Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Obsessive behavior

Long back when I was new to this industrial town I was amused to observe an obsession for cleanliness in some of my neighbors. Now who doesn’t like a well kept house with everything in perfect order? But it is one thing to strive to keep things in order and quite another to drive everyone crazy due to the obsession. S was one such person. Her house could be easily mistaken for a well maintained hospital ward such was her obsession for cleanliness. I once went to her place to make an emergency phone call. I did not have the courage to step in lest I dirty her drawing room. Every thing stating from bed-linen to sofa covers were sparkling white. She had finished cooking, the gas stove had been wiped clean and covered with a white towel and every corner of her house looked well maintained. The children had gone to school. Their slippers had been washed and lined up in the balcony to dry. I was all praise for her house-keeping skills. We had tea together in her balcony and I took leave and returned home. From my own balcony I could see hers and to my surprise I saw the within minutes of my departure she had washed the sofa cover that I had sat on and was quickly wiping the floor having swept it soon after I stepped out of her house. I was annoyed and amused at the same time. Stories related to her obsession for cleanliness were whispered by my neighbors. Her children were scared to use the toilet after they finished their morning routine and left for school. She would wash the bath – room cum toilet once in the morning and again before an evening bath. The children normally relieved themselves at school before coming home or found excuses to use a neighbor’s bathroom. She was however kind enough to let them use it on their return from play in the evening before she washed it. It was a common sight to see her husband open his shoes in the landing and walk into the house carrying it in his hand to be placed in the shoe rack. I often wondered if it made sense to have a sparkling house at the expense of torturing children in their pre-teens.

Another neighbor D would detain her servant till seven in the evening. Every item in the house had to be dusted and ever corner of her house would be wiped over and over again. Her children aged six and two would be seen playing in the verandah in all weather conditions. They would be denied entry out of fear that they would mess up the house. Oh yes, she loved them a lot but her obsession for cleanliness far outweighed her love for them. We would often see her escort the servant home. She’d be dressed in a petticoat and a loose shirt hardly befitting a woman of her status. Her excuse would be that she hadn’t yet cooked for the family and would change after finishing her cooking and had a bath perhaps at nine or ten in the night. Through out the day one could see her peculiarly dressed, hair uncombed and duster in hand. I often wondered if she cooked breakfast and lunch for her children (her husband had his meals in his office canteen) or treated them to readymade snacks and cold milk if at all.

My own mother in law had a fetish for cleanliness. But hers was within normal limits and the routine of the house certainly did not suffer. While my sister in law and I relaxed with a book in the afternoon she would tidy the kitchen and clean up stuff. She would never be satisfied with the way we arranged things. To her credit I must admit that her organization was better than ours – so what if she kept changing the order every now and then. And she certainly would not start sweeping and swabbing the house after every visitor left.

I wonder how common or uncommon this trait is in society. Wanting to have a well kept house with everything in perfect order and working towards it should be okay. Like in the case of S, she worked hard and maintained a high standard of cleanliness. But the fact that she was always well dressed and her family was well cared for is indicative of the fact that she did not let her obsession interfere with her role as wife and mother. She also had time for social visits, shopping etc. But not letting a child use the toilet in their own house was taking things too far.

D on the other hand was obsessed with her desire to have a sparkling house but her obsession was such that her children were neglected and her work was never over in time. I later heard that she was taken to a counselor for psychiatric assistance. When does an obsession become abnormal I wonder. Long back I read a short story titled ‘araikuraigal’ by the Tamil writer Jayakanthan. It was amusing as well as thought provoking. It points out that the line dividing sanity from insanity is very thin. I suppose it would be wise to set limits to one’s obsession/ambition and stick to them. Excess of any trait however appealing can only be harmful not only to the person but to others who are in association with him or her.

24 comments:

starry eyed said...

My husband's grandmother had OCD...it was horrible to live with her...she had baths thrice daily and would wash clothes all through the day. And scream filth at others saying that we were all dirty etc. It is truly a mental illness.

On the other hand I get what you mean by that thin line. My own grandma can overdo the cleaning, but I think she's not obsessive, just super-particular. Others don't suffer as a result of her cleanliness!

PNA said...

One of my aunts have this ocd for cleanliness...and her children were clean within the limits of that house, but once they started staying with our grandmother, were so happy being untidy, scattering clothes and shoes around their room...one could see the relief in their faces after stepping out of some military camp or something similar

it's a very thin line, i hope ppl know the difference and recognise where to draw that line

Smitha said...

Oh it must be crazy living with someone with such an obsession! And yes, lots of us do obsess about stuff, but know where to draw a line. I guess when we don't that's where it becomes an illness.

dr.antony said...

The insane deny and know nothing of the real world or how to deal with it, thus choose to live in a world they create within their own minds.Yes,the line is too thin,hardly visible.Even normal people have times of what we can call insanity.

