Story by Caroline Waterhouse | Courtesy photo
I don’t remember when it all started; it began as a routine then slowly turned into a silent prison.
The first memory I have of it was as a kid waking up in my pajamas in the morning. My clothes couldn’t touch anything but my skin and my bed. If the bottom of my pants grazed the bedroom floor, I had to throw them in the laundry hamper. I carefully hung them up, cautious that they did not touch anything but the wall hanger. Then, I put on my second set of clothes for the day. Socks, pants and a sweatshirt or shirt with sleeves. I wentwould go downstairs for breakfast. Even if it was hot, the long sleeves, pants, and socks hwould helped so I did not directly touch the kitchen seat, floor, or countertop. When I was finished I would go up and change into my outfit for the day. By nine in the morning, I already was already on outfit number three. Time and time again, my mom wasould be frustrated that I went through as much laundry as my brother, sister and dad combined every week. My mom and eventually my sister called me OCD, meaning Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Over the years, it became stronger and more than just an extra set of clothes for the day. It was the worst at night. After I finished getting ready for bed, I had to wash my hands, then turn the light off, then wash my hands again in the dark. If I decided not to wear socks, I had to jump a few feet from my bathroom to my bed. Wait. I forgot to turn off my bedroom light. I had to go turn that off, but then my hands had to be washed again. I went to my bathroom and washed my hands. Wait. That was not good enough. Wash them again. Wait. They are not clean. Wash them again. Wait. Wash. Wait. I only washed them four times; I needed it to be five. Why five? I do not know. However that fifth time they were not clean enough. After the sixth time, they were finally clean, but I went over five, now I have to get my number to ten. Shoot, I just bought this soap two days ago and now it almost empty. Mom will be mad.
“Stop being so OCD,” “you just cleaned your hands,” “you’re wasting products,” were all phrases I heard all the time. My brother and dad never really paid attention or worried about my OCD behavior, however, my mom, sister and grandma always corrected me. They told me how weird it was. They told me . I was ’m being too OCD.
I could go to school, hang out with friends, live a normal life and it would not be a problem. If someone sneezed across the room in class and didn’t cover their mouth, I would be paranoid that somehow those germs would drift over to me or that they would cover the door handle. Except that was not OCD to think like that, any normal person would think that is gross. I thought everyone else believed that too, it was not just myself.
When my mom constantly told me I was being freaky and OCD, she said I get it from my dad. She thought he was OCD too, always had to have everything in its place and order. He would tell me I was not OCD. It was just a term my mom used to describe my weird behavior. I did not see a problem with it. I knew she meant well and cared, but there was nothing wrong with it.
I told myself the issues were not serious because they did not affect my daily schedule. I was not like this in public or around friends. However sometimes if I had the urge to wash my hands, I would wait until I had the chance to go to a bathroom. I could not think about anything but washing my hands and would not want to touch anything else or I would have to clean that too.
I never saw a doctor to diagnose it; it was just a tendency I had to grow out of. As I got older, the pressure to keep up with it faded, but whenever I was stressed, the urge to clean became so strong it was hard to suppress. . Once I got to college and shopped for my own groceries and supplies, I discovered my love for cleaning items, especially Lysol. I loved spraying it in my dorm room, wiping everything down with Lysol wipes, and using hand sanitizer like a person uses air to breathe. I remember the first time I used a Lysol wipe to wash my hands. It seemed normal; after all, it was a cleaning supply. I was not stupid enough to handle food or somethingIt wasn’t ideal, but it worked in the moment.
It peeked when I was overly stressed or upset. If I became too stressed with school or classes, I would sit in my bathroom and wash my hands two times, three times, five times, then just waste 10 minutes cleaning my hands again and again. They are clean, they are clean, but I only washed them eight times, I just have two more to go. I would get so frustrated with how much it was taking over and consuming me. It was irritating because I thought it was something I struggled with as a child, but the anxiety of a test or strain to get somewhere on time could bring back all of those compulsive needs.
The key to controlling the obsessive , compulsive tendencies is to restrain myself from cleaning when it is not necessary. It is easier said then done, but not impossible. When I am overwhelmed with anxiety or stress I still binge on cleaning or organizing, but taking it step by step and day-by-day is what it takes. It is just the liking of being a little extra clean, but it is not a life controlling, holding me down disorder. It is a little flaw I have that occasionally holds me, but does not confine me. Not every issue has to be consuming some can be quite manageable. I am able to talk about it lightly and even see the humor in it; I mean I don’t even mind cleaning toilets.