I’m not meticulously neat, and I have no fear of germs or contamination. I’m probably the messiest person you know. I have paint on my glasses and under my fingernails. I’m a constant cloud of clutter and absentmindnedness.
I’m not buttoned-up Mister Monk, and I’m not not-a-hair-out-of-place Doctor Sheldon Cooper. I forget to brush my hair. I’ll go days without looking in the mirror. I don’t have strict schedules. I don’t go around straightening crooked items. My OCD doesn’t give me crime solving superpowers, and it isn’t cinematic… it doesn’t look good on a screen.
I used to count when I was younger. Count everything, compulsively. Count pieces of popcorn I ate, steps I took, I don’t do that anymore. The ongoing mythos in my family is that I took a test for ADD and counted the number I got wrong, and I was off by one because I started counting late. The day I was diagnosed with very mild ADD I was also diagnosed with not-so-mild OCD.
I don’t wash my hands until I bleed. I repeat because things don’t feel right.
When I was a kid I wouldn’t turn in my homework… it would be crumpled up in the bottom of my backpack. I’d do my homework. All of it. Always. But I wouldn’t turn it in (in part) because it didn’t feel right. Even if it was just a participation or completion grade. They had to have a parent/teacher conference because I was failing. Not because I didn’t understand the material, but because I didn’t turn in my work. I did the work, there was no point in proving it.
We tried folders and binders, we tried every organizational tip under the sun, but I always reverted back to shoving everything in the bag. When it comes to organization, my brain just isn’t wired for it. I try. It isn’t because I’m lazy or stupid. I’ve spent decades trying to put the jumble of my life in order, but it always ends up the same way, gravity pulling me down out of orbit.
96% isn’t acceptable from me. If I can redo it, I will, until it’s perfect. I once got over 100 in a statistics class because (on top of extra credit) the quizzes were online and I’d have to redo them, sometimes a dozen times, until they were 100%. Missing one question meant I had to start over. Which would be useful, except I can’t stop.
The moment I turn in a manuscript I immediately think of jokes I should’ve made, small wording changes that are necessary, if I talk about this man humming here and here that sets up the fact that he mentions music later, just endless streams of useless minutia that no one will notice but me. I’ve submitted the same manuscript fourteen times and I know I’ll never get it right. Because no matter how perfect I think it is, when I push that button I have to fix it all over again. It doesn’t feel right. It feels like I left the stove on, it feels like that gutwrenching panic of losing sight of your kid in a grocery store. I’m Bill Murray waking up in the bed and breakfast, listening to the clock radio play I Got You Babe for the eight-hundred and forty-first time.
They call it perfectionism that interferes with task completion. Except I complete it. I just have to recomplete it.
I hoard. It’s not I’m-stuck-behind-thirty-piles-of-newspaper bad, but it’s bad. I have homework from college, I have phone numbers from people I’ve forgotten scrawled on napkins, I have books I borrowed from people I’ve lost touch with, I have candy wrappers from Japan, I have tiny wallet-sized photographs from friends I don’t remember. I don’t want to lose track, I don’t want to forget.
And it doesn’t feel better or freeing or cathartic to get rid of any of it. It repeats in my mind, like counting sheep, the silver angel statue with the round face I wish I’d kept, the red dress with the little white bicycles on it, the burgundy pants with the rip in the knee and the missing button. The white dress with the big blue flowers like watercolor splotches. The textbooks with the worn spines. Repeating like variations on the same theme, like a factory that pumps out anxieties on a conveyor belt, a constant loop.
Taking photos of the stuff doesn’t make it easier. Knowing they’ll go to a good home doesn’t make it easier. Even knowing that I have to or else I’m getting kicked out doesn’t make it easier. It feels like a black hole in my stomach, like sinking into quicksand. The things around me, my collections, don’t feel like items. They feel like part of me. They feel like parts of my body that I’m being forced to excise and send away. The things themselves feel burdensome, the way that my body feels burdensome, too clumsy, too much, but I can’t downsize any more than I can amputate. Except I have to, I don’t have a choice. There’s not a word for how bad it feels that doesn’t come off like a maudlin metaphor. There’s no way to explain that this pile of wrinkled papers feels like recycling my hand. Getting rid of this box of seashells feels like I’m being told I have to send away my lung. It isn’t out of sight out of mind. It stays in my mind. Instead of cluttering my room it clutters my brain… all the things I’m forced to part with.
Groundhog Day. There are books I need to read, bags I need to sew, hats I need to knit, tiny birdcages I need to unglitter, bookends I need to repaint, clutter on every flat surface.
I have rules I have to follow. Stupid rules. If I do certain things (with no logical basis) I’ll be being ‘bad.’ Not that I think anyone else is bad for doing the same things. I’m just bad. I’m bad if I have a sip of alcohol (no reason, I’m almost thirty and I have no problem with people drinking). Back when I was in school, I couldn’t miss a class, I never skipped. If I did, it would be because I’m bad, though I didn’t feel that way about my friends who overslept or needed mental health days or just didn’t feel like it. I only missed a single lecture in college, and that was because I had a root canal the day before, and I walked to class anyway because I didn’t want to miss anything. A friend made me go back to my dorm again.
I do have a spot that I need to sit in. Not that I’ll fuss at anyone if they sit in my spot… I just wouldn’t know where to go. I’d quietly panic, and stand there, until someone said, “Sit by me.”
If I make a mistake and we get in a fight I don’t understand that you need space. I say I understand, but I don’t. I need to fix it immediately. I need to clarify. I will talk about it incessantly if you let me. I know logically that you need space, but the concept of needing space in conflict is as foreign to me as requesting a white plastic spork, a kitten, a frozen waffle, and a tube of tennis balls in the middle of an argument. Because I’ll keep thinking about it, forever, until the situation is resolved. I’ll play it over and over again. I’ll decide you must hate me. You’ll never talk to me again. I’m a very bad person. The soundtrack to my life is every mistake I’ve ever made.
I’d rather be in an uncomfortable, even miserable situation than risk change, even a positive change. I don’t like making small decisions. I eat the same thing at every restaurant I go to. I need to have subtitles on shows I watch because I need to know what they’re saying, all the time. I’ll rewind if I miss a word or a detail, I’ll pause to read the fake newspaper article or sticky note on a side-character’s desk, and if the handwriting is too bad to read I’ll still try for way too long, and, at my worst, I’ll look up transcripts of the shows or movies and read them later. I don’t like leading the way if I’m walking in a group. I don’t like crossing major streets alone… I’ll wait until there are no cars in sight.
Groundhog Day. A constant loop of repeating. Of not being able to let go. Of again, and again, and again, and again. An encore for a show I don’t want to watch anymore.
I scratch and pick at my skin and my scalp. It gets worse when I’m stressed. If I see an imperfection, I have to get rid of it. Ironically, I have scars because I do that. Not because I want to harm myself, but because I have to. I pick at the cuticles of my thumbs, press at them with my fingers, and I’ve done it since elementary school. I’ve done it for so long that my thumbnails grow damaged and ridged, but if I think about it I have to do it. Not I-want-to-do-it. I have to. It feels like an itch under my skin until I do.
I’ve reread this post thirty times and will probably reread it thirty more before I push submit.
Groundhog Day, but I can’t get out of the loop. Groundhog Day, but the credits never roll.