I have seen such people as well.I want my house to be clean and comfortable. I would like to sit on my sofa and rest my legs on the opposite chair or a foot rest,or sit down on the floor on a mat,or throw some cushions on the floor, and so on.One has to be comfortable and relaxed at home. Some people polish and shine their floors,so you don't feel like walking on it.You wont feel like sitting on their sofa,lest the cushions might move.
This is the limit.I don't think it is because of their cleanliness.Some people want to show off.They are not comfortable in their own homes.Like you said,they would go to someone else's toilets to dirty.

Sraboney said...

I like my house neat and clean but I'm not obsessive about it - maybe just a wee bit particular...I do lie down on the sofa and watch TV and let my daughter eat while sitting on it...I'm obsessive about ants - Singapore has a big ant and cockroach problem...I wipe immediately if something has spilled and keep my kitchen neat and clean...

My grandmother washes currency and notes and coins and used to expect us to have a bath every time we visited the loo - obviously we paid no heed...

R's Mom said...

I am not as bad as M and S but my hubby thinks I do have some kind of an obession of keeping the bathrooms and kitchen clean :) no but seriously I have no issues with dirt around me as long as its not affecting anyone's health, but my bathrooms really need to be clean and kitchen has to be in order every night before I go to sleep...yaa bordering to obession I guess

Ugich Konitari said...

Several years ago I had neighbors who were a couple with no children The lady was a fanatic about her house. I didnt know it was called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but she was certainly obsessive and compulsive. Everytime you got up from her sofa(which was always covered), she immediately smoothed the covers, in your presence, as wrinkles were intolerable to her. She had curtains which were like a summer, fall , monsoon and winter collection, and she was constantly washing and changing these.

The height was when she cribbed about her own fairly old ,father. He, a widower, really liked the son-in-law, and would come stay with her sometimes. He had a medical problem which made him want to clear his throat and spit every few minutes. Occasionally , as it happens with very old people, stuff would fall here and there. But she never thought of getting a decent spitoon for him. She'd sit around him with a disturbed face and a cloth in hand , and would keep spraying and wiping stuff, all this in front of guests. And she would keep cribbing about her own father endlessly to all of us. We werent surprised when the old man stopped coming. But she was happy.

And then there was this doctor lady who washed cucumbers with detergent, and wiped every single washed methi leaf, before cooking.

I give up ....

Hip Grandma said...

Starry eyed:i can understand. My MIL was like your grandma and my friend's SIL like your grandma in law. Her daughter is a replica of the mother and starts cooking at 10 in the night. Never mind if the children fall asleep hungry.After returning from office she has to wash and clean for three hours before making a cup of tea. She won't let the husband help nor allow him to hire someone to cook. All he can do is to wait for her to take her own time and cook when she feels satisfied about the standard of cleanliness. Anyone entering the house has to go straight for a bath.

PNA:Children will be children and they like to be allowed to run wild once in a way. I can understand their joy at being free of constant disciplining.

Smitha:Washing one's hand over and over again does not bother others too much. But to upset the routine of the house and behave as if every visitor who sits on one's sofa has a contagious disease can be frustrating. But unfortunately their families suffer much more than the visitors who can avoid visiting them if they choose to.

dr.antony:Being a doctor you should know. Is this OCD behavior treatable? While some have an uncontrollable version of the disorder, there are others who are plain mean and simply show off. When i am in an uncharitable mood I do wonder why they don't slip and fall on their own polished floors. May be they do but never tell!

Sraboney:I can understand your wanting an ant free or cockroach free kitchen. But washing currency notes is the limit!

R's mom:Wanting to clean up the kitchen before going to bed is understandable and a certain amount of fastidiousness is understandable. Only when it is over done or repeatedly done it becomes a problem. When a child is hungry cleaning should be postponed and he/she should be fed first.Take care not to overdo.Everything will be fine.

Suranga:Washing cucumbers with detergent and wiping methi leaves? This is the limit!ha,ha. I know of a case like the lady who was mean to her father. She had a sister who was a TB patient and came over to our town for treatment. In the four days that she stayed in her house before getting admitted to a hospital the lady created such a ruckus about cleanliness and infection that the sister did not even wish her goodbye when she was discharged from hospital and headed for the station from the hospital. I agree that precautions need to be taken but should one be outright mean? What if she herself or anyone in her family had been a TB patient? I tried telling her that TB was completely curable provided one completed the course of medicines. She would have none of it and kept cribbing in her sister's presence.

hillgrandmom said...

HHG, you have the crux of it right--when one cannot live a normal life because of always wanting things in a certain way, then it becomes an obsession. If being clean all the time, or for that matter always wanting to be on time, prevents you from being flexible, then obviously there is a problem. But a person with a serious obsession is to be pitied, because I'm sure they are suffering.

dr.antony said...

There are two different issues.Obsessive behavior can be eased by proper counselling.But then,some people want to show off,and it is their choice.They will say,we are the ones who need counselling.
Obsessive Compulsive neurosis,on the other hand, is a psychiatric illness and needs treatment,but difficult to deal with.I had seen some cases long time back.One young man used to spend hours together in the bathroom,washing and washing,and could never reach his work place in time.Another person was restless at his work place worrying if his gas stove was turned on or not.He used to go back to his house every hour,and finally lost his job.These are extremes.

