March 12, 2024

Living with the “Monica Geller” Within: Navigating my Decade-Long Journey with OCD.

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I didn’t realize I had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for a long time.

I knew I liked cleanliness and order. But I didn’t realize how much I liked them and how much others were not as enthralled by them as I was when I realized that something else was up with me.

The Mayo Clinic defines OCD as “a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears known as obsessions. These obsessions lead you to do repetitive behaviors, also called compulsions. These obsessions and compulsions get in the way of daily activities and cause a lot of distress.”

It was probably a decade ago that I realized certain aspects of the minutiae of life drove me nuts. But those same things didn’t bother those around me.

Dusty shelves. Tilted picture frames. Remnants of leftover food stuck in the washbasin sink. An almost-empty toothpaste tube with the paste unevenly distributed inside.

And clutter. Oh so much clutter.

Yep, that was the inner Monica Geller in me coming out in full force.

For years, I did not understand why these things (the veritable tip of the iceberg) and so much more drove me up the wall. I would constantly wonder about the dusty shelves in my friends’ homes. The bits of tomato and onion and rice caught in the steel drain that folks never cleaned out. Hair caught in shower drains or left behind in hair brushes. The remnants of soap scum left on one corner of a shower stall. (If the entire stall was covered with soap scum, the uniformity of that was okay. It was when people would do a half-ass job and wouldn’t clean it all the way that would bug the crap out of me.)

I can go on and on and on.

I did my part in trying to put things right. To calm myself. If I thought I could get away with it, I would clean out that little bit of soap scum in the shower stall. I would use a paper napkin and scoop out the gooey hair stuck in the shower stall and trash it. I would always make sure that tilted photo frames on walls were duly straightened.

Not everyone liked me doing that though, and I found that out the hard way. What was me just taking care of my OCD behavior was oftentimes interpreted (and rightfully so) as me showing off how clean and neat I am. I’ve had friends tell me to back the f*ck off when they caught me surreptitiously cleaning their hair brush (okay…I went too far then!). And this one time my friend literally snatched the garden hose from my hands as I used it to hose down the wet, muddy footprints their dog left behind on the front porch after a heavy bout of rain.

Yes. That happened.

Friends often ask me why I behave the way I do, as in they want to know what happens that makes me do these things. I’ve never been to a doctor or taken medication for this—all I know is that I start obsessing over that stain on the dining table that only I can see. Or constantly wonder why my friend just will not snip off the random thread hanging from her left sleeve. I don’t spiral out of control or anything, but I do obsess over those tiny details that would completely pass by others.

Because, for most people, these details are not out of the ordinary.

But, for me, they are.

Over time, I’ve learned to control my impulses. My mind still spins out of control and I think and worry and obsess. But I try to actively calm down, and with time (typically, a few minutes), the instinct goes away. At least temporarily.

Another aspect of my OCD behavior is my desperate need for order. I don’t like anything out of place. In my own home, I make sure everything is always put back where it is supposed to be. But when I travel and stay with friends and family, that doesn’t happen. I’ve stayed in places where the home itself is lovely but the décor is such that to my OCD mind there is just too much going on. The interior design may be one step away from outstanding but there is so much stuff. Or things are on the opposite end of the spectrum: there is no design element and things are just thrown together haphazardly.

When people come to my home, they always worry that they will spoil my place since I’m so anal about being organized. I completely understand that. Most people feel uncomfortable with so much order and worry they’ll mess things up. They probably will—and often do—but I get that. That’s why when people come over, I go out of my way to make sure to put them at ease and reassure them that they’re not in some museum.

One of the best icebreakers is when I sit on my couch, pull the coffee table closer, and set my legs over it. That sets the mood for the rest of the day. And the weird thing is, when people come over and are normal (which to my OCD eyes typically would feel messy), I’m okay with it. I guess the fact that we are in my space has something to do with it. I also get a perverse sense of pleasure when I encourage family and friends to make as much of a mess as they want to.

Because, deep down, I know the insane pleasure I will feel when I get to clean the mess and return every big and small thing to its rightful place. I try to be as normal as I can so friends and family feel comfortable in my space, but the second they leave I run through the house with a dirt rag and broom and vacuum cleaner and clean everything from top to bottom and put away everything where it belongs.

In case you have visions of my house being a spectacularly beautiful and amazingly designed home, nothing could be further from the truth. Everything is at least a decade old and looks a decade old. Most of the stuff I own is hand-me-downs from others. So, no, nothing is remotely unique or a conversation piece.

What there is, however, is cleanliness, with everything in its place and aesthetically arranged. Enough so that most people who visit do comment, “Your home is beautiful, Roopa!”

And, that—to my OCD mind—calms me and gives me more pleasure than anything else.

How about you? Do you connect with any of the behaviors above? Do let me know in the comments!



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