Obsessively, Compulsively Diagnosed

Photo by Yan Ots on Unsplash

“You’re so OCD,” my friends joke as I set my pen neatly next my journal. The colors of my book bag match my earrings, and my hair is neatly pulled up into a ballerina bun.

I get home and the jar where I collect my change is near the edge of my dresser — my sister. She’s either stolen more quarters or purposely moved it, just to bug me.

“OCD,” is what my teacher says to my parents. He writes a note that they can give to a doctor to examine me. At 14 years old, there’s no way I should be this concerned with neatness. The doctor agrees so he writes me a script, and when we get home, I throw the paper in the garbage.

I started showing “signs” at 5 years old.

My mom was a teacher, and I was obsessed with her desk at home. Everything was color coded, her journals neatly stacked up, never a speck of dust on it. I used to come home from school and borrow it. I would organize my homework by due date and difficulty, and only once I finished, I would have dinner. Her classrooms were always beautiful. She painted a lot of the artwork she hung up and used in her lessons. My dad, an engineer, always had favorite fine-point pens, and he used graph paper for regular notes.

I was trained to like order.

My sister, on the opposite hand, thrives in chaos. It’s a skill I’m often envious of, because she can improvise under any circumstance. Throw her any dagger and she somehow has a solution. This also meant that sharing rooms at some point just didn’t work anymore. She is the creative brain in our family, the sentimental heart, the free-spirit, and living within the lines just isn't for her. She loved that I would fold her laundry when I was out of things to do.

When we finally had separate rooms, she would sneak in to move things by about an inch over. I couldn’t find a way to get back at her, because very few things bothered her as much as this bothered me. Although we grew up in the same household, she was trained to defy order.

Waking up at 5:30am everyday was my norm. I started off every morning stretching, dancing, then mediating after. My sister would wake up and kick me out of the bathroom. “You take too long,” she’d tease me, knowing that I had the same routine everyday. On the weekends, she’d suddenly announce she was going here or there, and it was my turn to raise an eyebrow — how in the hell are you okay with going without a plan?

To this day, she up and leaves, while I take months to plan out a 3-day trip. The Delta wing of the airport is her second home.

Truth is, I don’t like being bound by rules, not even (and especially by) the imaginary ones my brain makes up. Obsessive Compulsion is a cage, and it tells you how to live, where to live, and what to avoid. My solution to fighting off this need for “order” was to use it to my advantage instead.

For example when the “obsession” with order threatened to become germophobia (thank you for the scars, high school Biology) I decided to take it head on. I signed up to volunteer at the Zoo, and it was gross. I collected more goat poop that I ever wanted to be around in my life. My shifts usually included sticky children touching me, rodents landing on me, and going off site to clean up streams full of garbage. I was grossed out, but I was happy. My obsession with order helped when I realized it was not “orderly” to be afraid to live.

I have also turned this into a career skill. I can organize meetings, handle details, play with numbers, and can tackle large and small projects. I have a Certificate in Financial Management from Cornell University, which isn’t my passion, but I’m damn good at it. I make a living off of this.

Most importantly, I use it to create the spaces I need for my own comfort. I always ask myself, “Is it useful? Does it bring you beauty? Does it bring you joy?” If the answer is no, it’s not worth keeping around. I have an unshakable dedication to my own comfort in this often uncomfortable world. If I don’t protect myself, who will?

So maybe, yes, I am technically OCD. Imagine what would have become of me if I had been medicated instead of finding ways to cope. I’m not anti-medication, I take it for depression and other conditions. I just wonder how many times we diagnose away things that can be overcome, that are sometimes just quirks. What if I had never learned to turn it on its head? Whom would I even be?

Now there’s a show about tyding up, and I find myself giggling at the awakening it has brought people. I am filled with joy at the way it has charmed people into taking control of their lives, and overcoming what sometimes feel like impossible tasks.

I jokingly asked on Facebook, “Where’s my Netflix contract!?” The truth is, I already have received contracts, I’ve already started reaping the rewards. That’s the best part of it all — what was once a limit, is now what propels me forward.