A day in the life of Andy Behrman, obsessive-compulsive.
Los Angeles, California. It’s another sunny day in the suburbs. But I’m trapped in my house bleaching the tub, toilet and tile floor in the bathroom.
I’m scrubbing like a goddamn madman until everything is sparkling white. Killing all of the bacteria in the small six foot by six foot room. I love killing germs. I guess you could say it’s a hobby. A hobby that has become an obsession.
It’s not just that I’m a germaphobe or a clean freak. It’s just that I suffer with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And I have for years. I’ve been trapped in my house for three days doing similar neurotic things. And today is a glorious day—a perfect day to go to the beach—but right now I’m inside, ready to move on to the next task on my list. Yes, I do keep crazy long lists of chores. It’s time to do the laundry. Actually, I’ve already done five loads and it’s only noon, and now I’m folding underwear, socks, t-shirts, jeans and towels and making perfect piles on the bed—the same way my father used to do when I was a kid growing up. Yes, he suffers with OCD, too.
I spend the morning rummaging through my closets, throwing out all of my clothes that no longer fit or are the slightest bit worn or damaged. I’m obsessed with the idea of consolidating my entire wardrobe, and so I make a list of all the clothing that I will donate to charity—jeans, pants, suits, jackets, sweaters, shirts and shoes. Everything else I will burn in a big public bonfire somewhere in the middle of the 405 Freeway near Sunset.
Next, I make a brief list of everything that I will need to purchase to survive in my new minimalist lifestyle: seven pairs of underwear, one pair of jeans, three t-shirts, one pair of shorts, one suit, one pair of shoes, one pair of sneakers and one jacket. Oh God, I feel cleansed. Relieved. Free. I head into the bathroom and take a half-hour shower and use a whole bottle of shampoo. I also attempt to use an entire bar of soap to lather my body, but it’s impossible to use the whole thing. I give up, but still I feel extremely clean. I scrub every part of my body, rinse and then dry off. Then I get out of the shower and shave and get back into the shower (a habit that I’ve had ever since I started shaving) and rinse off again. I dry off and put on my bathrobe.
I sit down in front of the computer and go through all of my new e-mails, answer them, and then delete all of the junk e-mails that have collected before sending out another e-mail to everyone on my mailing list. It’s just a short greeting, but enough to let everybody know that I’m “alive and well.” I question how well I really am.
I drink a liter of bottled water. I have to go the bathroom and urinate, but I decide that I will organize my bookshelves first. When this is finally finished, I run to the bathroom and I relieve myself. I’m exhausted from all of this activity and I climb into bed in the middle of the day.
When I put my head down on the pillow, I finally escape from the demands of the obsessive compulsive chatter in my head, and I can relax for about five minutes. Then it all comes back to haunt me, and the visions start to fill my head. I’m not sure if they are actual hallucinations or just ‘imaginations’ (as a Jungian analyst might call them), but they frighten me.
I start organizing my physical environment around me. Everything that is on my desk I imagine enclosing in plastic containers and marking with special labels. Clothing that is not put away must be stored in these same containers, and all other objects that don’t have ‘official’ places must be put in them as well. Once everything in my view is in these containers, I can rest.
Unfortunately, it is not just objects but concepts, ideas and histories that need to be ‘filed’ too. Sometimes this can take days, and I am bed-bound because of this huge task.
What’s so frightening about my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the amount of time that I waste. Time passes so quickly when I get lost in this kind of activity, and I calculate that I’ve wasted a total of approximately fifteen years on obsessive compulsive tasks.
Once, my psychiatrist treated me for OCD with a medication called Anafranil, and I had some limited success with it. But I discontinued use after one month because he was more interested in treating me for my bipolar disorder. However, sometimes I find that my OCD, if “used to my benefit”, can be productive, and I apply it to my work so that I organize my tasks and chores quite effectively. I’m quite good at taking care of details when it comes to physical space or cleaning, but I have serious problems when it comes down to actually getting work done. If given the choice between writing a novel in one year or cleaning three apartments a day five times a week, I would probably choose the latter.
And although I’m very busy working on the sequel to my first book, Electroboy: a Memoir of Mania, as well as trying to keep my OCD under control, I’m always available for housework. You can contact me at www.electroboy.com
Photo: vox_efx / flickr