I have two offices. The one in Orange City is all mine — and I think it’s rather nice — but the one in Longwood, where I work Thurs and Friday afternoons, I share with another therapist. That office’s maintenance leaves a lot to be desired. The landlord provides no cleaning. The carpet was dingy when we moved in four years ago and its only gotten worse.
Now there is a gigantic coffee stain in the office’s group room/waiting area and it’s been there for over a year — no doubt, attributable to one of my partner’s messy court-ordered clients. They tend to be self-centered sociopaths and not terribly concerned about keeping another’s space tidy. This stain is on an industrial type carpet that was already worn and dirty. When I enter that room all I see is the stain, and I imagine that a new client’s eyes are also drawn to that same spot as well. When I usher them thru that area into my office I do not look at the stain and I try to distract them with small talk in hopes that they won’t look down and see the giant blot.
Several weeks ago I brought a brush and some fluid from home and made the stain somewhat less intense. . . but it’s still there, and every time I walk into that room all I see is coffe-stain brown on dirty beige that fairly screams “Slob!” at me. With my particular form of OCD once you see an imperfection you can never look away. My particular form of OCD is a companion condition to my Dysthymic Disorder — the sadness that never ends. Very likely, the inability to look away from a problem contributes to the sadness that never ends.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of problem solving gone awry. OCD-ers tend to go over and over a problem in their thoughts — spinning and spinning their cognitive wheels like crazed hamsters — but seldom finding any resolution.
Being obsessive about imperfections has its pluses and minuses. Sometimes it motivates me to transcend my innate sloth and to try harder. However, more often than not it just makes me miserable. And if I commit an error or a sin — and who doesn’t– I dwell on that torment as well.
However, another plus is that my obsessiveness makes up for having a fairly average IQ. When I get onto a topic I usually examine it over and over. I research it in depth. I mull it over in my thoughts like a hound gnawing a good bone. And I generally tend to savor every morsel of knowledge no matter how far afield. I have a head chock full of irrelevant assorted facts. But having a somewhat synergistic intellect I occasionally stumble upon things tangentially related and I’m able to create an apparently new paradigm — at least new to me.
Age twelve was a big year in my life. It was at the age of 12 that I lost my cognitive virginity. From that tender age on I had an obsessive curiosity about life’s big questions. The truculent onset of sexuality shocked me out of a somewhat idyllic childhood innocence. When I realized that nobody bothered to tell me about puberty, I wondered what else the adults in my life had not informed me of and what other unpleasant surprises might await me.
And so by age 13, I had become an obsessive searcher for knowledge about the world and about life’s big questions. I officially became an agnostic. I did not deny the existence of a Supreme Being but I was skeptical about everything I’d been taught up to that point.
But I digress. This is not primarily about how I became an agnostic at age 13, and then was “born again” at age 36. It’s about the spot on my office carpet, and how I cannot look away from that imperfection or assimilate similar blots that confound the maps in my mind and other folk’s minds about how life ought to be.
One of the occasional “unwelcome blessings” of OCD-ers is that some become highly paid consultants due to their expertise in one particular field. They know more about something than most anyone else in the world. — and industry and government beat a path to their door and pays them highly for that knowledge — they’re wealthy asbergerish nerds of the world. That’s not me.
But sometimes those afflicted with OCD — and the imperfection called sin — change the world. That would be Martin Luther, the stubbornly obsessive Augustinian monk who 500 years ago this past Autumn challenged papal authority — and within a decade the world had changed forever. We know that Luther in his lonely cell beat himself over and over mentally and physically, both literally and figuratively. In his torment he came to realize the impossibility of self-atonement, and in the study of scripture he was led by the Holy Spirit to the doctrine of grace and the completed work of Jesus on the Cross.
And so the spot on the carpet can have an upside.