What we talk about are people who are egotistic show offs.They will learn only by painful lessons.

Hip Grandma said...

Dr.Antony:Thank you.That was useful information.

Hip Grandma said...

hillg'mom:It is not only about being rigid. It is more about making life hell for others.About not being sensitive to the needs of those around you.The sad part is that those closest to the person suffer most.Like the woman I mentioned in my reply to an earlier comment, school going children could go to bed hungry but her standard of cleanliness had to be met.No help accepted, no ready to eat food allowed. This is not just obsession,it is cruelty. and the person does not even realize it.

radha said...

I had an aunt who would wash the bottles everyday, with soap,hotwater and a bottle brush. A task generally handed over to any house guest. I like my house clean but generally the cleanliness bug gets in on weekends. I do admire those who keep the house spotless, but then any thing that is an obsession can be annoying.

Hip Grandma said...

radha:one's house needs to have a certain amount of comfort level. If one cannot walk in one's own house without worrying about dirtying it the comfort level gets compromised and other members get tortured. Long back when 'madi' was very seriously practiced in Tambrahm households my mother would make us stand with a silk dhoti wrapped around us to plait our hair before going to school. We'd be made to wear our clothes/shoes on our own and tying shoelaces was difficult for me at the age of 5 and 6. I really would wonder why my mother could not be like all other mothers. So whether madi or meticulousness if practised within limits is okay but when it becomes an obsession one needs to have second thoughts about its effect on those around you.

Renu said...

As you said there is a fine line..Cleanliness is a good thing but when it becomes an obsession and deprives the family of a pleasure of home..its not

itchingtowrite said...

http://itchingtowriteblogs.blogspot.com/2010/10/obsessive-cleanliness-disorder.html
linked your post

Devasena Hariharan said...

this reminds me of my mom, she used to boil with water every kadai that was used to cook Non veg..

had a good laugh reading your post.

Hip Grandma said...

Renu: i quite agree. Any thing when practiced excessively can be a pain.

ITW:I thought you had given up reading my posts. Welcome back. I read your post too. Interesting.

Devasena Hariharan: Thanks and welcome here.

How do we know said...

i have nothing new to say... my case is little weird.. i can live with (and prefer) a little clutter around the house, but there cannot be any dust behind the ears. So the corners, the places under the furniture, the unreachable ones that get dirty and no one notices, have to be super clean.No cobwebs, no dirty gas stove, and a dustbin in every single room. Two in the bigger bedroom. BUT, On the sofa will rest our clothes and the baby's toys. And of course, the sprawled family.

I guess standards of hygiene are very relative. That which others call clean i call dirty, that which others call dirty i call clean.. have seen some ppl whose sense of hygiene was hard to understand initially, but eventually, have just made peace with the various hygiene levels in the world.

Hip Grandma said...

How do we know:Welcome here.'I guess standards of hygiene are very relative.' Yes they are.and priorities change from person to person. Some like to cook first and take a bath later unless of course there is a puja in the house or a person like my mother who will not eat food prepared without bathing is visiting. Others will not step into the kitchen without first bathing. One cannot decide which of these arrangements is correct. I decide on the spur of the moment and act accordingly. Some will start dusting early in the morning. Others prefer to read the morning newspaper first. As long as the house looks tidied up by a stipulated time each morning it should be okay. More than other things the comfort level should not be compromised in the name of cleanliness as Dr. Antony pointed out.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I came over here from the Mad Momma comments and I want to let you know that I took complete offense to your article. I know I cannot control what people think/write and it is a free world but I still think that your article was ignored the fact that OCD is a recognized illness by the medical community. I have a family member who has suffered from the illness almost her entire life and struggles to live a life even now. She has been on medication and behavioral therapy since she was 13 and she is 34 now. It is an illness just like Cancer, heart disease, or any other mental illness would be. To outsiders it may seem like she is ignoring her children but at the same time it is an illness and her illness is what is making those decisions for her. I hope you understand that and be sympathetic to these individuals.

You obviously reserve the right to not publish my statements but I think that if at least one person who visits this page learns and recognized that OCD is an illness, and not to be judgmental about folks who have it, this comment would have served its purpose.

Hip Grandma said...

anon:I am sorry I offended you. I really did not mean to. I have heard that OCD is prevalent in society and its degree varies with individuals. I also very vaguely understand that it requires medical intervention. But you should know since you have seen someone at very close quarters.

I am sorry once again and I'll take care to discuss issues on the merit and gravity that they deserve. Thanks for pointing out.

Anonymous said...

The same anon again! Thank you so much for your reply. It makes me feel so much better.

Hip Grandma said...

anon:Amen!Now that the issue has been sorted out I hope you will continue to read my posts and point out areas that need to be addressed. I need critics to do that. till now my readers have mostly pampered me.