My wife thinks she is sleeping with the enemy.
Before there are any misunderstandings, my opening reference is to the 1991 film of the same name (starring Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin and Kevin Anderson). It is most certainly not a sleight on my wife's fidelity; nor am I suggesting that I am an abusive husband. However, Patrick Bergin's character and I do share one thing in common; we both stack the contents of the kitchen cupboards in tidy, orderly rows, with the labels facing outwards.
Initially, my wife put it down to my army background instilling in me a strong sense of regimentation. However, having known me for a while, she started to reconsider her preliminary diagnosis. The colour co-ordinated shirts, socks and sweaters in my wardrobes were further clues, as was the need for absolute precision when hanging paintings and arranging furniture. Twenty years on, my wife was reminded that the years have not changed me (at least not in this sense) when I proudly demonstrated to her the results of my weekend's work of re-arranging the library at home. Shelf upon shelf of neat books, arranged according to category, and then alphabetically by author within each category. Furthermore, all the books are forward adjusted to compensate for differences in size, so that the leading edges are all in a wonderfully straight line. The CD collection suffered a similar fate last month. To me, the result is one of blissful order, if not a work of art; to my wife, it is a sign that I most certainly have an obsessive-compulsive personality. Psychiatrists know it better as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or just 'OCD'.
Whether it is put down to my military training or the fact that I am an Aquarian, or any other plausible explanation, the fact remains that I prefer a structured pattern to my life; which is perhaps that is why I was drawn to joining the army. It would seem that such a preference extends deep into my subconscious mind, as I often wake at precisely 3.33am, 4.44am or 5.55am; a fact which then keeps me awake and starring at the clock in wonderment that it has happened yet again (and I often wonder what numerologists would have to say about it all). I was even born at 5.55pm; which, you have to agree, is a great start in life for someone with OCD.
For me, OCD does nothing more than renders me a mild eccentric in the eyes of my family and friends. By and large, I am not perturbed by my predilection for routine and life goes on in an harmonious fashion. The problem comes when that routine is disturbed by major upheaval and change. People with OCD do not greet change with any degree of warmth or enthusiasm unless it is of their own making (so imagine how I feel with the current re-organisation of the National Health Service). The truth is, for some people change in their routine is immensely disturbing to the point of making them psychologically ill. Such people may also demonstrate far more obsessive characteristics than I do; such as the need for continual hand-washing (although not a bad trait for a doctor to have), repetitive checking of door locks, and that gas knobs and taps are turned off, etc. For those people and their families, OCD can become akin to a living nightmare and is most certainly not a joke. Such issues create poor health, ruin jobs and destroy marriages. The trick is to recognise the behaviour early, well-before it becomes a major problem. It is important not to be frightened of confronting the issue and seeking help if you think the condition is affecting you in an adverse way. Your GP can act as a guide to local counselling and therapeutic services, and there are also support groups available (such as OCD-UK, which can be accessed at http://www.ocduk.org/4/groups.htm).
Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the next weekend. Those tools in the garden shed could do with a bit of a tidy-up, and then of course there is the garage, the loft, the wine cellar...
First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Monday 21st March 2011