Several months ago I broached the topic of OCD with a nonfiction read about hoarding. Because OCD is such a personal subject to me, I decided to devote this month’s nonfiction more fully to the illness with a read of David Adam’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought.”
For the average, non-ill person, it’s normal to obsess now and then. It’s normal to have a senseless fear (clown in the closet?), a sudden and unsettling urge that does not fit with who we are (swerve into traffic, perhaps?) or a good-luck practice not founded on reality (certainly no one believes that knocking on wood actually works, but… just in case.) It’s normal to be picky about your books lining up straight or to lose sleep one night as a worry goes round and round in your head like a circling predator. This is not OCD.
I’m deeply attached to relics from my childhood. A ragged teddy bear with a lost leg, looking like it just got back from war. A bathrobe with embroidered stars and way-too-short sleeves for my now-adult arms. A ballerina music box that got damaged in a move, the dancer now bent sideways, musicless.
Those relics I kept a long time, and I still have many others, but eventually space demanded that I sever a few mementos. It was painful throwing them away. Like I was throwing away pieces of my life. All the years of owning them had imbued them with memory and feeling, and to see them in the garbage or give-away box hurt my heart.
This experience is common; many people can relate. Now imagine having that same depth of attachment towards every object in your home. Bubblegum wrappers. Broken appliances. Newspapers. Imagine if tossing an old take-out menu filled you with the same loss as tossing your teddy bear.
That’s how the people feel in Randy Frost’s and Gail Steketee’s compassionate book, “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things,” DD# 616.85227 – this month’s Dewey Decimal Discovery pick from the section on health.