Janet Sheridan: I’m organized, not crazy

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Janet Sheridan

A block from home, I froze in my tracks: I’d forgotten to check that the TV, oven, coffee maker, and curling iron were turned off before I left the house.

“If I don’t go back,” I thought, “I’ll be rushing home later to the wail of sirens and the sight of smoke hovering above my neighborhood. But if I do go back to check, I’ll be late for my dental appointment — a personal failing I’ll regret for days.”

I dithered excessively and then turned around.

I’d prefer not to think of myself as anal-retentive. Though the definition may describe me — “a person whose attention to detail becomes an annoyance for others” — the label lacks dignity.

Therefore, I’d rather think I have a touch of obsessive-compulsiveness. I relate to “an anxiety disorder characterized by thoughts that produce unease, apprehension, or worry,” and to another of the term’s definitions, “a person who feels the need to be in control of all aspects of his or her surroundings at all times.”

But how does obsessive-compulsive differ from sensible?

Or cautious?

Or methodical and painstaking?

When do worthy traits become a syndrome?

I admit that I make a rough draft before writing a message in a card and that I keep an ongoing shopping list organized according to the store’s layout. I alphabetize my spices to the first letter. I deliberately wear easily shed shoes and jackets through airline security, and I’m irritated when a speaker says he’ll discuss five ideas and I count six.

In a nutshell: I’m organized, accurate, and prepared.

On the other hand, when Joel interrupts my fascinating monologue to straighten a painting that tilts a half centimeter to the right, carefully takes his socks off without turning them inside out, and sorts the bills in his wallet by denomination as well as wear-and-tear so he’ll spend the most bedraggled first, I’m certain he has a disorder.

I also wonder about a niece who wouldn’t color with broken crayons, a friend who drenched motel rooms with Lysol, and a neighbor’s dog that couldn’t eat in the presence of its owners.

In summary, when loved ones exhibit extreme behaviors, they’re obsessive–compulsive. When I pick lint off a stranger’s jacket, I’m helpful.

During my reading on obsessive-compulsiveness, I came across several descriptors for self-diagnosing it. I’ve listed eight of them below with my responses. I’m certain all of you will identify with at least one trait, because I really think we’re all a bit demented.

  1. Doing something new stresses you. (True: especially if I don’t have fetching clothing to wear while I display my ineptness or put my life in danger.)
  2. Poor spelling and grammar drive you crazy. (True and false: I shake my head over the mistakes of others, but laugh at my accidental oversights.)
  3. You start each day by making a to-do list. (False: I make two or three.)
  4. When people mess with your things, it makes you uneasy. (Mostly false: the one exception being a housecleaner who rearranged the furniture in my living room.)
  5. You are particular about how you make your bed. (False: I feel virtuous on the rare days I do make it.)
  6. You have a set routine you follow every morning. (True and false: I have a routine I prefer, but I keep forgetting it.)
  7. You move misplaced merchandise in stores to the right spot. (False: I buy it and then wonder how I got home with a can of tomato sauce when I intended to buy Greek olives.)
  8. You won’t eat from a plate if the different foods on it are touching. (False: If the foods don’t overlap, I don’t have enough.)So, how did you do?

Uh huh, I thought so.

Several years ago, a friend confessed to a behavior that made me feel 100-percent sane: “Toilet paper should unroll from the top down,” she said, “and if it doesn’t, I change it, even when I’m not in my own house.”

Now that’s obsessive-compulsive.

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