My Legacy of OCD

One of the unexpected benefits of writing my blog, is the contact from Facebook friends and acquaintances, sharing their own experiences as related to my posts.  Today, a friend shared a little of his battle with OCD and medication.  As I responded to his comments, I reflected about my dad’s struggle with OCD, and how many of his obsessions and compulsions I have inherited.

My dad was in the Navy until I was eight years old.  I always thought his punctuality, orderliness, attention to detail, and discipline were a result of his military training.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I heard stories about my dad growing up that I came to realize he had these traits long before the Navy got to him.  When he was ten, he had a paper route.  He kept track of his clients on 3×5 index cards; how much each tipped and whether or not he was given anything at Christmas.

This evolved into a ledger he kept of all his finances.  He kept track of his expenditures by category; mortgage, utilities, garbage, gasoline, auto maintenance, insurance, food, clothing, credit card usage and cash, and more.  He listed the date paid, check number, then when the check cleared.  He planned his budget and kept track of it down to the penny.  If my mom spent 50 cents for a Coke, is was recorded in the food category.  She would also have to give a daily cash count of what she had in her wallet, whether or not she spent anything, just in case she lost a penny I guess.  Every night he would sit down and make sure everything balanced.

Later, when personal computers came along, he found a program call Managing Your Money.  Everything was entered into this database, then he would back up the program.  Then he got Quicken and entered data into both programs.  And of course he would have to make sure the balances in both matched.  And he would have to back up both programs.  Eventually, he bought a laptop computer.  He put Managing Your Money and Quicken on the laptop.  He backed up both programs on the laptop, then did a back up onto his desk top computer.  He had so many back ups to perform, he had to schedule alarms on his computer so he wouldn’t forget to do the back ups.  And of course he didn’t fully trust the technology, so he had to keep paper copies of everything too.

His organization and attention to detail carried over to his garage/workshop.  All his tool drawers were labeled with the contents, as well as the little drawers containing screws and nails and bolts.  He color coded everything, he had binders with items listed by location, alphabetically, and numerically.  Yet he often had trouble finding things.  With the exception of my desk, I am fairly organized. Even though everything isn’t always tidy, I can usually find what I’m looking for…with the exception of one 3 inch binder with all of Wendell’s early medical records.  A story for another time as I digress.  Most of Wendell’s toys and games are in plastic storage boxes with a printed label to identify what is inside, however he doesn’t share my need for organization, not even a little bit.  He likes everything out on display where he can stare at it in awe.

If something came in a box, he always kept the box.  If he bought a new toaster, the box was put in the garage.  He had stacks of boxes for everything he ever purchased.  If the item needed to be returned, he had the box.  If the item had been replaced, the old box would be used to store something, and labeled so he knew what was stored inside.  He kept the boxes he brought home from Costco and used them for maps in his car, packing things when he traveled, and storing stuff.  He had a lot of stuff.  This was always confusing to me; you don’t store maps in a box that held 2 – gallon jugs of orange juice.  I would rather buy a plastic storage box and print a label to identify the contents.  Plus you have the ability to neatly stack items.

I used to keep boxes for electronics and appliances because it made moving easier to have the original box and packing material.  Or, it makes storing an item infrequently used (like a window air conditioner) easier.  But after I moved to Pennsylvania, I figured that was the last move I’d ever make, and got rid of most of my boxes.  I wasn’t expecting to meet DJ, get married and move again.  But this is the last move I will ever make.  Now our boxes are used to put things in to be burned in the wood furnace.

I think my dad was the first person I ever knew who cut the tags out of his shirts.  He did this a minimum of 40 years ago.  I thought he was nuts, then he explained about the itching.  Gee, I never realized that was why my neck itched, and I’ve been cutting tags out of my clothes for about 30 years.  And now most clothing is tagless!  We were ahead of the times I guess.

My dad gained and lost a lot of weight over the years.  He never threw out any of his clothes, so if he gained or lost, he could always find something to fit.  If he found a style of shoes, or socks, or shirts that he liked, he bought several (as in more than 6) and kept them in his closet.  He wanted to make sure he had a replacement when one wore out.  Except that when it (whatever “it” was) wore out, he would go look for something new in the store, and then buy a bunch to have on hand.  Thus, his closet was stuffed with shoes and socks and undershirts he never wore.

One of the ways he lost the greatest amount of weight, was he measured and weighed exactly his portions of food.  If a serving was 3 ounces, he weighed on his digital scale exactly 3 ounces.  Not 3.1 ounces, or 2.9 ounces.  If 5 pieces made a serving of crackers, he ate 5 pieces.  He also exercised during this time.  Once he lost the required weight, he continued to eat proper portions.  When this became too much work for him, he stopped.  So it always puzzled me as to why he continued to measure out a cup or 8 ounces of cereal each morning for breakfast.  I asked my mom one day, she told me it was because it would make the portions of cereal in the box come out correctly.  It would drive him crazy when she just poured “x” amount in her bowl, so they had to have their own cereal boxes.

