As someone from the outside, knowing only that I have OCD, my guess is you’ll have made some assumptions about me and my lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with this, no human can take in all the nuances of every other human, and we all use stereotypes based on the amount we know about the classification of the other person. I do this too, you do this, we all do.
As well, I’d assume you probably don’t know much about OCD1 and most specifically my OCD. Again, that is perfectly fine—how could everyone know everything about every disorder of the brain?
All of this is being said because I’d like to let you in on something that is a characteristic of me—and it could be of others with OCD—that is quite the affront to the stereotypical OCD. Some dirt and mess are perfectly ok. Now, for starters, your stereotyping of me pretty much got me right—that is to say, I feel almost all dirt and mess is not ok. However, my brain can classify certain types of disarray and muck as perfectly fine. It does not get my compulsions to clean it riled up at all.
I’ll also caveat this characteristic as one I’ve only gone as far as knowing I have. I do not know if this is the case with others with OCD. I am sure it is, for some—but I’m not going to speak for them.
A table with sticky dirt on it—food, remnants of a drink, or other—let’s just say—gross stuff on it is wrong. That needs to be cleaned. With bleach most likely, at the very least with something stronger than soap and water. A cleaning product. I believe in them, I don’t care what you say. I have a toolkit with all of them.
At the same time, I have absolutely no issue with dust! I do not consider dust to be “dirt.” Most of my shelves are dusty because I don’t dust them often. And when I do it is honestly out of sheer boredom—because any cleaning is a good way to pass time and get my energy up. Now, I will say I do not want dust on my clothes, and I organize my clothes on my hardwood office floor. Therefore I dust that, begrudgingly. And for me to consider any type of cleaning “begrudging” is saying something!
I have a chair that I sit in to watch television. It is a very comfortable chair. I believe it is leather or some variation of that2. We also have a cat in our house, and there was a time the cat had a hankering for the chair (it since understands it is mine.) The cat would puncture some pretty big holes and create some fairly noticeable scratches on my chair. This triggered my OCD big time—I needed to purchase a marker-based repair system that I modified myself to make these holes and scratches not noticeable.
However, after years of using the chair, I have personally torn and faded away massive swaths of said chair. It is noticeable from rooms away. The chair is not, by any means, “slightly used.” Oh, it is used. But because my own body created this—I’ll call it a patina—I have no issue with it at all! In fact, I like it. This is the same chair that my sense of perfection was triggered in a very obsessive way with near-microscopic holes. Now I don’t mind feet-long rips of the material that I caused. Because this dirt is ok.
So what does this all mean?
For me, the one thing it does not mean is that I should find a way to take this acceptance of some types of dirt and foray it into a solution for my OCD in general. Why not? That seems perfect3! Well, the reason being that my OCD is triggered by a part of my brain I cannot control. I have tried. I have tried reasoning with it just like here in this paragraph. No go! It knows what to get hyped up about and what to care less about. I am forced to just go with it.
But this does mean something indeed to me and my OCD. It goes back to the debate on the whole concept of disorders. Am I a totally equal and unique person like everyone else, or do I have an illness? I would say the fact that I can accept some dirt and mess perfectly fine, while others will create an actual medical condition inside my brain—a real panic attack—leads me to believe I actually have an illness4.
Because why else can I viscerally not accept most grime and muck?
I have a disorder that requires everything around me to be orderly and perfect. Except when it doesn’t. And that is me, and that is my brain- two distinct entities often at war with each other.
1 The fact that you’re reading my site, or at least just this article aside. I’m talking about as typical of a person as possible. [BACK]
2 As someone who is by far not much of a consumer, I honestly don’t know if something is leather, vinyl, or some other type of material. I don’t know these things. And the chair was given to me. [BACK]
3 I am asking and answering questions for you. That is annoying, I know. [BACK]
4 I’d also say the fact that medication for OCD—no matter how long it took me to find the right combination—works is another. [BACK]