I had a phone interview the other day in which I was asked about my writing process. I explained it—the checklists, the word counts, the editorial process—and the interviewer laughed and said, "So it's almost like an OCD thing, right?"
"Not almost," I said. "I have OCD."
He stopped laughing.
On most weekday mornings, I get out of bed at 5:13 AM. I write this in my planner. On Wednesdays, I get out of bed at 5:30 AM. I write this in my planner, too. On the weekends, I sleep later; last Sunday, I slept until 8:23 AM. I know this, because I wrote it in my planner.
After I get up, I dress, ablute, and check in online. This is done by visiting Gmail, personal mail, Twitter, LiveJournal, and FaceBook, in that order. Always in that order. I pack my lunch. On weekdays (except for Wednesdays) I leave the house at 5:34 AM, to catch the first bus. I know this, because all these things, too, are written in my planner. So is everything else. What exercises I will do, what my assigned word counts will be, what to remember to say to my roommates, whether it's time to brush the cat...everything.
I have been a member of Weight Watchers since late 2004. I like Weight Watchers. It gives me an excuse to write down everything I eat, and turn every activity into a number to be added to a little column. In the times where I can't attend meetings and get new "official" trackers, those same counts wind up going into my planner, along with a record of what time I took my multivitamin and how much water I've had to drink. What shows I watched that day. What books I read.
Tiny columns of numbers march along the sides of the calendar—how many days to book release, how many days since book release, how many days since I did something that I'm waiting to hear more information on. I record the return dates of shows that I watch, the release dates of movies, the official dates of conventions. Birthdays and ages. I celebrate friendship anniversaries and remember strange holidays that, having made it into my calendar once, are now a permanent part of my personal year.
When I see street numbers or phone numbers or the like, I will automatically start picking them apart to determine whether they are either a multiple of nine or a prime number. Either of these is deeply comforting to me. Numbers that are one digit off in either direction can be distracting, if I've been having a bad enough day. I would be perfectly happy eating the same things for every meal, every day, for the rest of my life.
People sometimes ask me how I can bear it; how I can break my life down into schedules and checklists and tasks without going crazy. But the thing is, that's how my brain works. I look at other people's lives and wonder how they can bear it—having to agonize over menus, not knowing where to sit, not remembering the order of the primes, not knowing when all their favorite TV shows come back on the air. I find the framework of my life to be freeing, not confining, and I don't really comprehend living any other way.
And yes, sometimes I have to make concessions in order to remain stable. I arrive at the airport two hours before my flights, period. I don't care if I have to miss things to do it; the rules say "two hours before," and I arrive two hours before. I become uncomfortable and have difficulty focusing if someone takes my chair in a setting where I have defined patterns. Some things have to be done in a certain order, and if I try to do them in a different order, I am likely to become very difficult to deal with. Failure to complete a to-do list is upsetting to me on a deep, profound level that I have difficulty explaining in verbal terms; it's just wrong. My friends learn that if you're going on a social outing with me, you need to arrive on time or deal with me having a meltdown, that I do not want to have adventurous food, and that I will throw you out of the house if your arrival interferes with standing scheduled events. And the beat goes on.
Because I am very functional, and because the standard image of "someone with OCD" is Adrian Monk or Hannelore, I do occasionally have to deal with people assuming I'm exaggerating. I don't compulsively wash my hands or clean my kitchen, I'm definitely not a germaphore, and if I re-type books completely between drafts, well, that's just a quirk. But obsession and compulsion both take many forms, and while I have found peace with mine, and consider them a vital part of who I am, that doesn't mean they don't exist. (Why I would joke about having something that is considered a mental illness, I don't know.)
Remember that just because someone is a functional, relatively normal-seeming human being, that doesn't mean they're wired the way that you are. I have to remind myself that not everybody wants their day broken down into fifteen-minute increments, because for me, that is the norm. The human mind is an amazing thing, full of possibilities, and each of us expresses them differently. I am a cybernetic space princess from Mars, and that's not a choice I made; that's the way I was made. I can get an address on Earth, but Mars will always be my home.
Whatever planet you're from, that's okay. Just try not to assume that everyone you know is from the same place. I'd be willing to bet you that they're not.