I am fascinated by strange behavior.
More specifically, I am extremely interested in people with anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Honestly, I suspect that everyone has a little OCD in them.
My husband, for example, is a bit of a germaphobe. For instance, after ordering in a restaurant (and his hands—God forbid—have touched the menu), he has to go wash his hands—and then if he uses the ketchup bottle on the table, he has to pick it up with a napkin. And his germaphobia is not just limited to public places. In our own kitchen, if a kitchen towel accidentally comes in contact with anything except for a clean dish, he immediately quarantines it and banishes it to the laundry basket along with the other “germy” items.
I myself have a strange little behavior that I’m a little embarrassed to admit here. As I walked down the street to work, every few minutes, I check to be sure my pants zipper is still up. When I told my friend Diane this, she said, “So what would happen if it was down?” Hmm, I had never thought about that… I guess it wouldn’t really be that big a deal, but still, I feel compelled to check it every few minutes. Don’t ask me why.
So when I heard that there was a new t.v. show about people with even stranger compulsions, I couldn’t wait to see it. The show is called “Obsessed,” and I’ve only seen a few of the episodes so far (I’m going to watch the rest of them online), but already I am hooked. I saw an episode about a guy who was an extreme hoarder, who couldn’t throw away anything that belonged to his dead mother—including her prescription medication. And then there was the germaphobe woman who scrubbed herself for so long and so hard in the shower, that she had been hospitalized twice for losing too much blood from her skin that she had scrubbed raw. Then there was the guy who was so obsessed with exercise (and preventing death) that he worked out something like ten times a day.
These people are crazy, I thought. And I loved not only hearing about their strange behaviors, but also about how their psychiatrists managed to help them.
Then I heard about this book called “Life In Rewind,” about a guy with severe obsessive compulsive disorder—so severe that he had shut himself in his basement and did not take a shower for two whole years. I had to read it.
At first, as I began reading it, it was just an interesting (if slightly sad) story about a guy who witnessed his beloved mother’s death at the age of eleven…and then developed the belief that if going forward in time moves him closer to death, reversing the action will take him—and his loved ones—away from death. Therefore, no matter what he did, he had to reverse that same action. For example, if he walked somewhere, he had to walk backwards the same exact way. He would even speak every sentence that he uttered, backwards. And that was only the beginning of his odd behaviors.
I was riveted by his story.
But the more that I read, the more that I realized something that I really had been missing the whole time I had been watching and reading stories about people with OCD: compassion.
For the first time, it really hit me how awful it must be to be someone with OCD. I found myself grieving for this man, and for his severe depression that resulted from his not being able to control these behaviors. It was indeed a very lonely life for him, and my mind was begging the story to take a positive turn.
And then, he began to get well, and I was so relieved. (I won’t tell you the details of how he got well, in case you want to read this fascinating book.)
But even though now he lives a pretty normal life, he still struggles with his OCD, day in and day out. It’s like this evil monster inside of him that tries to convince him that if he doesn’t do certain behaviors, people that he loves will die—and he has to figure out a way to ignore or even just slightly appease that voice.
It must be awful. I feel so much compassion for him.
And I thank God that the worst obsession I have is a compulsion to check my pants zipper every now and then.