Organized Chaos?

As I said when I first began blogging, I am not an expert on OCD. In fact, sometimes I feel the more I learn about the disorder, the more confused I become.

Latest case in point: Many OCD sufferer’s obsessions and compulsions revolve around needing to arrange things in some type of orderly fashion.  Maybe certain items need to be lined up or spaced a certain distance apart from each other. Or there can only be a set number of items visible to the sufferer (usually an even number). This type of OCD is often referred to as evening up  OCD. (To prove how not an expert I am, when I first heard this term I thought it referred to OCD in the nighttime!). Evening up compulsions can also include mental compulsions such as counting, tapping, or touching  things a certain number of times.  So I get it. Order, symmetry, evenness are important to many people with OCD.

Then why is disorganization so common in OCD sufferers?  One of the first things I said to Dan when  he told me he had OCD was, “How come your room is so messy? Isn’t it supposed to be really neat?” My ignorance showing through again. Many people with OCD have unbelievably messy living areas. I’m not talking about hoarders. That’s a whole ‘nother blog. I’m talking about not being capable of keeping your space and belongings in any kind of order.

When Dan was suffering from severe OCD, I saw his dorm room, and that memory still haunts me.  There were papers and artwork, sketchbooks, schoolwork, clothes, art supplies, paint, books, towels, food, and toiletries, all completely covering the floor. He said that once he lost control of the order, he just couldn’t get it back. Is it that his OCD took so much time and energy that there was nothing left for daily living tasks?  Could this be why many of those with OCD are also diagnosed with ADHD?

A lot of questions. Not too many answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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25 Responses to Organized Chaos?

  1. Ann says:

    My OCD centers around germs. I find that I will let mess “fester” because I don’t want to touch it. I’ll drop food while cooking, and I don’t pick it up, because then I’d have to wash my hand. It of course becomes ironic as I find myself in a germier and germier environment as a result. That’s one sign to me that I’ve improved, I clean much more often and much more like a “normal” person.

    • eks9713 says:

      YES!! This is me. Also, I have some perfectionism issues and once a mess gets to be so big, I don’t want to tackle it until I can do it completely and get it “right.” So, I’ll avoid it until I feel I can finally tackle it.

  2. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for your insight, Ann. It makes sense (well, as much as OCD ever makes sense 🙂 ). I’m guessing there are different reasons for different people as to why their living areas are so messy. My son had no issues with germs…..as far as I know anyway!
    Glad to hear you are improving!!

  3. Sarah says:

    I have OCD and I haven’t been able to fully clean my dorm room this entire semester that I have been in college, as well as my room at home throughout the last Summer I was there, which was pretty messy with things I haven’t unpacked and put away covering half the floor. (My OCD got a little worse last Summer.) The reason I can’t clean easily is because putting away objects triggers my OCD. Sometimes I procrastinate washing my dishes because washing them takes longer than it should, and is a complicated task that causes anxiety. I know that storing away an object under my bed might cause me to question whether the other things under my bed are not stable and might fall or be too heavy for what they’re standing under and damage the item, and I might have to rearrange other things outside of the object I want to place under my bed, or I might just not find a good place for it that won’t cause me anxiety and give up and put the object back on my table and tell myself that I will save this for later. I know, once, changing a Brita filter and washing out the container after it was stored away for the Summer took me 10-15 minutes and I felt enormously frustrated by the end of it, even depressed. Often when I put a hairbrush or another item into my desk drawer, I have to rearrange other things that are there, making sure they don’t damage or even contaminate each other, so I procrastinate putting things away in my drawer. Sometimes I won’t have as much OCD about putting away an object, but I often expect to have some. Sometimes I tell myself that I will do whatever it takes to clean my room and end up going through the OCD, sometimes trying to ignore it, and end up cleaning my room, or at least most of it. But that takes motivation. Lately, maybe because my OCD got worse or my tolerance for it decreased (or I became less in denial about having OCD symptoms), I haven’t been able to fully clean my room. I know I also don’t like touching dirty t-shirts that I’ve already worn if they’re lying around my room because that could cause me to wash my hands, as well as probably organize my dirty laundry again (which I have been doing lately, to prevent certain items of clothing from touching others that I deem to be of a different cleanliness), and that causes a lot of stress so I tend to avoid it. When all those things are added together, it makes for a messy room. Remember that OCD can affect a lot of aspects of a person’s life, not one specific aspect. (For me, my main OCD symptoms probably deal with checking things in my room before I leave my room, and washing my hands and showering longer than most people, and long enough to cause me frustration, but arranging things around my room are secondary symptoms.) Keeping a slightly messy room just means I get to avoid having OCD sometimes, so it actually keeps me calm! 🙂

