Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I Was OCD When OCD Wasn't Cool

Once upon a time, ADD was the disorder of the day. Then along came ADHD, then panic attacks and then a wide spectrum of stress disorders. Now it seems that OCD trumps them all, and all I can say is "FINALLY." The street cred we deserve. But don't be jumping on our bandwagon and trying to be all OCD. We don't accept just ANYbody.

OCD is not one of those unfortunate disorders that leaves everyone saying, "Bless his heart," or "Is she on medication?" Instead, it's one of those rare conditions that has friends and family saying, "Hey, watch this. You won't believe it." And then they throw an OCD sufferer some sort of weird curve and watch the chips fall. Or watch the sufferer's face turn red before his brain explodes. Properly executed, it can be great fun. I can dish it out myself, but no, I can't take it.

My son is a textbook example of an OCD case. He cuts tags off new purchases and stacks the tags in a particular corner of his desk, where they remain for weeks. If I move them or, when I'm feeling bold, THROW THEM IN THE TRASH, a mushroom cloud forms in his bedroom, and we all pay a price.

He could carry out his morning and evening routines wearing a blindfold. He will wash his sister's hubcaps not out of love or servitude, but out of a general distaste for filthy hubcaps. At the grocery store, while he is two aisles away, I'll pick up a gallon of pulp-free orange juice without added calcium, place it in the cart and wait for the bomb to go off.

On a Friday night three years ago, while dining at Chick-fil-A, he and I compiled a List of Words That You Can Type On One Hand Without Leaving the Home Key Position. For example, "million" is a right-hand word; "wear" is a left-hand word. I think it was when we moved to alternating keys that the rest of the family, including my husband, left for the indoor playground. ("Alternating keys" requires letters to alternate from left to right in the home key position; for example, "auto," "wish," "chairman," etc. Of course, you must start on the left. No words can begin on the right because that would be imbalanced.)

My sister is a Ph.D. and does something with counseling that I don't understand, considers my disorder annoying but manageable, but has volunteered (way too many times), "Amy, please let me test him," typically after he has done something so clearly off-the-chart compulsive. And I always answer, "Why confirm what we already know?"

Best I can tell, OCD presents itself in many forms. At last weekend's BOW event, my roommate, Kellie, confessed that when she is engaged in a conversation, she silently taps or drums words the other person is speaking. And the total number of words must end on an even number. For example, that last sentence is a good one because it ends on an even number -- "and they must end on an even number (8)." And then she asked, "Do you think that's weird?"

"Weird? Heck, no! I'm relieved! I've been doing the same thing since I was about 8 years old, only I do it with syllables and in sets of fours." I explained that I visualize a square that has no lines but four corners marked by heavy dots. A spoken sentence -- never a written sentence; that would be weird and distracting -- is begun in the upper lefthand corner and counted off syllabically clockwise, ending in the bottom lefthand corner, thereby making a complete lap around the square. For example, if you were to say to me, "Amy, I count off words to end in an even number," I would say (to myself), "I'm sorry, you'll have to add two more syllables to make that sentence divisible by four." And usually, I've stored the content of your statement on a delay and can go back and pick it up in a few seconds so that we can carry on with our discussion, and you'll never know that I'm dissecting and editing your sentence to make it fit the square. But until then, I'm adding or deleting syllables so that the sentence works for me. In this particular case, simply omitting "Amy" solves all the problems: "I count off words to end in an even number." Not only does the total number of words in the sentence end on an even note (good for Kellie), but the syllables are now in in three sets of four (good for Amy), or a nice grouping of 12. Again, syllabically is the way to go. It's a cadence thing.

Or, "Know that this is a cadence thing (8 syllables)."