Monday, July 1, 2013

Less OCD -- And Happier

I’ve become a lot less OCD since getting married. In truth, the journey away from hyper-organized to less-stressed started during college, but getting married has done some amazing work towards teaching me to relax.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a minimalist/organizer by nature. My husband has heard a hundred times the story of me waiting until my parents had put me to bed and left the vicinity before getting up to sneakily put away all the toys and make sure everything went in its proper place. Or the time when, out of love for my mom, I decided to dust, vacuum, and clean every room I could get to before she got home so I could surprise her (I didn’t tell her, either, I let her figure it out). I don’t think I was a normal child…

But in college I had roommates, and they fell on both sides of The Line. I have encountered now multiple people who don’t like to have a designated wipe-the-kitchen-counter cloth because of germs: a new type of cleanliness I had never been privy to before. (I was always a proponent to the designated cloth because, besides being eco-friendly, it is simple, organized, planned…it means there is something Set Aside. It’s how my mind works.) But besides paper-towel-and-lysol users, I’ve encountered “the counter is dirty?” people too.

Oh, there were difficulties. In the end, we settled for some semblance of compromise between my disgusting standards for neatness and others’ happy sloppiness. The compromises were hard, but, well, necessary. I had to. And I learned to live with it. Little did I know that the compromises I was slowly progressing to make (the dirtiest apartment of all came last, like God was building up my fortitude) were changing me.

Then, a year ago, something happened that made me realize how far I’d come and how permanent the changes were: I disorganized my sock and underwear drawers.

You have no idea how big this was. I have organized my socks and underwear for as long as I have memory. All my compromises until then were in areas of communal interest, like the kitchen table or the living room floor. (I set up a “lost and found” basket so I could put people’s floor-strewn items somewhere when I cleaned up; but I learned to accept a messy table and only shifted stuff enough to make room for my plate.) This was different: it was my personal space, and it was disorganized.

I have folded my underwear a particular way, pointing a particular direction, in the exact same order. Every time. Every laundry cycle. For years. Socks were stacked in order, with the most-recently-worn in the back so I would cycle through them all evenly. Every time I did laundry, I would wrack my brain to remember what order I had worn the socks in, stack them accordingly, and put them at the bottom of the stack in the drawer.

Do you relate at all? I’ve heard everybody has a tiny bit of OCD in them, at least as kids: someone theorized that there’s actually a period of brain development during mid-childhood where we become OCD about one or two things. I remember always retracing my steps as though there were an invisible thread tying me to my place of origin (my bed, where I got up every morning) and I had to keep it untangled. If I entered the kitchen from the west, I couldn’t exit from the north; I had to take the long way around and exit the way I came, or else I would be tangled around the kitchen wall.

I have always become fixated at crooked objects or imperfect distances. If there are three pictures on a wall, two grouped and another farther away, I will calculate whether the distances are a nice round fraction (e.g. the third frame is three times as far from the other two as they are from each other), I would fix it in my head—replace the objects so that they are Perfect. And I would hold that mental image. Just...holding. This is how I went through many a book-on-tape and many a conversation (little did the other person know!).

It’s the same with driving. I would constantly mentally calculate the exact center of my lane and try to keep my car exactly centered on that invisible line. Always. If I wasn’t on the line, I fixed the problem. The whole point of obsessive-compulsive disorder is that it’s a compulsion. I didn’t try to make things perfect: I had to. And I did. Exactly. Always.

The other day I was driving down the I-80 and realized that I still haven’t figured out where the center of my car nose is, even after having it for 2 years. I only approximate where my car is centered (and since it’s so tiny, that’s fine). Then I remembered how I used to always constantly keep track of the exact middle of the lane and keep my car there. With a start, I realized I haven’t done that in a while. In fact, my skills at immediately knowing where the middle of the lane is, even when there are crossing road seams, debris, worn tire treads in the asphalt, or faded lines, has waned. I can approximate. But…I don’t really care.

