I’ve always been somewhat OCD. A lot of people throw that term around, sometimes joking, sometimes more serious. They may or may not actually qualify for the official diagnosis. I want to be sure not to come across as belittling the diagnosis or those who suffer from it, because I know from my time in psychiatric hospitals as a teen and young adult how painful it is. Not to mention crippling as it interferes so much with life. The people with OCD I met were desperately unhappy, longing to be free of their obsessions and subsequent compulsions and not finding a way to this freedom. It interfered with every aspect of their lives, from eating and sleeping, to being able to work, to their relationships.
I do think that there are members of my extended family who would have been diagnosed with OCD had they ever sought help for their symptoms. I heard stories about famy members having to turn the light switch on and off several times, and going back to check the stove or the locks on the doors again and again. I have never been diagnosed with OCD and don’t think that I have enough of the diagnostic criteria, but I do have some of the symptoms. As a child I had several rituals that made me feel safe, and I had an obsession with symmetry and even numbers. Not only did I have to step over cracks in the side walk, but they had to be stepped over with my left foot (I had an idea that my left side was “good” and my right side was “bad”), and there had to be an even number of steps taken before the next crack. At times I was able to ignore the cracks, especially if I was walking with another person, but at other times it made the walk to and from school longer. I was unable to tolerate asymmetry and would always fix crooked pictures. If I had a bag of M&Ms there had to be an even number of each color and if there wasn’t, I would give the “odd” candies to my sister or someone else. Despite my love of chocolate, I would even throw the odd candies away if no one was there to give them to.
If I saw a floor or ceiling with a pattern of squares, I had to count them and make sure there was an even number. If the number was odd but still symmetrical, like a square of 25 smaller squares, it was still OK. If not, I was made uncomfortable and was distracted by it until I could leave the room. Shutter slats, stairs, I counted everything. Thank God my childhood home staircase had 12 stairs and then 4 more around the corner, both even numbers. My childhood kitchen had wallpaper with a rooster pattern on it, and there was a place next to the kitchen table where the wallpaper pieces were misaligned. It bothered me every time I sat at the table. The pattern was a series of green dots, and because they weren’t lined up they actually looked like a snake. I didn’t like to sit by the snake.
My body in space also had to be even. If I turned around in a circle, I became “twisted” and consequently I had to turn back around the other way. I insisted that my parents give me two kisses at night instead of one, so it would be even. I had to put my left shoe and sock on before the right. I had two pillows and had to alternate each night so they would be used the same number of times. I had an elaborate ritual of saying goodnight to all my stuffed animals which had to be completed every night in the exact same way. If for some reason I slept at another house away from them, I still had to say goodnight to them in my head, and I had to hold my breath so they would “hear” me. If I breathed before the ritual was completed, I had to start over. I was *twenty-one* years old when I forced myself to stop doing this. If I saw someone with one sleeve rolled up or one pant leg rolled up I would insist that they roll it down or roll the other one up so they would be even. You get the idea.
In July of 2013 I went to see an expert who diagnosed me as being on the mild end of the Autism spectrum. Most people are surprised when I share that piece of information, mostly because I have learned over time how to behave like an NT (neurotypical person). I dislike eye contact, but I force myself to do it at work or in social situations where I’m concerned someone could be offended. The diagnosis explained some of the OCD-like behaviors though, as well as some of my intolerance of both sound and texture. I can’t tolerate repetitive sound at all. Ticking clocks, dripping faucets, the beeping alarms at work. Fluorescent lights bother me both with the light itself and the buzzing noise they make which no one else seems to hear. Most of my texture intolerance is in my mouth. Foods that are slimy like oysters and clams, or okra, I can’t do. Also if a food has too many different textures at once. I also comfort myself with rocking, or getting lost in patterns.
One of the things I loved as a kid was kaleidoscopes. A room could be full of crooked pictures and uneven numbers of things, and if I looked at it through a kaleidoscope everything became a perfect symmetrical design. I kind of forgot about that for a while, and then I read a book called “Bee Season” by Myla Goldberg. There is one character in the book who made that same discovery as a child – that looking through a kaleidoscope alleviated her anxiety. She called it the world of Perfectomundo. When I read that book (and saw the movie made from it starring Richard Gere, which was very good but not as good as the book) I remembered my childhood kaleidoscope and how happy and safe and comforted it made me feel. Perfectomundo was a GREAT word to describe the perfectly symmetrical world one could see through the tiny little tube of mirrors.
True to my recent form, I decided to see if there were kaleidoscopes for adults, and sure enough, there are. I guess they can be a collector’s item because some of the ones I found online are stunningly beautiful and cost hundreds of dollars. They come in all sizes, from pocket-sized to giant ones the size of a telescope that one would have to hold with two hands. Some of them have colored glass or other things inside to form the designs, but I wanted one that just had mirrors. That way the perfection is being created by the world itself and not by the material inside the kaleidoscope. I settled on a small one that was 5 inches long and had beautiful patterns with inlaid wood. It came in a wooden box. I wish I could take a picture of the Perfectomundo I see through it to post here, but alas, you’re going to have to take my word for it that it is beautiful and symmetrical and deeply satisfying.