He loved to go to Costco and stock up on things, anything and everything.  My parents lived in eastern Nevada, 4 hours from Salt Lake City, and 5 hours from Reno.  They had to travel 30 miles to a town with a grocery store, hardware store, restaurants, any shopping really.  So trips to Costco in Salt Lake City or Boise resulted in a packed vehicle on return.  I don’t know how often they went, but he would buy cases of soap, vitamins, deodorant and tomato soup, even if they still had cases at home.  Everything was dated with a Sharpie so he would use the oldest product first.  Gotta have proper product rotation.  I don’t stock up on things the way he did, nor do I write dates on things, but I do pay attention to using the oldest items first.

My dad loved to look at catalogs.  He received dozens (no joke) in the mail every day (yes daily not weekly).  Sometimes he bought things, which would lead to his name being put on another mailing list.  He kept his catalogs in alphabetical order so he could find them quickly if someone asked if he knew where to get a particular item.  He would mark the front of each one with the month and year he received it to make sure he always had and was referencing the most current issue.  I don’t keep catalogs, at all.  Most of time I don’t even look at them, they go straight into the burn box.  I shop online.

He had binders full of product manuals for every item he ever purchased.  These were also in alphabetical order for ease of access.  This is one habit I picked up from him, although I don’t keep mine in a binder.  I use an accordion folder and file by product type.  And I will say I have referred to that folder at least once a month.

His compulsions grew worse as he aged.  These changes were more noticeable because my parents would visit me in Pennsylvania every October for 2 weeks.  One was how he worried about his hands being dirty and had to scrub frequently.  This is another compulsion we share, especially when I am cooking.  I will crack an egg, then wash my hands; unwrap a stick of butter then wash my hands; blow my nose then wash my hands.  I’ve started wearing gloves when I handle meat or chicken because I don’t like to get the stuff under my finger nails.

My dad also planned their annual pilgrimage to Pennsylvania months in advance.  Even though the trip had been made for many years, he had to check the route traveled to avoid any construction delays, morning and evening rush hour traffic, and bypass any professional or college sporting events.  Rest stops, bathroom breaks, meals and shopping stops were planned to the exact location and precise minute.  Maps were studied and alternate routes plotted just in case.  He had a binder with what radio stations were available as he traveled through their airwaves.  The binder contained a list of exits and what services were available at each.  He would only purchase gas from certain manufacturers.  They stayed in the same motels, and even asked for the same rooms.

He would also draw out a map of where everything was to go in the car.  After I moved from California to Pennsylvania, my parents moved my plants for me.  My dad custom built holders for the plants so they wouldn’t spill or move.  Everything in the car had it’s place, everything in the car had to be carried into the motel every night, and reloaded in the morning.  Everything was covered from view to prevent prying eyes from knowing what he carried and to prevent theft.  Nothing rattled or squeaked or moaned and any offending items were wrapped or padded or relocated to eliminate distracting noises. Packing and unloading of the car occurred in the garage so he neighbors didn’t know what was happening.

Weeks in advance of the trip, items were staged on the bed in the guest room.  Inventories were written up and check to make sure nothing was missing or moved or packed somewhere else.  I do stage items too, but only a few days in advance.  I just pile everything in the truck, biggest stuff on the bottom, stuff I want to get to quickly on top or in front.  It it rattles or squeaks and I can’t fix it, I turn up the radio.  Sometimes, when I make a turn, if the load isn’t stacked and balance right, Wendell gets a lap full of something.  It’s usually just the pillows.

I miss my dad.  August will be 3 years.  He often drove me absolutely crazy, irritating me to no end.  But I learned a great many things from him, how to balance my checkbook, simple electrical wiring, how to fix a toilet and a dripping sink, changing the oil in my vehicle and checking the fluids, just to name a few.  I laugh about his OCD, less in a mocking way and more as an appreciation and acceptance that I too have many of the same tendencies. Knowing how worked up he could get about something makes me pause and reconsider my reactions and responses to my own daily challenges.  He influenced my thoughts and actions, and even today, I catch myself thinking, “my dad would do “x” this way”.

Larry Fay     August 27, 1938 – August 18, 2011


One thought on “My Legacy of OCD

  1. I like this, but it made me cry a little, because in spite of his OCD stuff that drove me nuts, I miss him too. And a lot of the things he did in planning a trip actually made it easier for us to travel, once we were on the road. And it kept him somewhat relaxed to know exactly where he was going to sleep each night along the way and where we would eat and buy gas. And he always built in a little time for me to shop at Hobby Lobby in Cheyenne, WY. while he waited patiently in the car. Patiently, because after shopping, we usually ate at the restaurant that was in the same little shopping center.


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