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Monday, July 23, 2012

How Do You Spell OCD?

You all thought I'd fallen off the face of the planet, didn't you? 'Fraid not. I've just had a lot on my plate, and one of the bigger things is school, specifically how I can take advantage of higher education with OCD, which is what I'm going to be talking about today. For any of you who may be hoping for answers, I'll apologize in advance: I have no answers. Just questions, which I now address to the cosmos at large in no particular order.  
How does one afford to go to school? As a person with OCD, the number and types of jobs I feel evenly remotely capable of performing seem pretty limited. Waitressing? I can just see myself attempting to take your order: “I'm sorry, sir, could you repeat that? I'm getting a little distracted by the buzz of conversation, the clatter of dishes, and the din of our restaurant's 'background' music. . . . Sorry, I still didn't catch it. Maybe you could write it down? Except you'll have to use your own pen, because I don't want you touching mine.
Bussing tables, perhaps. Gimme a break. If you think I'm going to wipe up your greasy fingerprints and pick up your saliva-smeared silverware and used napkins, you've got another thing coming.
Retail? Please. By the time I worked up the courage to say, “Can I help you find anything?” the customer would have finished their shopping and walked out the door.
Work in a grocery store? “Um, ma'am? Did you just touch that apple?” “Yes, but I don't want it, it's bruised.” “I'm sorry, ma'am, if you touch it you take it. That's the rule.”
Does this sound familiar to anybody? I don't want you to get the impression that I've never worked before or that I can't do anything, but I do have trouble fitting in at work, holding down a job for any significant length of time, and finding any kind of satisfaction in my work.
Would I be better off playing the lottery than trying to win a scholarship?
I've applied for about fifty that the deadline is now past for, with no result. I'm beginning to think that prospecting for gold in my backyard might be a better use of my time.
 How does one choose a school? I don't know if decision-making is a problem among most people with OCD, but I struggle to decide whether I want chocolate or vanilla ice cream in my cone; and if, (as I often do to avoid choosing) I decide I want a scoop of each, then which flavor on top and which on bottom? With decisiveness of that level, what am I supposed to do when confronted with a thousand universities?  
How does one survive school? Dorms, for instance. Dorms mean roommates. Roommates mean living with someone else. Living with someone else means that one of us is probably going to end up in a federal prison for trying to murder the other one.
Classrooms. How often do these rooms get scrubbed down with a lethal concoction of cleaning chemicals? Oh, a cleaning crew comes in, do they? Do they submerge the tables and chairs in boiling water and ammonia? I thought not. And you expect me to be able to focus on your lecture in this kind of squalor?
Transportation. 'Bus' is a filthy swear word that we are not going to sully this discussion with. And cars? I'm sorry, but how? It seems that every school poured a parking lot, dutifully reserved spaces for all the faculty, and then realized they only had two dozen spaces left for students.
 These issues may sound ridiculous to other people, but they're genuine concerns for me. I have an Associate's degree that I got online, and I would love to get a Bachelor's and then a Master's degree in linguistics, but at this point I don't see how that's ever going to be a real possibility. Does anyone have any insights as to how I might be able to make this work? Any unorthodox options that have worked for you?
I don't mean to sounds desperate but . . . HELP!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ten Percent Smarter than the OCD

One thing I've learned about OCD is that it never takes a break. You have to be constantly on guard against it or it will control you more and more. Even when you think you've got it licked, it tends to crop up in another area you didn't expect. I know. It's rotten. But that's the way it is. One of the important things for me to remember is that I am not my OCD. That's easy to forget when you constantly hear phrases like, “I know I'm a little OCD,” or “I'm not really OCD, I just have a thing about this.” OCD is not you, it's just something you have.
Here's a dialogue I wrote a few years ago just for the heck of it, between myself and my OCD:

OCD: You know, you really ought to take a shower whenever someone touches you.
ME: That's ridiculous.
OCD: No, no, really. I mean, not when somebody shakes your hand or something. You can just go wash your hands then, but like if they touch your hair or your arm or something.
ME: Do you have any idea how many showers I would have to take if I did that?
OCD: Do you have any idea how sick it is to not shower when someone touches you? Think of all the things they could have been touching before they touched you!
ME: You've got a point.
OCD: Of course I've got a point! What, you think I sit around trying to convince you to do pointless things? I'm trying to help you out here, and this is the thanks I get? Anyway, I think you should try it.
ME: I guess maybe I could. I could just—wait a minute, wait a minute, hold it! No way. No way am I going to do that. It's a stupid idea and you know it.
OCD: What's so stupid about it? Come on, it can't hurt to try, can it?
ME: Actually, yeah, it can.
OCD: If you would just—
ME: No! You've got enough of these silly rituals. You don't need any more.
OCD: No, look, it's just an experiment.
ME: I am not—
OCD: I really think this will be good. It'll help you feel better, I promise.
ME: I don't want to.
OCD: Now, now. This will be good for you. You know how uncomfortable it is when people touch you. Don't you?
ME: Well . . . yeah.
OCD: See? This will help you feel more comfortable.
ME: I'm not going to do it.
OCD: Look, just try it for a couple days. If you decide you don't like it, fine. You don't have to do it anymore.
ME: If I try it for a couple days, I'll never stop doing it.
OCD: Don't be silly. I'm just suggesting it for your good. I really think it will help you.
ME: I really think it won't.
OCD: Come on, just—
ME: I won't do it.
OCD: No, just listen to me.
ME: No.
OCD: Wait—
ME: No!
OCD: But—
OCD: Fine then. You'll regret it though.
ME: I don't think so.
OCD: Hmph.
ME: Shut up.

