I am not ashamed of having OCD. I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m obnoxiously vocal about the topic, but I talk about it, I write about it, and, most importantly for me, I can laugh about it.
I try to defuse my OCD with a veneer of sarcasm and jokes. I find that making commentary about it puts a distance between me and something that I’ve often found overwhelming in life. It can take away its power. I know this isn’t the same for everyone, and there are more severe sides of OCD which truly impact the sufferer’s lives. This is just how I deal with mine – along with patience and understanding- so, please don’t take offence. It feels much less like complaining if I’m joking. That’s all.
From a young age I developed odd wee tics and compulsions. From secretly pretending to deadbolt my window at night to scare off any potential burglars, to *needing* to spin around six times before bed. Some were noticed, others went unseen and were hidden away. Thankfully I got over them and didn’t carry those particular ‘habits’ into my adult life.
I mean, can you imagine still practicing both of those routines before going to bed? The seizing awkwardness if you had a hookup would be too much. Picture it: Your twirling like a deranged ballerina whilst he’s sat in bed, looking on in utter bewilderment. Knowing me I’d probably slip banana-peel style like a cartoon clown on the lube packet. Then I’d pretend to deadbolt the window whilst he just gawks at me in terror. “Yeah that’s right”, I whisper, “you’re NEVER leaving.”
There are a couple of symptoms that still flare up from time to time, such as being unable to eat food that someone else had touched (unless you’re in my elite circle I won’t share anything with you.) And when I’m anxious I tend to line items up in a row. These are all little eccentricities; mild symptoms I taught myself out of or learned to control. There were however more severe sides of my OCD. One gave birth to an eating disorder which lead into bulimia. Another left me unable to rest until I had cleaned every inch of my room at night, every night. If I didn’t I would scratch myself constantly and not sleep.
Below is a short tale of when my germaphobic-tendencies were at their worst. It took place during a bad spell of mental health, which is when my OCD tends to flare up. At the time I was ‘dating’ a guy who awoke to find that I’d cleaned his entire flat, and scrubbed his kitchen with so much bleach that the skin on my hands was burnt. At the time it was pretty ridiculous, but I look at it now and accept it happened, and take away its shaming power by finding it (sort of) funny.
Now I say I was dating this guy, but looking back would you call it dating? We basically had sex a bunch times over a few week period, went out for dinner a lot and once held hands on the Subway (which, if I’m being honest, was the highlight. Nothing screams romance quite like interlocking fingers with someone on a crowded metallic sweat box as it whizzes underground.)
One evening he invited me over to his place, which I interpreted as a positive, all systems go, sign as I’d never seen his flat before. The plan was to meet him and his friends for some pre-drinks before going out. Y’know fortify ourselves before stumbling into whatever club it was we were going to. You always drink more than needed at pre-drinks, and disguise this subtle alcoholism with excuses like ‘if I drink more here, I’ll spend less when I’m out.’ Honestly, when has that ever worked?
I arrived, full of glee and hope, making sure I looked as immaculate as my mediocrity allowed. I wouldn’t say I was overly head over hells for him, but he embodied this artistic, alternative vibe that I tend to gravitate toward. Grunge-style, bordering on messy yet still somewhat refined. Like Kurt Cobain meets a Monet painting, but in tighter jeans. I was into it, so conjured up the energy to make an effort. I arrive and I knock on the door, his flat mate swiftly answers, invites me in and we wonder through to the living room/kitchen*.
*he stayed in student halls, so I am not attributing the cleaning issues or blame on him, but rather the flat as a collective. It was also a good few years ago.
Whilst I was walking down the hall I noticed I had to zig-zag to avoid some garbage bags that were sealed-but-scattered intermittently along the floor. Yet I reserved judgment; I don’t expect everybody to have the same cleaning standards I do – at the time I’d say excessively clean was an understatement. I sheepishly enter the room, bringing with me as much presence as a toothbrush in a bathroom, then I see him. He’s sitting there, looking what I’d call ‘trash-hot’, and immediately my desire to clean everything in sight is cast to the back of my mind. Until, a few minutes later, I walk over to the kitchen area to get a glass and realise there aren’t any clean dishes. Anywhere.
Stretched out before me was a worktop decorated with piles of unwashed dishes; a cursed land where Fairy liquid had seemingly been outlawed. It was like I’d entered an alternate universe where clean glasses no longer existed. Instead in their place were fog-stained tumblers that hosted various strains of bacterial life – which is ironic considering the kitchen was inhabitable, like the planet Mercury. Picking up a plate was the equivalent of lifting a rock and seeing life unexpectedly teeming below.