  4. ocdtalk says:

    Hi Sarah, Thanks for commenting. Your contribution shows how complicated and confusing OCD can be ( for the sufferer and non-sufferer also) to understand. I appreciate your sharing and hope to hear from you again.

  5. I have mild OCD and tend to be messy, because if I put things away and clean it has to be perfect. Like I might not pick up my desk if I can’t also get the spray and wipe it with a clean cloth… etc. It becomes a longer process. I can’t just clean in a normal way it seems. I’m working on that. So what Sarah said makes sense.

  6. Jhene says:

    Wow I can’t believe that there are others who experience this kind of OCD. I thought I was the only one. It’s true to say that people often expect an OCD sufferer to live in immaculate surroundings with everything clean and tidy but on the contrary my surroundings are very different. I have such a need for perfection that it’s hard to live up to. So I put off cleaning and procrastinate until I feel that I have the time, concentration and motivation to do a “perfect clean” . It’s a kind of all or nothing feeling . Somtimes I try and do a general “good enough” clean but it causes great anxiety. I find even doing essentials like washing clothes and dishes hard knowing that there are so many other things that also need doing. Just like Sarah even putting a hair brush in the drawer will cause me to notice other things in the drawer that need cleaning or sorting out. So because of the stress, mind power and time consumption needed to do a clean it is much easier to just procrastinate, however the mess also causes anxiety so you can’t win 😦 .

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Jhene, and for your explanation of why cleaning is so difficult for you. It really helps those of us without OCD to understand. I hope you have a good treatment provider who can work with you to fight your OCD. I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you again.

  7. Tess says:

    My family always makes fun of my OCD and it doesn’t make sense to them why my room is always a huge mess. My mom hates me for my messy room and I looked this up just to show her I wasn’t alone. Lol thank you for this. And for not making me feel crazy.

    • Hi Tess, Thanks for sharing and I’m sorry you are not getting the support from your family that you deserve. I think it’s great that you are trying to educate your mom so that she will better understand OCD. Wishing you all the best and hope to hear from you again!

  8. Amanda says:

    I know this post is super old but I’m currently in the process of understanding my brain. I have only been evaluated once and it was for anxiety. By the end of the process I was diagnosed with moderate-severe generalized anxiety disorder, mild depression, and they said I have some characteristics of OCD but not enough to have a diagnosis. That being said, they weren’t looking for OCD. Since then I have discovered many habits of mine that could possibly indicate a mild case of OCD that I never even thought to mention to the psychologist. One of these habits is that my room becomes a disaster very fast and I dread cleaning it. When I do clean a section of it everything has to be done in a certain way (not symmetrically just what’s correct in my mind). Once I have found the way I like to organize a section of my room, that’s the way it’s supposed to be when it’s clean. I’m not sure if that makes sense but can anyone relate?

    • Hi Amanda, Thanks for sharing and hopefully some readers will chime in. I’m not a therapist but I think if you feel you have more traits that point to OCD than you mentioned to your psychologist, it’s worth going back to discuss. The treatment for OCD is very specific, so if you do have OCD, it’s important to know and get started on ERP therapy. A lot of people wait because they feel their OCD is “not that bad,” but really that’s the best time to get treatment, before things spiral out of control. Good luck as you move forward, and I hope to hear from you again!

