote about, so I often attribute my first bit of intimacy with OCD to that. It’s always good to have the ability to blame those who threaten hellfire and damnation to kindergarteners. I will be fair, though, and admit that the culprit very well could have been all those late-night episodes of “The Twilight Zone” I would watch after my grandparents had gone to bed. No, it was definitely the fear of living eternally in a bed of brimstone. Anyway, I remember lying in bed one night listening to the ticking of an old-fashioned alarm clock that sat on my dresser, when I suddenly felt the need to say “I hate the devil.” So with each tick an obsession was borne: tick “I hate the devil” tick “I hate the devil” tick “I hate the devil,” until my body would begin to shake, and I would simultaneously jump out of bed to tuck the clock inside a drawer underneath a stack of flannel pajamas.
As I grew older, new and improved obsessions took over. And when I think back to the pain and humiliation I felt and/or inflicted on those I loved, I get angry at the aforementioned people who use the term so flippantly. OCD is spending ten years as a single mother checking the light switches three consecutive times to make sure they are in the off position (when clearly the lights are not on), and unplugging everything—everything—before you leave the house for fear that it will catch on fire. OCD is not simply making sure the lights are turned off; that is just being economical. OCD is scrubbing each of your daughters’ heads every night with medicated shampoo just because you saw one of them scratch her head. OCD is not simply bathing your children before they go to bed each night; that’s just good parenting. OCD is taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets, moving the refrigerator and stove, and scrubbing the countertops with bleach several times a week because you live near cotton fields and fear a mouse may have come into your home when you weren’t looking. OCD is not simply wiping down your cabinets after mealtime; that’s just not being gross. OCD is thinking that, because you cannot be there to control every situation, your children are destined to become victims of a fire or an insect or Hantavirus. It is real and painful and exhausting.
So before you take a photo of yourself holding a bottle of Pine Sol with a caption that reads “Cleaning the house. I’m so OCD,” you should know that not only do you NOT have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but your sentence is grammatically incorrect, and it has been said that Pine Sol attracts the Pine Beetle which carries a fungus on its feet. You can check the latter on “MythBusters” if you’d like, but I’m going with it because, well, I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and I’m not taking any chances.