Note: before anyone goes off at me for this hysterical overreaction about this guy’s kitchen, take a moment and think about times you’ve been in that situation. If you haven’t, then you clearly have never lived in student halls. So, reserve judgment.
I continued to search the kitchen, adamant to find something that wasn’t laced with dirt, mould, or liquid of a questionable origin; but the more I looked the more horrified I became. There were mountains of pots stacked on top each other; dried noodles clinging to the sides of them like babies to their mother. There were blackened corners that even the bravest explorers wouldn’t dare venture to.
The surfaces had coats of an unknown gooey substance smeared across them, which felt like mucus to touch. Eating or drinking from any object in here was the hygiene equivalent of licking the inside of a public toilet bowl, one you’d find in those questionable petrol stations you stop at mid-journey. The kind you’d likely get murdered in if it was a horror movie – which, in my head, it was.
Eventually I managed to salvage a useable mug that read ‘best son’ on it and after boiling a kettle, which was located under a heap of dirty laundry, I washed it out until I deemed it usable.
A few drinks in and the urge to hose down and disinfect the entire kitchen was still there, just submerged slightly under vodka and coke. Eventually it was time to go out, and I forgot all about that befouled kitchen. I figured that since we’d agreed to spend the night together, we’d just go back to mine. An uncontaminated safe-haven. However, by the time 3:30 am came ticking around, I found myself seatbelted in the back of black cab once again on my way to his.
The moment I was ushered through the door I hurled myself into his bedroom, readying myself for another mess. But to my surprise it wasn’t that bad. A couple of dishes, some art supplies scattered around, an unmade bed…I could handle this.
As we were climbing into bed he asked if I wanted some water, an offer that I politely declined. Before we got a taxi back to his I’d went into a shop and got a litre of Highland Spring. I might be crazy, but I was prepared. The lights went out and I tried my hardest to settle, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the kitchen. The urge to clean felt like mites crawling through my veins. I couldn’t sleep, or focus; I started to panic about my surroundings and how clean they were. Then he started cuddling into me, but I lay there as lifeless as he was increasingly keen.
Now, I am not claiming to be the cleanliest person on the planet; there are undoubtedly people out there who do it better than me. My compulsion comes from the urge to clean it myself, to a standard I feel will satisfy me because I have personally done it.
About halfway through the ‘warm up’ he stops, looks at me, then says curiously: “You seem elsewhere?’ And truth be told, I was. I was elsewhere. I was in the kitchen attacking every surface with industrial strength bleach. In my mind I was fantasising about banishing the bacterial demons crawling over the surfaces to Hell from where they came. We finished, and he fell asleep immediately. I, on other the hand, tossed and turned repeatedly. Growing more anxious, flipping in and out of reality. Unable to sleep I surrendered and headed to the kitchen.
“I’ll just clean the living room area for him.” That’s how it started. “I may as well take all these bin bags downstairs” was the next stop. Then it was “I’ll just wipe the surfaces” then “I’ll give the doors a wash down” until eventually I snapped and decided to tackle the kitchen. Thankfully there was a healthy supply of cleaning products living under the sink, so I armed myself with Flash and got to work.
As anyone who harbours a slight compulsion for cleaning will tell you, once you start you can’t stop. It’s like before you begin cleaning, your flat is this self contained landscape; then when you start it divides into parts. Suddenly you have a gleaming, sparkling bathroom and then scream as the bedroom looks like shit.
An hour or so later, all the dishes had been washed. I also moved the heap unkempt clothes into the washing basket, scrubbed the surfaces with such vigour that my skin was so burnt and dry from bleach I could literally sand the floor with it (which came in handy cause I ran out of scourers.) Eventually, after literally being on my knees for an hour going at the floor, I was finished. A surge of relief washed over me, as I sat there reeking of cleaning products and sweat. I managed to transform the kitchen from a breeding ground for food poisoning, to an acceptable place to prepare meals. I then gathered my belongings and booked a taxi home.
Two days later he messages me, asking why I cleaned everything, and I said that I couldn’t sleep and tried to jokingly pass it off as a favour by saying ‘you’re welcome lol.’ LOL nah, I’m just a psychopath. Needless to say we didn’t really ‘date’ after that. Nor was invited over. I should have charged and sent him an invoice.