  9. Emily says:

    I am so thankful to have come across this post! I am 33 years old and have had ocd for as long as I can remember. My case is quite severe and like the others who shared their experiences my environment is usually messy and chaotic. When I was a kid my parents didn’t know I had ocd, they thought I was lazy, disrespectful and obstinate. I was constantly being chastised for things I had no control over. I’ve been married for six years now and my husband is extremely kind and supportive but my ocd symptoms have become intolerable to him as well. I constantly struggle with feelings of guilt and although I am very aware of the fact that regular tasks are beyond difficult for me I have often wondered myself if I am in fact a lazy procrastinator. I’ve never really been able to articulate to myself or others why my surroundings are so untidy. Thank you Janet for helping to uncover this often misunderstood side of ocd.

    • You’re welcome Emily and I’m glad this post resonated with you. I don’t know your story at all but I hope you know that OCD, no matter how severe, is absolutely treatable. You (and your husband) do not have to suffer so much. If you can connect with a therapist who is experienced in treating OCD and knows ERP therapy you absolutely can improve your life. I wish you all the best as you move forward and hope to hear from you again.

  10. Amina says:

    Oh man!! I googled the phrase “OCD if I like order, why am I messy” and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to return any hits… This is so great – thanks for the post and to all the people who shared!! I know for me there was a link to hoarding (not extreme – just clothes and shoes and stuff. That I have thankfully and proudly managed to change 🙂 The shift for me was a mental perception/way of thinking of course. I read about a guy who got rid of things and when he did he told himself if he needed it again he could buy it and even pay for expedited shipping 🙂 that helped a lot for the fear of “what if I need this again??” The other was an organization lady whose criteria is you can keep it IF 1) you love it – I equate to does it bring you joy from Marie Kondo 2) If you use it – like the one year rule some people have, if not used in the past year – it goes!! 3) It makes you money – this was tricky because I always say well retail it would be this much so I can sell it on Kijiji and make some money – but honestly clothes and shoes don’t sell that much (for me) purses and home stuff was bought a little more

    I have found the technique of putting a box somewhere – like a laundry room or garage and placing things you think you want to get rid on in there and then going back in a month or 3 or whatever you are comfortable with like say even a year – and you haven’t gone and pulled it out to use in that time – it goes!!

    The biggest thing for me has been making a list in my notes in my phone and for each thing/group I get rid of (dresser or a trip to goodwill to drop off a few bags of clothes) somehow my wanting to keeping making my list longer keeps me looking for stuff I can get rid of lol and some when I donate to a good cause, friend struggling who maybe could is but not afford something – is a good little high feeling)

    For me I am now at the papers stage 😦 boxes and boxes of papers – like I knew I had receipts in them. It hadn’t done my taxes for the last three years which of course was just another mental stresser/guilt etc. So I sat in front of the TV one of my coping things and just went through them even three pages at a time (find when I make the amount/thing smaller it’s not so daunting & I usually do a few more cause it feels good with the first batch) and used binders – had a box of pretty multicoloured that I had keep for years, but had an AHA moment that I don’t actually like/use or find them effective but binders work for so hit the dollar store and loaded up on those and divider tabs and actually for the first time in my life (instead of moving stuff from one place to another but not really changing/purging anything – which I think can be another frustrater – we ARE trying to clean and purge and organize, but don’t see any results – at least it is for me) created a medical binder, a banking/investments binder etc. So find what works for you!!

