The Mental Perfection Achieved by Washing Dishes

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A life with OCD is a life of relentless chaos. I live a simple life on the surface, but what goes on in my brain is akin to an out-of-control computer trying to analyze how things are supposed to fit, and what I need to do to get them to fit. “Fit” is an amorphous concept here, I only find nuggets of the destination of “right,” and I am happy at the rare occasions that I can compartmentalize all of the items that make up a situation, eventuality, or placement of objects into what my brain deems a “fit.”

I live in this chaos when thinking about extremely stressful situations all the same as when I think of what others consider the simple and “every day.” My drinking water is chaos as much as business taxes are.

That being said, there is one thing that always works and produces “fit” on a predictable timeline. It is my solace. It is one of the few things that gives me absolute and complete comfort. And that is washing dishes. Which I do by hand, every day at around the same time.

For starters, it is a project I can dive right into. When one has OCD, diving into any project—even things that I should know to the level of rote—requires me to think of every possible way said project can go wrong by me. That is to say: I am not afraid so much of messing it up in everyone else’s eyes, but rather it not producing perfection in my eyes. This is why things get kicked down my calendar more often than they get marked as done.

Washing dishes has a very defined endgame. The dishes are washed. Anything on the dishes that should not be there is removed. The tools used are the same every time, and they work perfectly1. The entire destination—which is more important than the journey—is known, and known that it will be achieved.

It is a productive task. It is something that needs to be done. So unlike a lot of mechanisms I use to soothe my OCD, it has a real bearing on my life and the life of those around me. A profound bearing? Well, not really—but if we had nothing but dirty dishes, no one would be happy, right? I like making people happy. Especially since I know I do the opposite more often than not with my OCD episodes. This is one area where I can tip the scales a bit from that constant negativity.

Oh, on happiness: the sight of dirty dishes is a sign that I am depressed. Always. I may or may not be depressed. I’ve been known to skip doing the dishes when I am depressed, but dirty dishes do exist at the end of every good day and every bad day—and are there at the beginning of every day regardless of the mood I start the day in. Regardless, their existence depresses me. But I can fix that! I actually trust I can. I have very little trust in myself, but this is one area where I trust myself near one-hundred percent.

Every clean dish has a place. It is wonderful. It is the same place as yesterday for the most part. The dishes may be different, but once cleaned they always “fit.” I’ve mastered any sort of level of dirt and grime. No, I’m not going to make a soap opera commercial out of this—as this is a mental exercise. I really don’t care if things are lemony-fresh and other such nonsense.

I care about exercising my brain by doing something that works perfectly with my OCD. That is absolutely rare—washing dishes may be the only thing that works perfectly by my thought process. Thus, it is exercise.

And for one short moment, when everything is cleaned in this specific area—I am fulfilled.

No one has any idea the mental process I put into washing dishes. But I would always tell them, and really anyone I like: I would wash your dishes for you if you ever wanted me to.

1 That took some weeks to get right. [BACK]