This dialogue is neither witty nor brilliant, which is even more irritating when I realize that I have exhausting arguments like this every day with my OCD. Let me tell you something. The more you win arguments with your OCD, the easier it becomes. It never gets easy, but the more you do it, the more you gain confidence and realize that you really can stand your ground against this thing, and even regain territory you've lost in the past.
Whenever I'm struggling with something (which is a lot of the time), whether it be a doorknob that will not unlock, a computer program that won't work, or shoelaces tangled into a Gordian knot, my Dad tells me, “Ten percent smarter than the shoelaces, Sam.” (Or whatever it is that's giving me a hard time). “Ten percent smarter, that's all you've got to be.” It always makes me laugh and somehow I get it figured out.
It's the same thing with OCD. When it's coming up with new strategies and throwing obstacles in your way that seem insurmountable, just tell yourself: “Ten percent smarter than the OCD, that's all you've got to be. Just ten percent smarter than the OCD.” Who knows? You may surprise yourself.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


You know, it's amazing how much people without OCD take for granted. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking people who don't have OCD. I'm just saying that they do incredible things every day without even realizing it.
Take doors for instance.
It depends on what type of OCD you're dealing with, of course, but for a germ freak like me doors present a constant and maddening challenge. Doors, as we all know, are made to be opened and shut. The problem with that is that you have to actually touch the door in order to accomplish that. That's right, actual physical contact. Yikes.
The worst are the doors with round knobs. Doors without handles can be kicked open with a foot or shoved with a shoulder. Doors with handles can be opened by covering your hand with your sleeve, or pressing the handle down with your knuckles if you're not wearing long sleeves. But doorknobs?
Maybe it's just my lack of coordination, but I find it extremely difficult to open a door with a knob within the limits of my OCD while maintaining any semblance of being a normal human being. Paper towels (one of my favorite protectors against all things germy found in bathrooms . . . which is everything) are not always available with the advent of air dryers. Even when paper towels can be had, I've noticed a troubling pattern in public restrooms of placing the trash can at least 10 feet from the door; problematic if, like me, you're a bit of a poor shot. Even worse are those models of poor planning where the door is around the corner from the garbage can. I can't even remember how I made it out of those places. Sleeves can be used if they're long enough, but since you have to grip a knob with your whole hand, you really have to stretch the sleeve to get it to cover everything. And then you probably have to stretch out the other sleeve to make it 'even' and go around all day looking like your cuffs got caught in an escalator or something and you only just managed to pull them out. And knuckles—if you ever figure out a way to open a doorknob with your knuckles using only one hand, I want to hear about it. I always have to grip the knob between the knuckles of both hands and try to maintain enough pressure that my knuckles don't slip off while I wrestle the door open. I've not yet had anyone ask if I've heard of opposing thumbs, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.
To illustrate how amazing you are if you can open and shut doors in the way they were obviously designed to be opened and shut, let me tell you about an experience I had.
Have you seen the 3rd Harry Potter movie? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? (Stick with me. Believe it or not I'm staying on topic.) You have? Great. You haven't? Don't worry. The part I'm going to reveal isn't exactly a spoiler. In the movie, Harry is staying at some kind of wizardly hotel. In one scene, after what we hope was a refreshing night's sleep, he exits his room and closes the door behind him. But here's the best part: He closes it with his hand.
For some reason, that part made my jaw drop when I first saw it. Yeah, yeah, so some other things happened in the movie too. There were wizards and magic and mysterious happenings, maybe even a werewolf or two. But all of that paled in comparison to the bit where Harry shut the door.
I believe at that point in my life I was still shutting doors with my foot. Sound hard? It is. But it was better than touching them with my hands.
Now, just in case you're wondering, yes, I had seen people opening and shutting doors with their hands before. For some reason, it just didn't hit me the way it did when I saw it on the screen. Maybe it was because Harry was alone in that scene, so he didn't have to act normal by shutting the door with his hand; he could have done it any way he wanted. Anyway, almost as powerful as the urge to grab Harry by his jacket, drag him to the nearest sink, and hand him a bottle of anti-bacterial hand-soap was the thought, He just shut that door with his hand! People open and shut doors with their hands. And then, I wish I could open and shut doors with my hands.
And you know something? I can. Sort of. I still do the paper towel thing, or the sleeve over the hand thing, or the knuckle thing if all else fails. But the point is, I've gotten to the point where I can do something I never thought I could. I'm realizing that I don't have to be normal, I just have to be better than I was. So I'm proud of myself. Look, Mom. Hands!