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My Life as an Obsessive Compulsive* Calendar Girl

Posted Nov 17 2010 8:51pm

There are few illnesses as inherently funny as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . Particularly if you are an observer and not a sufferer. But even those of us that suffer from it can get plenty of giggles from seeing all the "crazy" stuff other people do. If you have seen As Good as it Gets and laughed as hard as I did through the silverware scene then you know exactly what I mean.

I think OCD is so relatable because all of us have it on some scale. Don't believe me? Have you seen Christmas? Hanukkah? FLAG DAY? The number of rituals that must be performed in a certain order under a particular circumstance is a paean to neuroticism. And you know I say that with love; Christmas is my fave holiday ever. There is a fine line between tradition and compulsion as anyone who has ever insisted that the whole family watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation every Christmas Eve even though it really is one of those movies that is only funny the first time and afterward you just want to shake Chevy Chase and scream "Those $&%^$ lights will kill you! Have some sense, man!" knows. (Or maybe that's just me. Ahem.)

OCD is not just limited to holidays however but obsessions - intrusive, repetitive thoughts that cause anxiety - and compulsions - an action that once performed in a certain manner relieves the anxiety - can be found in many every day activities. (OCD only gains the "disorder" part of the acronym when your obsessions and resultant compulsions reach the point where they seriously impede your life.) Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not limited to counting/checking and hygiene compulsions a la Jack Nicholson and Howard Hughes. In addition to bathrooms, cars, public places, beds, offices and, yes, food are gold mines of weirdly compulsive behaviors. (I once had someone tell me that all eating disorders are just a subset of OCD, where the obsessions and compulsions revolve mainly around food.) The crux of the problem with OCD is that what may look massively and hysterically bizarre to those of us without that compulsion, it feels very very real to the person under its thrall.

This lesson came home to me when I got this fabulous package from Deb the Smoothie Girl :

See how thoughtful Deb is? She sent me little Chinese food erasers! And a tiki straw! And the best part of all was this book, I Am Neurotic (and so are you) :

Clearly she knows me well! The premise of the book - which might be my new favorite gift to give people (um only because I haven't figured out how to gift them my book and not look completely self-absorbed) - is the little rituals that people perform in their lives. The author, Lianna Kong, came upon the idea one day while sitting pee-paralyzed on the toilet waiting for her coworker to exit the adjoining stall. Because, of course, she can't pee if anyone is listening! This made her wonder if anyone else had the same fear (yes - my highschool friend Mary was exactly the same way, even when I would pretend to leave the bathroom and sneak back in her sensitive bladder would catch me in the act and she'd have to walk me out before she could finish.) Soon she had hundreds of anxious anecdotes. At first I was laughing my butt off:
"I cannot poop if my shirt is on all the way. I have to put one arm out of my sleeve and push that side of my shirt onto my shoulder."
Can you imagine having to half-strip to use a public potty?! (As an adult - my kids do it all the time. My 4-year-old even went running buck naked through the halls at church after a particularly great potty trip.)

Or this one:
"Whenever I am about to go through a revolving door I take as big a breath as I can and hold it, because the person who just came through before me might have farted in there and I would be trapped with it if the door got stuck."
Or this one:
"Whenever I finish using my webcam I have to cover it with a piece of paper in case someone hacks into my computer and uses it to spy on me."
But then I started to feel a little sad for some of the people. For instance, how much time do you think this one takes:
"Whenever I read a magazine I underline or cross out the text as I read it. I have to use a fine-point Pilot Precise V5/7 Rolling Ball Pen (not extra fine). I mark the magazine in different patterns. The more I do it, the more new ways I discover to cross things out."
And this one kinda grossed me out:
"When I use tampons I'm always afraid I might accidentally insert two tampons in a row. Just thinking about it makes me sick. I have to write 'Don't forget to take out your tampon' on each tampon wrapper to remind me to take out the previous one."
But even then I was still shaking my head and muttering some people are so weird! under my breath. Until I came to this one:
"When I am shopping I will never buy the first product. I always get the third or the fourth one behind the first. I feel like the first product was touched, and I don't want it."
Well hold on now! I do that! And it's not neurotic! That is a totally rational thing to do! I mean, who knows how many people have touched that first jar of applesauce? Or sneezed on it? Or licked the yogurt sample off their fingers and then picked it up? Why don't grocery stores put everything behind protective plastic screens?!?

This made me think what I would write, had I been asked to contribute to this book and the answer came immediately. Because I've been struggling with it all week. Them, actually. As in plural compulsions. Remember how I gave up weighing myself ? Well, don't worry, I haven't caved and gone back to it. But I have become aware at how many rituals in my life were tied to that scale - it affected things like when I pooped (before weighing), when I could take my first drink of the day (after weighing, no matter if it was hours before I could weigh myself), when I could get dressed, what I wore to the gym, what I wore at home, what I ate or didn't eat, what my workout entailed, and even what my mood was - and not being able to perform my rituals in the way to which I am accustomed is driving me batty.

Every day, especially in the morning, it is a struggle. I panic and am sure I gained 10 pounds overnight and all my clothes feel super tight and unflattering and I can't decide if I am thin enough today to wear the formfitting tank to the gym or if I'm bloated and need to wear a t-shirt. Seriously - I can't choose between tank tops and t-shirts without my scale! Some people are so weird, indeed. Thankfully recognizing that my distress is from the anxiety of the OCD rather than anything to do with my weight has helped a lot.

I love it when other people's crazy helps me with my crazy! Want to know why Deb, sweetheart that she is, sent me that sanity-saving gift package? Because Deb's father, Marty passed away from cancer a few months ago and before he died he and Deb decided to put their long-standing joke that all of her health-blogger friends were "calendar girl" beautiful into reality. So Deb rounded up some of her bloggie friends and we all snapped some pics of ourselves which Marty then selected his faves and they put us all in true pin-up form, one per month. This was reallllyyy hard for me because you know me, I just hate to dress up! Like this:

Or this:

This is what I wore on Sunday. Seriously.

Or this:

Or my personal fave:

This was from the photoshoot that the calendar pic came from. (Thanks Gym Buddy Allison for snapping the pics!)

Marty picked out the last picture the day before he died. (Man I'm getting all teary writing about this!) Since her father's death, Deb has turned the calendars into a way to raise money for cancer research. To see the picture of me that Marty picked (hint: it's none of the above! neurotic hint: it was taken when I was only 4 months post-partum so I still have some baby weight on there which of course makes me think I look fat in it but then I remember that Marty loved it and I feel better.) and to see all of the other GORGEOUS fitness-blogger babes or to order a calendar, check out Deb's site for all the details . I love you, Deb! (And Marty!!)

So what's your "neuroticism"? Do you have a funny/weird/totally-sane-why-do-you-people-keep-staring-at-me-like-that?! ritual? Can anyone tell me how long it will take for the anxiety over the scale to chill? Can you pee if someone else is listening?

*Edited to add: While I have, personally, been diagnosed with OCD, I do understand that in the grand scheme of things my case is not terribly severe. I do however have a very close relative who has severe OCD and whom I love deeply and have been an active part of their treatment. Please do not mistake my humorous treatment of this subject as trivializing. OCD can be terribly debilitating and painful for all involved and my heart goes out to you if you or a loved one are struggling with this. From years of experience though, I can say that being able to laugh at the absurdity of the nature of OCD has probably been the most powerful medicine I've found:) For more resources check out the International OCD Foundation or e-mail me!

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. Thanks for reading!
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