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My OCD Causes a Love-Hate Relationship With Planners and Cleaning

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

I think I started using planners in college. After college, when I started working in human resources, at one point I had a work planner and a personal planner. When my husband saw some of what I had written in there, which included some things most people just remember all on their own daily, he joked if I had written to breathe in there. When my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the anxiety it causes got worse than ever postpartum and I became severely depressed, I took a short break from planners. This started when I accidentally lost mine and decided to try life without one. I eventually started writing to-do lists again and started using my work calendar for work and personal reminders. I mainly had reminders pop up at the end of the day, like my daughter is supposed to dress up for crazy hair day at school tomorrow, for instance.

When I eventually took a break from the corporate world and became a preschool teacher again, I had to buy an actual planner because I was not on a computer all day anymore. I could have set up reminders on my phone, but this is one area I remain old-fashioned. I love to write it down and cross it out and I love that it can never die, unlike my phone. So, when I have that urgent feeling to add something before I forget, I can just write it down. Doing this sometimes even helps me sleep better and get it off my mind. It can be a good thing when I don’t get too obsessed.

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I think using the written planner gives me some kind of feeling of accomplishment and more of a feeling of control. However, when I didn’t get it done, it would often stress me out. I would also often find myself writing too many things down and becoming too dependent on having to write them down to remember anything. Once my lists got too long, I would become overwhelmed. Over the years, I have learned to incorporate planners into my life again, without letting them overwhelm me.

People with OCD obsess over different things. Two of the things I always have obsessed over are planning and cleaning. When we are having people over and we get the entire house clean and it stays pretty clean for about two to three days, it is the best feeling in the world to me, even now that I have gotten my cleaning obsession more under control. I can handle a mess more than I used to. I had to learn to because my husband is messy, and then we had a child, and now two dogs as well. Boy, was dog hair hard for me to get used to at first, but I finally have.

However, occasionally the house will get messy enough to start stressing me out a little bit and cleaning it does make me feel better. It can be therapeutic. I don’t even normally do it for others, it is more for me, like it feels like my life and everything else is under control if everything around me is clean and in order. When things get out of order, it can make me feel like my life is out of order, even if it is not. When I go to other people’s houses, I don’t find myself judging the cleanliness, and if anything, if I see a little dust it makes me feel better to know we are all human and no one has a perfectly clean house all of the time. Even if it is pretty messy, I may not want to stay and live there in it daily, that probably would stress me out in the long-term, but I can visit for a short time and be just fine.

The medication I currently take is often given in higher does to women with eating disorders. I never thought of my OCD as similar until I realized, I clean because I think it is something I can control. I have never had an eating disorder, but others close to me have and I do know I have been told it is often feeling like you think you control that one thing, your weight. The truth is you are actually out of control, just like I am not controlling the cleaning, it is actually controlling me sometimes. My obsession with planning is about trying to have control as well, but again, it’s something that actually makes me out of control and has consumed my life at times.

When I was at my worst postpartum, I remember cleaning our house even though I was supposed to be getting ready to go to someone else’s house with my husband and daughter. I have also knocked down cobwebs in the middle of having guests over the moment I noticed them or have been late, even to my own parties at my own house. When people would show up, I was still cleaning, so my husband entertained while I got ready.

Some people with OCD often get offended when people who do not truly have OCD but like things clean, joke about being OCD. But, I don’t. Because for one, I actually did that myself before I realized I actually had OCD. I also realize, just like when I did it, some people truly do not realize how much cleaning can consume someone’s life, but it can. Obsessing over anything is not healthy, including when I used to change out the pictures in our house constantly, until my husband pointed out one time no one had even come over since the last time I had changed them. Obsessing over these things is something I may have to battle off and on the rest of my life, but now that I am aware of that, it is much easier to try and keep a handle on it with the help of those around me and help from other things, like medication.

Original photo by author

Originally published: January 6, 2021
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