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Just checking, and checking, and checking

Posted: July 11, 2015 - 11:08pm

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder: A tendency to dwell on unwanted thoughts, or perform certain repetitious rituals; a defense against anxiety from unconscious conflicts.”

I’ve just heard a theory I completely understand: Whatever habits or personality traits we have when we are young, we’ll continue to have as we grow older, only more so.

Parents, teachers and specialty instructors use this theory constantly as they develop the young minds, bodies and personalities in their care. For example, since habits are hard to break, I used to tell my piano students to make good ones from the start.

I should know.

Because my teachers failed to stress fingering technique during my piano lesson days, I have never been able to master the level of music my eyes have no difficulty reading.

But, as an estimated 3-7 million Americans already know, even good habits can get out of hand.

Despite all our good intentions, by repeating certain rituals over and over, far beyond necessity or explanation, the habit-driven among us may become victims of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, some people are obsessive hand washers. Others count things – steps, railroad cars, gray hairs – or meticulously straighten their already neat desks, perfectly arranged kitchen drawers or well-positioned photos on every wall in the house.

Scratch the neatness syndrome from the list, and I’m a candidate for OCD, too, which is why I’m trying to check my “disorder” now so my family won’t have to suffer when I become “more so.”

However, I think they should know how difficult that will be for me. After all, writers count words, musicians count beats, and former minister’s wives keep the living room reasonably neat in case the deacon’s wife comes to call.

Doors really should be checked several times a day, and no responsible person should leave the house without wallet – double check, car keys – double check, and, in my deteriorating condition, eyeglasses.

But, dear family, I am working hard on a mixed bag of other compulsions, like the following:

• I always fold my towels and pillowcases in thirds, not halves, but I can explain. You see, in that little cottage where my student husband and I lived following our marriage, the linen closet was so small that was the only way they would fit.

• I have a hard time playing games on Sunday – or going to movies or otherwise enjoying myself – because my grandfather said God didn’t want me to do that. It didn’t matter that he never attended church and was too tired to do anything but sleep all day. It was years before I decided his rules were more selective than divine. It’s been tough, but I gradually let go of that ritual – at least for my family, who have never shared my malady.

• I doubt I’m the only one who calls one of my children by his full name rather than by the nickname he prefers, and the other 99.44 percent of the people in his life have no trouble remembering to do. Nor am I the only area resident who continues to call Thurmond Lake by its original name, Clarks Hill – not singular, no apostrophe – which, by the way, is according to Army Corps of Engineers policy. They always name their projects after the place where they are constructed – Clarks Hill, SC – rather than after a person.

Meanwhile, back to reality, there’s no great harm in hanging on to the familiar, recalling pleasantries or keeping some things constant in our constantly changing world. Why, I could go on folding my linens in thirds forever without bothering anyone.

But for some people this disorder is neither amusing nor a choice, and their quality of life really is disturbed because of it.

Fortunately for them, help is available through support groups, literature, medications and a national organization that answers questions and dispenses updated information. Interested persons may contact: The OCD Foundation, P.O. Box 9573, New Haven, CT, 06535.

Just be sure to enclose a business-size, self-addressed and stamped envelope – folded in thirds, stamp edges equidistant from the top and right sides, mailed on Monday before 10:09 a.m., and addressed 2.6 inches from the top.

Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer, and author of the book, As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to seabara@aol.com.

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