Most you know that I have spent a good part of my life confused. Just when I think I’m getting a handle on the English language, out pops a “lay” when “lie” was the proper term. I think I understand the vernacular spoken around me, only to find that “sick” is a good thing, as in “insane” and “crazy” (or even “crazy insane”). Now, the last couple, I might accept, since I’ve thought for awhile that those words describe more than a few people I know and love, too. But, more about that later.
The dilemma I find myself considering today is this: How is it that the things our parents taught us were appropriate actions are now considered to be signs of emotional illness? “Wash your hands!” they demanded, over and over. It was with good reason, too. There could be no doubt that those hands had been in some unbelievable places. It was entirely possible that the same hands which had cleaned the morning’s catch of fish went right to the dinner table without the advantage of soap and water. We picked up anything and everything to examine it closely while outside in the fields and wooded areas. Bugs, feathers, dogs, cats, ponies, perhaps even the droppings of some unknown critter…they were all within the purview of the young explorers that we envisioned ourselves. Wash hands? Bah! That was for sissies! A little good honest dirt never hurt anybody! But our parents insisted and slowly, we fell into line, becoming conscious of germs and their effect on our immune system.
Today, every sink I pass in the house or at work has a container of antibacterial soap next to the faucet. They are used every time I walk outside and then back inside. Can’t have the germs from the puppies on my hands, should I happen to touch my nose or eyes. For insurance, there is a pump bottle of hand cleanser right near the cash register in the store, which I use between customers, just to be sure, you understand. Before long, there’s an obsession with washing the hands, even though they have touched nothing which would actually transfer germs. So the habit which was forced upon us as children becomes a burden and for some, a mental compulsion, symptomatic of an illness. I will admit that I am not there yet, but am watching for the tell-tale signs. It does seem to run in the family.
I do have my foibles in related areas, too. I used to go with the Lovely Lady when she was grocery shopping. It was something I wanted to share with her, instead of expecting her to take all the responsibility for bringing home the necessities for the week. I would push the cart while she checked her list and handed me items to drop into the basket. Well, that’s the way she does it. When I do it, the boxed goods are neatly arranged in their corner, the fresh vegetables piled away from the canned goods to avoid damage from the same. The refrigerated items are kept separate, so they’ll keep each other cool and be put into the same bags to take home. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Isn’t that what my third grade teacher, Mrs. Brunson taught me? (Come to think of it, she wasn’t so normal, occasionally running down the row between desks to put her head on the desk and sob, when some young man (mentioning no names) had pushed her to the breaking point.) Nevertheless, the grocery cart is organized when I’m in charge of the process. I don’t understand it though. Recently, the Lovely Lady has taken to scheduling her trips to the grocery store while I’m otherwise occupied. “Sorry, honey. Maybe you can go next week,” she apologizes tenderly. Hmmmm. I wonder…
Then there is the perplexing issue of the potato chips. When there are chips on my plate, for some unknown reason they end up in two piles before any are eaten. One pile has pristine, complete chips, the other, the broken pieces . The broken chips are then eaten first, with the much more flavorful complete ones (anyone knows a whole chip tastes better than part of one) being savored as they are eaten last.
Oh, and the M&Ms! Sorted by color and then eaten, usually leaving the same number of each color in the hand as they are consumed (first three, then two, then one of each color). The symmetry is a beautiful thing to behold! And, when we prepare for guests who come to dinner, silverware is set on the table exactly so; the forks on one side of the plates and the knives and spoons on the other, placed exactly the same distance away from the edge of the table. No, children are not allowed to play with silverware in advance of dinner!
You laugh. The term that comes to your mind is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as “OCD”. I joked recently that I call my particular illness “CDO”. It’s the same thing, but the letters are in alphabetical order, like they’re supposed to be! Again you laugh, but I beg you to turn your attention to those things in your life which would be amusing to outside observers. There are the clothes that have to be folded (or ironed) just so, the toothpaste that is rolled from the end, never squeezed in the middle, the shoes placed in the closet in perfect order. Collections are organized perfectly, spices in the spice rack alphabetically, beds made with hospital corners. We all have areas of our lives about which we are compulsive or obsessive. That is normal. Oh, mine may be more amusing, or more unusual, but they are just foibles, nothing more. I have been known to eat my potato chips out of the bag, a broken one first, then two whole ones, then a broken one again. It doesn’t upset me to do so. I eat M&Ms (peanut, of course) in the dark, never worrying about the symmetry or color. I do this without my pulse increasing and my breathing growing shallow and quick.
We don’t need to label things as diseases unless they really are. There are people who really suffer from OCD and are dangerous to themselves and others around them. These folks really can’t control their habits and thought patterns. We live in a society which is searching for the bad things. I have to admit that I enjoy the absurd and amusing habits I see in myself and others around me, simply because they are actually indicators of our normalcy, rather than our deficiencies. It’s a lot more healthy for us to laugh at ourselves and with others than to worry and fret about the minor differences. A lot more fun, too.
So, don’t sweat the small stuff. Do you see real problems that need to be dealt with in your life? Admit it and start working on them. Get help if you need it. But learn the difference between an illness and a peculiarity. Peculiar is good. And, a lot less boring than everybody being “normal”.
If you tell me that my chip sorting thing is “sick”, I’m going to assume that you mean that it’s “crazy insane”, which is a good thing, right? Oh, I’m still confused…
“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
(Francis Bacon~English lawyer and philosopher~1561-1626)