The number of appliances that I have to un-plug before I leave for work is directly related to my level of stress. If I am, let’s say, coasting through a week wherein I have practiced yoga daily, checked in regularly with my therapist, um, best friend, my bills are paid if not on time then at least in a reasonably close approximation of “on time”, I only un-plug the coffee pot. After, of course, turning it off, looking at the “off” button in the “off” position, and then un-plugging it to make sure it’s off. That’s normal.
Now, let’s visit a week where I’m published on elephant journal (yay!). Also, my mother’s dog dies, causing my bulldog so much stress and anxiety that she breaks out in hives. She gets treated with lavender castile soap, Benadryl and colloidal oatmeal (whatever that is). Yeti, God rest her soul, decides to make her way out on the day we celebrate my mother’s birthday. My niece is present for both the grieving process and the advent of birthday cake in my six month old nephew’s life. It is a day of mixed emotions.
My mother receives one of those electronic picture frames. The kind that holds one thousand pictures and it shows a new image every ten or so seconds. It is loaded with great shots and also this thing makes a shrill humming sound when it is plugged in. This noise unnerves me. It’s like all the unspoken noise of Circuit City made manifest in my living room. As soon as mom goes to bed I un-plug it.
Upon waking she plugs it back in.
The pitch of it’s electronic slide-show wakes me from a deep sleep. I lay there and feel like a dog. I know how those ”silent” whistles feel now. As soon as my mother leaves, I un-plug the picture frame.
And the coffee pot as soon as I’m done with it after I make sure the “off” button is in the “off” position twelve or fifteen times. I un-plug the blow-dryer, the radio and the power strip in which my computer and two lamps are plugged. Before I get in the shower I make sure the little candle I light while I write is out not once but nine times.
Then I wash my hands before I get in the shower.
Oh, no, I’m in trouble.
My OCD is showing.
This is not new, but it’s something that I can control to a certain degree. For instance, I’ve left the house and I’m driving away; I get on the main road and think, “Did I lock the front door?” I remember putting the key in the dead-bolt and turning it. I think of the jingle in my hands as I walk to my car, unlock the door and get in. Now, once I ask myself if I locked the front door, the answer depends on how much else I have going on in my head.
If I am clear-headed, I think, “Of course the door is locked.” I laugh to myself and drive.
If I am in a deluge of stress my mind vibrates with all the possibilities inherent in me not having locked the door and I will, against all reason, turn around and drive home. I will park in front of the house, leave the keys in the ignition because I really and truly know I locked the door. I will get out of the car nonetheless and traverse the sidewalk to the front door. I push against the front door as I try to turn the handle that is, in fact, locked. Then I go get back in my car wondering what weird addiction to anxiety I am feeding and why I won’t leave my own self the hell alone.
Problem solving skills.
That’s what I think is happening.
I think that an obsessive mind has problem solving skills sharp as a scalpel with the precision of a highly trained neurosurgeon. Why, you might ask, when the common average non-obsessive personality might think this all sounds crazy as hell.
I think that the OCD keeps my conscious mind so wrapped up in its crazy thoughts that my brilliant sub-conscious mind is able to work behind the scenes and un-knot seemingly impossible tangles in the fabric of my life. OCD is like white noise for brilliance. I come to this conclusion because my OCD has been off the chain, forgive the term, but really. It’s been like someone let a team of velociraptors out of some long-buried cage and they’re tag-teaming my thought processes.
Those little bastards.
But let me tell you that during these escapades of thought that have me tap-tap-tapping the light switch in the living room so I can later refer back to the tapping to assure myself I did, in fact, turn it off, I have moments of inspiration that are worth the discomfort and inconvenience of having to drive home to make sure the door that is locked is really locked.
I mean, really good ideas rise to the surface like pantyhose in the top drawer you forgot you had. One minute there are socks and granny panties and then, suddenly, a pair of black silk flotsam lolling above a cotton abyss. It’s like God’s consolation prize to me for having been born so eccentric. Now, I can’t help but believe that having been given such a grand consolation prize as these silk stockings – um, ideas that are luminous and useable (if not always applicable to the situation at hand) then maybe my laser-like attention to detail is one of my greatest gifts.
Today, I’m obsessing over whether I turned the coffee pot off. Tomorrow I’m obsessing over every nuance of that manuscript that got me that book deal.
I’m just saying. If you’re in the same boat, make your OCD work for you, don’t work for your OCD.