"Wait, mom. Don't close the door yet. I haven't touched the light switch seven times and said 'off, off, off, off, off, off, off.'"
That was me at the age of 5 while my mom tucked me in at night. No joke... I had to say "off" seven times, and sometimes the number was even larger. Totally know what you're thinking. I was nuts. It may have appeared that way. Little did I know at the time it was called OCD. For those who aren't familiar with that acronym, it's short for obsessive compulsive disorder.
I can remember the first time that I definitely knew something was a little off. As a kid in the early '80s collecting Transformers and He-Man figures was everything to me, so I had them all lined up on a shelf inside my room. And when I say "lined up," I mean each figure had the perfect width from the edge of the shelf and perfect distance from each other. So you can imagine all the crazy that took place when my younger sister would come in and accidentally knock them down. Wait, who are we kidding... she probably did it on purpose. Basically, it was like a domino effect, and just like that, as the "dominos" fell, so did my sanity. Full-on freak out mode. Honestly, surprised I wasn't given a straight jacket for Christmas that year. My parents were definitely concerned at this point, but still, we didn't know what this was all about. Some may say, well, why didn't your parents just take you to a psychologist? Looking back, it probably seemed to them like I had developed a really bad habit.
So as the years went by, my OCD got worse and worse. I went from touching the light switch and saying "off, off, off..." to looking on either side of my bed countless times, running my hands along the shutters while saying "closed, closed, closed" and when I started driving at 16... you know what's coming. Yep, I couldn't convince myself that my car was locked... EVER. I kept pushing the alarm like a psychopath and watching the headlights flash. In my head, I was thinking, "It's locked, damn it!" but I couldn't convince myself that it actually was. Every time this happened, the stares I got in the parking lots were legendary.
I knew I had to break this crazy habit because friends started noticing that it was affecting my punctuality ... almost to the point where they'd avoid inviting me because I'd be so late. Or they'd actually catch me counting or touching a wall or whatever the hell I was doing. I still didn't know at that time that I was suffering from OCD. But honestly, at times, it was debilitating. Just the idea of grabbing a drink out of the fridge seemed like an easy task, right? Well, then try shutting the fridge door and telling yourself that it's closed. Wasn't an easy thing for me. In fact, sometimes five minutes would pass and I'd still be touching the refrigerator door while repeating, "closed, closed, closed..."
Many people who suffer from OCD will tell you that they have a specific number or set of numbers that they count to. For me, it's always been multiples of seven. Why? I have no idea. But at first, it was seven, then 14, but when it got to 21, it was getting seriously out-of-control and ridiculous.
Halfway through high school, I happened to see a special on the news about abnormal psychology... specifically obsessive compulsive disorder. To hear that this was common, and that I wasn't going to be admitted into a psych ward, was such a relief. At the time, I still didn't feel that I needed to see a psychologist. Looking back, a psychologist was probably exactly who I needed to see. Now that I knew I was suffering from OCD, I tried fixing it myself. I told my mom what the disorder was and asked her to help me fight the urge to constantly check things. Knowing how long this disorder had affected my life, she jumped at the chance to help me. Until this point, I seriously had rejected any kind of help because I didn't want to admit that I had a problem. Looking back, my mom was definitely my saving grace.
I would be done getting ready for school, and needing to head out the door in order to get to class on time. And like most days, she'd be at the door ready to wave goodbye as I drove off... but before I'd head to my car in the driveway, I'd be stuck in my room touching light switches and repeating, "off, off, off, off, off..."
Now that she was on a mission to help me with my OCD issues, she would come in my room, look around, tell me the light was off, and basically shove me out the door. For the first couple times, it made me mental because the whole way to school I was thinking to myself, "Oh God, is the light off?" The way I rationalized my OCD thoughts was insane. In my mind, if the light switch wasn't turned off, then maybe a fire would start and the house would burn down as a result of the light being left on. And in my head, this was something I could have prevented if I would've just checked the switch one more time. I know. Crazy. But that's what my mind was thinking. Trust me, it was the most odd way of rationalization, and I knew it. But sometimes, I just couldn't help myself.
Little by little, with my mom's help, I started overcoming my OCD. My dad was incredibly supportive, too, but my mom was the person I leaned on in order to beat this disorder. By the time I was heading to college, I had the issue under control. What a relief, right?
To this day, I still catch myself closing the fridge door or turning off a light, and I'll pause and stare at it for a few seconds... telling myself that the door is closed or that the light is off. In fact, just the other night after our boys were in bed, I was laying on the couch with my wife watching TV, and suddenly I couldn't remember if I had turned on my car alarm. But between you and me, I always turn it on by habit, so I knew it was on, but I couldn't convince myself that it was. So, I got up and went to the window and had to click my alarm button a few times to watch it arm itself again and again with headlights flashing, alarm chirping... the whole nine yards. My wife knew exactly what was happening. When I got back to the couch, she gave me a big hug. I just looked at her and said, "We're still together. My OCD and me."