I have always been an anxious person. Whenever my mother would get angry or upset, I would follow her around the house until she was happy again. Let me tell you, it usually had the opposite effect. However, the year I turned seven, my anxiety hit a new high that carried through into my college years. In that year alone, a high schooler in the community died suddenly, my uncle committed suicide, a whole family in the neighborhood died in a house fire, and life in general just got turned up on its head. Trust me, an anxious seven year old did not take it well.
I started to try control the world around me. I turned into a neat freak. Every book had to be in it’s place. On the shelf, each book had to be upright and in order of author’s last name. If someone messed with my bookshelf because they found it funny, I would sometimes dissolve into tears, and then be told I was too sensitive. Every item had to be in it’s proper place or I simply couldn’t function. I wouldn’t be able to keep track of my schoolwork if there were clothes on the floor or items had fallen to the floor in my closet. The things out of place would take my complete focus, because I wanted it to be perfect so badly. People would make fun of me for this. To me, it was not and still is not funny.
To say that my relationships with others became strained through my teen and very early twenties would be an understatement. If people did not act in the way that I would predict (and I was usually pretty good at predicting behavior), I would actually get mad. It didn’t matter whether their behavior was actually better for me. It wasn’t how it was supposed to go. In college, I was frozen out of several friend groups because I was considered so explosive. To all of my college friends who are reading this, thank you for sticking by me.
In my junior year of college, I decided that the problem had gotten so out of hand that I started to see a psychologist. Luckily for me, I found a very good one. When I mentioned that I thought I had a condition called OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), my psychologist told me that he “didn’t want to label me, because in OCPD cases, labels can simply make things worse.” I still remember his words because they drove me crazy, he was telling me I had it and denying me the diagnosis at the same exact time. If you are unfamiliar with OCPD, here is a good site to learn about it.
Over time, I would do exercises to relieve some of the day to day struggles I would have against my own mind. I would leave a shirt on the floor and agonize over it for days, until it would suddenly become ok to be there. I would still make sure everything was clean when company came over, but I was able to eventually have piles of things on my desk. Originally, they had to be in perfect stacks, but slowly they developed into just paperwork explosion for a couple of days at a time until I had the time to organize them. I do still like things to be organized, but they don’t have to be.
When I met LD, he was having a god-awful year. Worse than my seven-year-old self. I don’t want to share his story for him, so I will just say that there was a lot of death and grief packed into a single year. Helping someone I came to care about so deeply through the things that had sparked my issues so long ago was probably the single most therapeutic thing I have ever done. Having to be the voice of reason and comfort in the situation, changed my outlook on the whole thing. It made me let go of the have tos and musts. Life became more gray, rather than the strict black and white it was before.
So, when someone now makes fun of me for being a neat freak. It hurts worse than it ever did before. People don’t always see the struggles we go through in our lives. For me, making fun of a person who has or has overcome OCPD for keeping a clean-ish house is like making fun of a child with autism for not keeping eye contact. Mental disorders are hard to see, but can have huge impacts on lives without anyone knowing. If someone is sensitive to something, don’t push that button. It could be the biggest wish you could grant someone.