Coping with OCD Perfectionism in My Everday Life

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Coping with OCD Perfectionism

written by: Daphne Matthews • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/24/2011

As I deal with my OCD perfectionism, I learn more and more about ways to make it work for me. It can be debilitating or empowering depending upon how much I let it control my life. This is my story.

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    OCD Perfectionism: When it all Began

    Although some specialists feel that perfectionist tendencies begin during the ages of 12 to 21 when a person is beginning to differentiate themselves from their parents, I began showing these signs at a much younger age. My family has always played games and even before I started kindergarten I can remember the perfectionist tendencies I displayed during these times. When we played Monopoly, my play money had to be separated and lined up along the edge of my side of the board. It also had to be perfectly stacked where each play bill lay exactly on top of the other and each stack had to be spaced evenly along the edge. When we played card games, I had to space each card evenly that I held in my hand so that they were perfectly lined up. It was like this for every game that we played.

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    OCD Perfectionism: In the Classroom

    Doing school work as I got older became harder and harder for me because of the time it took. I had to use a pen whenever the teacher would allow it because the pen “felt" better in my hand than a pencil. Therefore, if I made a mistake at the bottom of a page, I had to throw it away and redo the whole page because I couldn’t abide seeing a mistake on the page.

    Teacher’s marks on the page really disturbed me. My worst academic year was my sophomore year of high school. My English teacher had a reputation for “bleeding" all over everyone’s papers because she would take a red pen and blatantly mark every little mistake that she could find. In the margins (with her red pen) she would make reference notes so that you could go to the Harbrace Handbook and review your mistakes. I hated that class and I hated her as a teacher because the stress of seeing the red mess on the pages would literally drive me crazy. On one occasion, I ran out of the room and had, what I later learned was a panic attack because of the stress she caused me with that red pen.

    I practiced my handwriting everyday even into my twenties because I wanted each and every letter I wrote to look perfect.

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    OCD Perfectionism: Inherited

    Even though the exact cause of OCD is unknown, there is some thought that genetic factors may play a part. I have no doubt that this is the case in my family. My father, even though undiagnosed, suffers from OCD perfectionism. Everything he does has to be exactly right. He has built houses and is the President of a family business, and his perfectionism has helped in all of these areas. However, it can be debilitating as well.

    For example, when he orders hash rounds from a local fast food restaurant, he has a ritual that must be completed before he can begin to eat. He lays the hash rounds out in perfect rows and puts one drop of ketchup on each one. He can’t begin eating until this is done. On most occasions, my mother has finished eating her meal before he gets done with his rituals.

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    OCD Perfectionism: Rituals

    Rituals are a large part of my life and I can’t move forward with a project until I complete them. If I scratch my left arm, I must do so in the exact same spot on my right arm. That’s true for any part of my body. My life has to be even in all parts. My son learned at a young age that if he gives me a kiss on my left cheek, I need one on my right cheek. Every time I leave home, I double check the door to make sure that it is actually locked even though I know I locked it as I went out.

    When cooking, I wash my hands before I begin and then again after each item that I touch. When I open a bag of frozen vegetables, I wash my hands. When I get the plates out of the cabinet, I wash my hands. To cook one meal, I wash my hands at least twenty times.

    If the meal does not turn out to be perfect, I throw it away. Each dish has to be just right or I can’t stand the thought of serving it. Because of this, I rarely cook. Fortunately, my husband is a good cook and he prepares most of our meals. On the rare occasion that I do the cooking, I have to have a list of what I am cooking, the time it will take to do so for each dish, and check the dishes off as I finish them. I need the list of cooking times because otherwise, I start all the food at the same time and then some of it burns because I cook it for too long or it is served cold because it was prepared too far in advance of the other dishes.

    When I pump gas, the dollar amount must be on a whole dollar before I can quit pumping. So, if it cuts off at $32.16, I slowly add enough gas to make it an even $33. I can’t help myself. It has to end on a whole dollar amount. My compulsion is so strong that I would rather run gas out onto the ground to make it an even dollar amount than to deal with the anxiety that having cents causes. I don’t, but I suffer the consequences on the occasions that my tank will simply not hold any more.

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    OCD Perfectionism: Living Life

    If I’m careful with the things I do, I manage to live my life without an overload of stress but I have had to learn what causes the most stress and avoid being put in those situations. I can’t stand to be touched by strangers, so being in crowds is difficult as people may bump into me; therefore, I avoid crowded areas. I do most of my grocery shopping at 8 a.m. when our local grocery opens because there are very few customers there at that time. When I need to go to Wal-Mart, I do so at 4 a.m. for the same reasons. I don’t go to concerts or public events where lots of people gather. I am involved with Boy Scouts because my children are in it, but when we are camping with the whole district, I stay at our campsite to limit the amount of people I have to deal with.

    My perfectionism helps me in many aspects of my life. Although it can be debilitating, it is also empowering to know that when I do something it will be done right. It may take several attempts or adjustments, but it will get there nonetheless.

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