What? What’s happening to me? Is this what it’s like to be normal? How do people survive like this? You really don't care?

The truth is, my life is less organized now. I can handle more clutter. Granted, hubby and I dreamed up a number of schemes before we were even married as to how to handle his clutter. (Understand: I have a very neat husband. His greatest sin is forgetting to make the bed some days, and often that’s because he knows I’ll just come along and straighten it. He’s clean. I’m just fanatical.) We had a walk-in closet, and I made this his closet/personal space so he could throw a dirty shirt on the floor now and then and I wouldn’t freak out, because that was his space. You learn how to mentally wall of Theirs and Mine when you have roommate, so this was no problem.

But the truth is, sometimes the bed is imperfect and I don’t fix it. Clothes might be on the floor of the bedroom, and I’ll give it 12-24 hours before I bother to put them in the hamper (by which point they usually make their way there anyway…I told you, he’s a clean guy). I didn’t touch the paper piles on his desk except to move them out of the way of the mouse. I cleaned the counters every other day instead of twice a day. And my underwear and socks are still just in piles in their drawers, and I--gasp--don’t wear them in the same order every week; I actually pick out whatever color I feel in the mood for!

This is the new me: the me that can handle a little mess, trusts the hubby to handle details, and doesn’t bother to pack every possible thing we could need. I don’t keep a schedule unless I know I’ll forget something. The only daily routines I keep are reading my Bible every morning and shampooing/shaving/etc. in the same order in the shower (otherwise I forget if I’ve done everything and walk out with one leg unshaved). I don’t always plan ahead, and even more, I’ve been able to laugh when things went totally against the plan! (Like our Moving Saga…a blog post is coming on that one!)

How did all this happen? Three reasons:

1) The starting step was learning that I can survive compromise. I also learned that fostering goodwill and happy relationships with other people is worth a little clutter and disorganization. Having roommates and co-leading things at church has taught me what specific things I do that tend to be stressful or irritating to others, especially people I live or work with. These were the starting-off steps and beliefs that helped me realize I needed to lighten up.

2) I learned to trust God more with the things I can’t control and with the things I think I can control but cause me lots of stress to do so. This was a result simply of me and God getting closer (partially the passage of time, partially concerted effort). As our relationship deepened, so did my inner trust that he’s not out there to get me, but that he’s actually rooting for me and helping me out. Seeing God’s plans in action and that they always work out has helped me to trust and not try to control everything so much. Control is an idol I hold to tightly, the thing that I think will save me and spare me discomfort, hassle, and difficulty. I've learned to worship the true God and walk hand-in-hand with him through the stressful things of life.

3) I married a man whom I trusted and could continue learning to trust. I have a lot of respect for his character and have seen enough to know he loves me crazily. Thus, with God’s help, I’ve learned to relax so much and let hubby take care of things. And he’s so good at it! He doesn’t stress out about a lot of the things I do; in fact, the most stressful thing for him is having to deal with me freaking out. A friend pointed out that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t know how to relax; I need others to help me "turn off." Happily, hubby is that helper: he's the opposite of me--extremely even-keeled. Together, we are able to have a lot of fun because I pour in all my boisterous, silly energy and he furnishes the confidence, faith, and "who cares?" attitude.

If you’re the stresser and you’re married to/one day marry someone who is not, you should celebrate! Let the non-stresser handle finances, bills, etc. if that works for you. I am organized and enjoy doing the finances, but we’ve found that we both are less stressed when he does it and that this allows both of us, in our separate ways, to better trust God to provide. From dates to cooking to shopping to...well, anything, I've learned how to not be in charge. Sometimes I still am, of course. I'm the designated housekeeper of sorts. But I've learned now how to turn off and let others be in control, and let it be.

May OCD people everywhere learn to relax! It is a fantastic way to live. And if you know someone who is OCD, please be nice to them. :-)