Thursday, August 4, 2011

Loving My Big Personality But Living With Being Obsessive-Compulsive

Last week, my husband Jason and I were discussing an upcoming dinner party we were hosting.  I said we had a lot to do to prepare but, on that night, I was just going to come home from work and relax.  Jason said that, with my illness, it would be impossible since I don’t know how to relax.  We both laughed.

I admit that I have a tendency to be very detail-oriented, a bit anal, and over-all controlling about certain aspects of my life.

Jason and I always joke that I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but, after researching, I realize that is not my angst-filled malady. 

If I were to self-diagnose myself, I think Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) would be my stigma of choice.  And that one word – PERSONALITY – does indeed make a huge difference.

OCD is characterized by disturbing thoughts that cause uneasiness, apprehension, fear or worries in a person in which repetitive behaviors help reduce anxiety.  Extreme examples of this would be excessive washing and cleaning, hoarding, and nervous rituals like knocking and cutting.

I am happy to report that is not me.

However, according Wikipedia, OCPD is a personality disorder characterized by a persistent pattern and preoccupation (aka obsession) with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.

Yup, that sort of rings true.

The primary symptoms of OCPD can include fixation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts (bra, underwear, socks must ALWAYS be color coordinated along with the outfit - purse and shoes included), following rules and regulations (I have never received a speeding ticket in my life nor any other serious run-ins with the law [I am currently knocking on wood]), a compulsion to make lists and schedules (I have a daily To Do list for work as well as personal; also, I keep a monthly blog schedule, weekly menu, ongoing grocery list and the lists go on and on), as well as rigidity/inflexibility of beliefs and/or exhibition of perfectionism (“I do not leave the house looking simply adequate,” sadly a real quote that I actually said.  But anyone who has seen me at the grocery store without make-up knows this to be a lie).

I have never really put a label onto these things before, but my fixation with details, rules, lists, order, organization and schedules make me feel accomplished and I like to be in control of the things in my life.  There is so much in our modern society that is out of my control. So I feel good when I keep everything in my life orderly.

I am happy to report that I am grounded enough that these characterizations don’t limit me.  It certainly doesn’t hinder my relationships with family or cause any negativity with friends; I am not so rigid and stubborn and, on occasion, I even welcome impulsive behaviors or decisions.

I don’t really know when this behavior began. 

As a kid, there was nothing orderly or organized about me.  My bedroom would be a disaster and, when my mom would reprimand me to clean it; I would usually shove everything under the bed or in the closet. 

One time, after such a request, my mom and I were eating dinner when there was a huge crash that came from my bedroom.  Everything that I had shoved into my closet had actually knocked the door off the hinges and came tumbling down.  Not really a perfectionist then.

I think the on-set was when I was a teen-ager.  I got my first job working retail and became obsessed with fashion and always wanted an outfit to look just right.  I felt that I could conquer the day or even the world, if I had the right ensemble on from head to toe.

But even then, I still had issues with procrastination and laziness.  I mean, I was a teen-ager for God’s sake. 

I believe the true turning point was during my college years.  I started off with Junior College and a very relaxed attitude; by the time I transferred to my University, I began to realize that, in order to do well, I had to get myself organized.  Well, I was a little too busy having fun and dropped the ball.  Needless to say, my grades dropped too and I took a hiatus from school to go live and work in NYC. 

As I have posted before, after an exciting few years in the Big Apple, I realized the importance of a college education and vowed to never eat Top Ramen again.  I returned to my University and completed my degree -- even having to retake a few classes that I had bombed to over-ride my poor grades. 

It was then that I really started to get organized.  I always had a pink legal pad filled with lists of projects and assignments.  I spent long hours at school and worked very hard to get my grades back up.  In addition, I was working my internship as well as my bartending jobs.  Since this was like a small business to me, I had to be on top of these gigs as well.  Unless I was sick, there really wasn’t any down time.

I truly believe this was where my compulsive behavior began.  I always had to be in control because it helped to manage my expectations and I loved the positive results.

When I graduated from college, I spent a few weeks in New Mexico with my mom. I already had that restlessness and inability to relax, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is today.

Once I became a mom, I really crossed over to the point of no return.  I still have my son's Baby Tracker book in which I kept very detailed notes on Shane’s feedings, sleeping and pooping.  Once he got older, it wasn’t necessarily those things that I continued to monitor, but I did know how many hours he slept – did he get a nap or did he need a nap.  But I don’t think I’m alone. 

I think “Motherhood” does that to us women – and some men too.  We just love those little guys and gals so much that, to be in control of their every dirty diaper and nap, just gives folks a little comfort.

Today, keeping up with a 6-year-old who is full of vim and vigor, with both of us working, a busy social life and a household to run, it is very hard to ever by idle.  Truthfully, I feel like I go 100 mph everyday and don't know any other way to be.  Also,I feel that if I don’t keep up with the schedule and organization, there will be a cog in the wheel and the whole wagon will fall apart.

But, my disorder does have its benefits.  Presently, I work as an executive assistant so organizing and scheduling is a big part of my day.  I get a great deal of satisfaction doing this kind of work and the feedback is positive.  And I think I'm actually pretty good at it. It is never really the same day twice, but my job is mostly routine, which is is what I love about it. 

Also, I feel that my obsessive planning has helped me to become an accomplished long distance runner.  I love preparing for half-marathons and calculating how many miles I need to log in a week to prepare for those runs of endurance.  

I think that the rules and order in my life have helped me.  There are times when the house is messy or things are not going the way I anticipate, and I do freak out.  But, I believe that I am very in tune with myself and – for the most part – highly functioning.  I like to use my OCPD traits to my advantage; however, my husband will be the first to tell you that I am not nearly as organized as I "think" I am.

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