I joke a lot about my propensity toward OCD. I freely admit that I am a hyper-organized control freak. Detailed. Particular. Meticulous. Ahem, anal retentive.
Let me go ahead and offer a disclaimer so none of my readership (all six of you) gets offended.
I am aware that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a medically recognized condition that can be debilitating to its sufferers. I understand that it can, and often does, impede activities of daily living. The acronym is used flippantly (and usually inaccurately) to describe nutty people like me who write to-do lists just to cross crap off of them.
But mental illness is no joke. I have several people in my life who have been ravaged by acute anxiety, bi-polar disorder, OCD, ADHD and various other brain synapse irregularities. In order to function normally, they require medication, counseling or behavior modification (sometimes all three). I have nothing but respect and empathy for them and their circumstances.
Yes, I am very grateful that I am not afflicted with any of the aforementioned mental illnesses, but that is not going to stop me from lobbing the occasional self-deprecating grenade at some of my own extremist tendencies.
It may not be clinically OCD, but my behavior can sometimes look downright batshit crazy to the laid-back contingent of my friends and family. Which would be 95 percent of the people I know. Just go to a crowded mall, walk 10 feet in any direction, and you are bound to run into someone who is less uptight than I am. True story.
OK, not really. Five years ago, yes, that would have been too true. Today, I still like to plan the shit out of my life, but I am SO much more open to deviations from that plan than I used to be. A rich spiritual life enables me to relinquish control most of the time. And I am much happier because of it.
But this does not mean I’m a lax, carefree slob. Oh no. I still like things around me to be neat, orderly and clutter-free. Everything has its place, and no storage bin is overflowing or crammed together haphazardly.
I organize my life and my stuff with purpose. You’ll never see unruly stacks of paper on my desk or discarded wrappers in the floorboards of my car. No one has to worry about me becoming a hoarder, that’s for sure.
No, I don’t like disarray, but if chaos happens and I can’t restore order right away, it doesn’t make me hyperventilate. I notice when something is out of place, but my serenity is not dependent on immediately straightening it up.
And I don’t ever engage in true OCD behavior like washing my hands 100 times a day or checking a deadbolt to make sure it’s locked exactly 20 times before I go to bed. For those who are stuck into that kind of obsessive loop, it must be hell. I feel for you, I really do.
My main tool for organization is the list-making thing I mentioned earlier.
Writing down even the most inconsequential tasks has been part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mother still loves to tell the story to anyone who will listen of how 9-year-old Amy spent her summer cataloging, in painstaking detail, the entire contents on her desk. (I think I did my closet, too, but Mom doesn’t include that little tidbit in her retelling, thank God.)
Today, I have multiple lists going at one time – a master to-do list of general crap I need to get done in the immediate future, a constantly evolving list of grocery/household items to buy, a home improvement wish list, books I want to read someday, movies or music I want to buy, work projects with deadline schedules, business leads to follow up on, time tracking lists by client and/or project, lists related to invoicing and banking… Oh hell, I just made another list, didn’t I?
Mmm hmm, I could definitely be considered compulsive when it comes to making these dang lists. Turns out the “C” in OCD is accurate. Or maybe it’s the O. Whatever.
My point is, while these lists are instrumental in keeping me organized — which, in turn, facilitates my success — perhaps I do take them to the extreme. When my life feels chaotic, making a list is one tangible way to put it back in order. (That's the feeling it brings me, whether it really restores order or not.)
Since I took the leap to start my own business last year, I have noticed that my list management has begun to include writing stuff down simply for the satisfaction of crossing it off, not because I really need the roadmap that lists are intended to create. In other words, I do it for fun, not function.
Here’s an example: If I put “clean house” on my master to-do list, that’s not good enough. Hoh, no. I need to make a second, separate list of the specific tasks that cleaning the house entails. SO I CAN CROSS THEM OFF AS I COMPLETE THEM. No kidding.
Mop kitchen floor. CHECK. Dust TV stand. CHECK. Wipe down stairs. CHECK. Vacuum living room rug. CHECK. When I get to that final item, it’s like the last hit on a crack pipe…I exhale and relax into a self-satisfied stupor.
You can go ahead and say it, ‘cause I know the words are floating in the cartoon bubble above your head: This. Chick. Is. A. Loon. For realz.
I think my list making has taken on a ferocity that would frighten small children in the past year primarily because of the instability I feel as a self-employed freelance writer and media consultant. Don’t get me wrong, I am happier in my career today than I have EVER been, but being on my own is scary.
Since my work life is somewhat out of control (i.e., there is no regular paycheck), making lists to manage my home and job has given me back some semblance of power. Or something like that. (I’m sure a psychiatrist could have a field day with me.)
Anyhoo, the rational part of me (which, admittedly, is not a very large part), realizes that all the lists in the world can’t and won’t ensure that life goes according to a prescribed plan. Shit happens, and I have to roll with it or get rolled over. So that's what I'm going to try to do.
Writing is therapy for me, and I have written a lot in this space about my continuous efforts to become a better person. In the context of this post, being “better” means less controlling, less intense. As much as I tease about being OCD, I really don’t want be a poster child for its true clinical diagnosis. So I gotta rein in my reliance on lists now, before it really gets out of hand.
Um yeah, while I may get a rush from completing (and checking off) mundane tasks, I know it is not healthy to make a list of every single accomplishment, every minute of every day. If I’m not careful, I’m liable to end up writing a list that says: “Turn on light, pull pants down, sit on toilet, poop, grab toilet paper, wipe keister, pull up pants, exit bathroom.”
If I ever get to THAT point, you have my permission to burn all writing implements within 100 feet of me!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.