    I am still struggling with do I put stuff away which I had just done, then pulled out again thinking I might put all my furniture and stuff in storage for one year – giving me some mobility for work and life (yes. Did the math of storage locker is 3K for the year and my stuff was worth that or less would not get one, but since my stuff came out to considerably more it made sense and would HAVE to go back after the year was, depending on where I am in life, sell or move it into a new place if I decided to get one)
    But being pulled in two directions/ideas/focus kinda made me stick…. like do I bubble wrap my decoratives or no? Do I pack up my DVD collection first and last, since I use it? And those two things are actually the stuff that is neatly or nicely displayed… I think I will have to make a decision one way or the other so I can proceed 😛

    Not sure if these kind of things cause some of you to get a little stuck/overwhelmed in cleaning – but for sure they do for me – and like others have it’s so great, reassuring, validating to know I am not alone in this and that this is a challenge for other OCD friends – not alone…

    So thanks again and I hope my stuff maybe helped someone else too xx

    • Hi Amina,Thank you so much for sharing and you certainly are not alone! I’m sure your story and suggestions will resonate with others. Wishing you all the best and hope to hear from you again!

      • paula says:

        Hi, my sister is a mental health nurse and tells me I have ocd but I didn’t think I did because I thought people with ocd had tidy houses. Then I came across this. I want to clean but if the job seems too time consuming or dirty I put it off and then have huge anxiety and feel drained. Mess makes me anxious but I struggle to deal with it. Goes something like this, toys in living room need storing in another because I feel anxious looking at them. No space in daughters room so would have to sort out toys there to make room for these toys. Sorting them means bags for bin. Bin already full now I feel anxious about adding more to the bin. Partner could go the rubbish dump but doesn’t get in til late at night which means bags laying around the house until night which is more mess. Bags waiting around to go to charity shop also. I feel so overwhelmed that I have to leave it til my partner is home so the rubbish can be taken straight away. This is my thought process for every big job and it is exhausting. I am always trying to clean but never get much done because of the way i think, then exhaust myself but if I rest I feel guilty and get anxiety. After most jobs are done I don’t feel satisfied, the only thing that brings me relief is hoovering and mopping floors. Sometimes I will hoover and mop before I do anything else just for a sense of relief before I do other chores otherwise I am anxious and don’t get a lot done. This is just a couple of examples but does this sound familiar to anyone?

    • Hi Paula, Thank you for sharing. It is obvious that what is going on with you is distressing and anxiety-provoking. I encourage you to seek appropriate help (your sister is a great connection!) so that you can get a proper diagnosis. Once this is done, a treatment plan can be put into place to help you. If you do indeed have OCD, it is treatable. I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you again.

  11. Pam says:

    I have a son in law that tells us he has OCD. Don’t know if he has actually been diagnosed or not. He just tells us he is. Let me tell you what I see. His room is so deep in clothes both dirty and clean and empty boxes and junk and dirty plates and glasses because he eats in his room away from family every meal. Yes he has depression also but his mess is the worse I have ever seen. His bathroom is such a mess with tools and projects he has only started that he can barely get through it. The basement is pull of lumber and tools with projects started and not finished. He started in one simple project four months ago and made it so complicated that it is all over the basement and not finished. His wife has found a therapist but things have not changed but gotten worse. He has two beautiful little kids by my daughter and three older boys by first marriage. It is so hard to see the piles of chaos over at their home.

    • Hi Pam, I am so sorry to hear how difficult things are for your daughter and her family. There are some positive things in your comment, though. First your son-in-law is lucky to have people who care so much about him and want to help him. Second, the fact that he is seeing a therapist is a good sign that he also wants help.
      If he does indeed have OCD (I would think your daughter would know if he has an official diagnosis?) then he needs a therapist who specializes in treating OCD using exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. This is the number one evidence-based psychological therapy for treating OCD, yet many therapists don’t use it or aren’t even aware of it. Not getting the right treatment is a common problem for those with OCD and their condition often worsens with other therapies. This happened to my son.
      I suggest you and your daughter check out the IOCDF website which will aid you in finding the right therapist and also give you questions to ask potential therapists.
      Good luck and I wish you and your family all the best.

  12. pruvitketos says:

    This is so interesting. I was diagnosed about 20 years ago and I’m a counter and messy. I used to attend an OCD group and some people would talk about how symptoms can change or switch sometimes. I secretly wished my OCD would switch to being consumed by organizing and cleaning instead of being messy and feeling the need to have things all around.

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