“I’m so OCD about my room, I have to clean it every day when I get home.”
You don’t have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because you choose to come home and clean your room, OCD is a life-consuming and all-encompassing drive to fulfill each and every nervous tic and anxiety imposed life-requirement.
My brother has suffered from OCD since he started public school, and anxiety has defined every day of his life since. From counting out steps in sets of eight, to wearing the same clothes everyday for years because they “feel right” and writing out daily lists of worries graded on a numerical scale of importance, OCD has become part of his every movement and thought.
The first time I can remember all of this becoming part of my life was in the fourth grade. I was asked to join a special education attendant and my brother in our school’s music room.
As I walked into the bare room from the loud hallway I was asked to continue into a dimly lit storage closet where the school kept musical instruments. It was in that calm closet, amongst plastic recorders, that me and my brother were left alone so that I could use special brushes on his arms to help desensitize him and help him tame his anxiety and continue his day at school. We walked back to the hallway together and back to class.
That was the day I realized that my brother would never be like anyone I’d ever meet.
As we both got older it never ceased, but always changed. From counting to clothes and from lists to anxiety attacks, my brother seemed to be at constant odds with himself, like he was fighting for a relaxed breath. The way he dealt with these issues began to define the person he came to be, the brother I now admire so much.
He became organized and calculated because he knew the first thing that was knocked out of perfect alignment in his life would start a chain. For him a missed assignment meant more than just a disappointed teacher and before he knew it he would be weeks behind. There was no skipping class or taking a day off, just structured days.
It’s always been hard to understand for me, as with all things of this nature. But what I do know is that my brother is not a victim of OCD, he’s not mentally ill or sedated by his medication, he’s risen to the occasion every single step of the way.
The way this condition has made him act — organized, calculated and precise — has become the basis for his entire outlook on life, his moral compass has followed suit. OCD has caused him to develop the most rigorous and strict set of values I’ve ever seen in a person. He’s spent so much time being hyper-analytic of everything on the surface that he’s developed a sort of OCD-infused test for everyone he meets and what he deems important.
He’s passionate about his country because it’s all he knows, his family because they’ve always understood, his dog because she’s always happy with him, and his freshly-scrubbed set of golf clubs because they’ll always be there on Sunday night to clean.
I’ve never seen someone happier seeing their whole family for Christmas, or angrier when they’re not all there.
About a month ago my brother found an unsealed seam in his MacBook Pro and took it in to be repaired. Instead he was offered a brand new computer. He refused it because he couldn’t handle the fact that the serial numbers wouldn’t match the ones on the box.
Recently he finally took it upon himself to deal with his car that broke down. He’d been ignoring it and living without transportation because the process of replacing an engine and spending the money it will require causes him so much anxiety that he wouldn’t be able to handle his day-to-day tasks.
He ended up writing a letter to the president of the car manufacturer looking for some retribution for his engine troubles. The president got back to him within hours and is helping him get his car fixed.
It baffles me that my brother, the guy who gets so flustered doing homework he forgets to use Google, can track down the owner of a multi-billion dollar company.
But he accepts who he is now.
I’m thankful to have a person to look up to like my younger brother. Not because he’s conquered a mental illness, but because every anxiety attack was met with another victory, and every two-hour morning of getting himself ready to face the day has been met with hard work and a sort of “it could be worse” attitude that could shrink even the largest personality. He truly climbs a mountain for every step backward.
Keep on working kid.