Obsessions, Compulsions and Possessions

I really hate the term obsessive/compulsive or OCD. Let me explain: I think that it’s fine as far as explain the need to repeatedly wash your hands or check the lights or pull back the covers to look for centipedes. But I don’t think that it goes far enough for some of us. I believe that all of us, whether we admit it or not, have our little quirks, our little obsessions.

For example, one of my best friends in the world, Jammi, is completely obsessed with her hair. I happen to think that she has wonderful hair in its natural state, which is dark brown and wavy. But Jammi spends money to have her hair straightened. Or when she doesn’t have it chemically straightened, she blow dries it until its straight. She hates her hair in its natural state, absolutely hates it, and she is obsessed with having it any other way. I used to joke with her and tell her that a lot of women pay a lot of money to have their hair look the way her hair looks naturally, but no matter. She won’t be swayed because she is convinced that her natural hair is not natural for her. So her hair is her obsession. It doesn’t matter. She’s one of those naturally attractive women no matter what she does with her hair, and I’ve gotten over being jealous of her for that.

I have a former colleague who was completely obsessed with her weight, to the point that she almost starved herself to death—truly. The last time I saw her she weighed 85 pounds. It was a hard thing to watch, but it was one of those things that no one could do anything about. For a while, it began to affect me. I started to count every calorie that went into my mouth. I was down to 1000 calories a day. I began to skip meals. I started to lose weight. I started to obsess. But then my back problems began and fate intervened. I wonder what would have happened if fate hadn’t stepped in, if I would have become as obsessive with my weight. I don’t think so because she had so many other problems contributing to her weight obsession, but who really knows. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in someone else’s obsessions and make them your own.

Believe it or not, I used to be obsessive about cleaning. Every Saturday morning, I would clean my entire house from top to bottom: polish all of the furniture, clean all of the glass, mop the floors, scrub the bathroom top to bottom, change the sheets, do the laundry, vacuum all of the carpets. Every surface that could be touched was cleaned. If someone came over during the middle of the week, there were never any excuses about the way my house looked because it always looked good. Early in my first marriage, our apartment was broken into and robbed. My ex-husband got home before I did and spoke to the police. He was able to tell the police exactly what was touched and what was missing. The officer who spoke with him asked him how he could be so sure about everything. My ex-husband said, “You don’t know my wife. Those closet doors are closed every morning before we leave. That bed is made. Those drawers are always closed.” If we were robbed today, it might take me years before I knew what was missing.

When I was a child of about 9 or so, every night I would lift the covers of my bed all the way to the bottom to make sure there were no centipedes under the covers. I have no idea where this compulsion came from, but to this day, I cannot abide centipedes. Another quirk of mine is that I have to sleep on the side of the bed nearest the door, whether it is the right or the left, it must be nearest the door. I also went through this phase of being obsessive about exercising. I got up every morning before work and did 200 crunches and some light weights. Now that was a good obsession, I believe, but crunches are a thing of the past. I was in the best shape of my life. Then there was the phase when I had to check to make sure I’d unplugged the iron before I left for work. I would do this at least twice, and sometimes I would get out of the car and go back in the house to check again. I now have an iron that shuts off automatically.

Corey is obsessed with Q-tips. He uses four a day. Even though I’ve shown him articles about how Q-tips are actually not supposed to be inserted into the ear, he insists that this be part of his daily routine. It’s a carryover from his childhood. He is also obsessed with his hair; it’s what earned him the moniker Captain Hollywood on one of the boats that he was crewing. But what is so ironic is that he went from very short military hair in the Coast Guard to long hair that he was always messing with (a la Capt. Hollywood) and then back to very short military length. Personally, I like his hair shorter, but not so short, but he freaks if it gets just a little bit long (as in nearing a hair’s breadth of his collar) and insists that it needs to be cut posthaste.

And then there are the obsessions that lead to possessions: I won’t write with anything but #1 pencils if I’m using pencils. I have to have a certain kind of pen, at least medium point gel ink, and I write on graph paper. Maybe that’s my attempt at order. My friend Mari got me addicted to expensive, squishy leather purses so that now I just cannot carry anything but good leather. I love Kenneth Cole wallets, and even though most women wear smaller, metal watches, I still love larger-faced Fossil watches with leather straps, but they are hard to find now. I’ve mentioned my obsession with black boots before, as in I don’t believe that you can ever own enough of them, and the same goes for black leather coats.

And then there is perhaps my worst obsession/possession of all: black carryall bags. This is in addition to the purse. I am the original bag lady. No matter what job I have had, I have always carried two bags—my purse, and my carryall. I think that I will save the discussion on the necessity of the carryall for another entry because that is a page unto itself.

I suppose that our obsessions are what make us individuals. They can be innocuous, like Corey’s Q-tips or my side of the bed choice. They can be a pain in the butt, like my insistence on certain pen choices. Or they can be harmful, like my colleague’s eating disorder. And then sometimes, obsessions can be a whole other class, as in when they take on a life of their own, when the obsession becomes the person we cannot have, or the single-minded need to destroy another person’s career, or in the scariest cases, the desire to destroy another individual completely. Then obsession ceases to be just a quirk and becomes a pathology, and that, my friends, is another animal indeed.

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