Sunday life: yes, I’m neurotic. Phew, i’m glad that’s out

Posted on February 28th, 2010

This week… I am neurotic

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Now, you might ask, how can indulging in a private personality schism make life better. I’m kind of asking myself the same, but let’s see how this goes.

For starters, openly acknowledging something in yourself that others have long suspected can make life easier for everyone involved. But let’s take this one step further. Acknowledging and celebrating something that we all have lurking beneath the surface – in one guise or another – but that we rarely talk about, can take life to a whole new level of sweetness. Movies and books about oddball characters do this. I’m thinking Juno and American Beauty. We recognise a part of ourselves in the kooky characters, and it makes us smile in belongingness.  It just does.

Last weekend I stumbled on the new release i am neurotic (and so are you) at the bookshop. It’s a quirky little collation (you can just tell by the lower-case fontage) of anonymous confessions that author Lianna Kong drew from her blog of the same name. They spill out, page after page, each more eccentrically banal than the next: “I have to eat Cheetos with chopsticks”;  “Each day I have to touch someone I do not know, with a quick pat on the shoulder…Some days (I tell myself) I want fast food, but actually I just have the urge to lightly tap a stranger“; “Whenever I eat macaroni – or any pasta with holes in it – I have to poke my fork through the holes and eat them four at a time”.

You get the drift. And perhaps like me, it makes you smile in belongingess.

Why would it do this? Why do such intimate insights into the oddballness of others’ lives charm us? I spent the week finding out, which involved coercing everyone I met into divulging their quirks, their “personality farts”, if you will. My friend Jay (not his real name) told me he can’t have his feet on the ground when a door shuts behind him. So he has to do this little skip in the air entering rooms. I met three people who can’t touch cotton balls and two who have to have the jars in their pantry facing forward. Several had a thing for sugar sachets (needing to fold them a certain way when disposing) and even numbers were big. A guy I had dinner with last night can’t have the volume on his TV remote resting on an odd number. I’d say approximately half the world, give or take, has a public toilet foible (a technique for not touching door handles, a formula for choosing the best cubicle).

Me, I have to reverse park in one manoeuvre, even if it means my front wheels jut out at a stupid angle. When I get it in one, it makes my day better. And I have to leap from my light switch into bed at night so I’m not grabbed at the ankles by some non-descript “being” under my bed. I’ve done this for more than three decades but never really acknowledged it before. Weird.

Of course, at it’s most extreme, these quirks play out as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a psychological disorder that can be incredibly debilitating. At the condition’s heart, however is a (albeit overly heightened) concern for hygiene and safety. Indeed, anthropologists argue OCD sufferers were often elevated as community leaders or shaman in traditional societies because they instilled vigilant standards. Everyday neurotica is about a similar concern and stems from care. It’s mostly about finding little moments of tidyiness, or opportunities to “put things right”, amidst the chaos of life.

I’d venture to say we all have neurotic nuances. But most of us dismiss or don’t see them. This is because they’re not problems to us; they’re solutions. They’re ways of coping. The reason why sharing and acknowledging them makes us smile is that they’re raw and rare. They’re untouched by rationality and analysis; they remain innocent, quiet expressions that reflect what goes on behind the stoic, sanitised story we present to the world.

I once loved a man for his need to iron his undies. And mine. My girlfriend loves her husband more because (and not in spite of) his thing for checking the power points every night. This week I realised that it’s these sub-narratives that are the most precious. They reveal our vulnerability. And our care.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/mt_heatherest Heather Liebregts

    Dear Sarah,

    Wow, I love this post! What a beautiful insight into neuroticism. I am definitely a neurotic type. I can’t walk on the cracks on footpaths and I most certainly will not walk on drains in the ground; if I do I get goosebumps at the thought of potentially falling in should the metal collapse beneath me…I also have the volume for any electrical device on an even number at all times, and more often than not if I scratch my arm or leg on one side of the body then I have to do it to the other side too. Oh, and I am with you about the bogey monster under the bed! Ever since I was little I have been leaping onto my bed after I turn off the light. And yes I have many more quirks but I won’t list them all! I used to think that perhaps it was unusual for me to be paranoid and neurotic about so many things, until I realised that EVERYONE has neurotic tendencies in some way or another and in varying degrees of severity. I am currently studying to be a psychologist and I am finding that neuroticism is a very interesting part of the human psyche and I agree that it does reveal our vulnerability and care. How sweet is that?

    Heather.

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    Heather Reply:

    Hi Sarah,

    I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind deleting my above comment? Or, if you can, just delete my surname out of it and keep “Heather”. Thank you :)

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  • http://rosiesbitsnpieces.blogspot.com Rosie

    Hi Sarah, Just loved this article (read it in the Sunday Age). I could not stop laughing and my head was nodding in agreement. What a great idea to ‘let our neurotic-ness hang out. I hope it is o.k. I referenced it on my blog and spoke about my own foibles. Is that kosha? The bogey under the bed is probably everyones foible including me, but more so when I lived in a two storey house (until recently) I would happily go downstairs in the early dark hours of the night/morning without switching on any lights to get a drink or whatever, on return I would put my foot on the bottom step (16 steps in all) and I would immediately get the feeling a monster was coming behind me, so much so I could feel their creepy hand on me. I would fly up those stairs two at a time (and I am not young). Monster never got me but I am sure he was very very close sometimes.
    Rosie

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  • Abi

    Love this article! Lol I actually smiled as i read this :) I’m definitely neurotic, as a kid I got to the point of washing my hands all the way up to my elbows. Glad I’m over that! I have many more random symptoms but my most recent is the obsession with coloured pegs. Basically when I hang my washing, I just can’t see two pegs of the same colour beside each other. For some reason we have blue, red and white pegs at my place and I just BURN when I see two blues together. Oh one of the weirdest things is when I went through a stage at about 12, where I would try to do everything with my left hand after doing it with my right. I’m naturally right handed, but I became so obsessed, it started off with little things like scratching my right knee, then having to scratch my left with the opposite hand, I got so good lol that nowadays I can do almost everything with both hands, in fact yesterday at the gym I realised during my boxing class that my left punch is stronger than my right :-/ Okay, I guess it’s safe to say I’ve officially lost the plot lol! But thanks Sarah great article!

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  • Laura

    I love the article Sarah. I don’t really have any neurotic nuances, but only because I am not precise or consistent in any way, which is not necessarily a good thing!

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  • http://rubytwoshoes.wordpress.com RubyTwoShoes

    i always include the movie Sideways for one that utterly charms, based on the flawed, and therefore, real characters. You are right, it feels so good when we see that reflected in pop culture, makes us feel like we fit in, somewhere, sideways.

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    Sarah

    Sarah Reply:

    Yep, totally. Sideways is definitely kooky.

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  • Pingback: are you a tapper? a checker? a counter? | Sarah Wilson

  • Megan

    What a great article! My biggest thank you is for the reassurance to my fiancé that I am not the only crazy/neurotic person on the planet! Yes, whilst I might be slightly more OCD than some (checking light switches, cant leave the house or a room until the clocks are an even number, colour coded book, dvd and wardrobe system, avoidance of the number 4, checking the front door is closed 6 times before I leave, oh and the hand washing – yes my list does go on an on!…) its great to know that we are more alike than we realise, people at the end of the day are all very interesting characters!! As a side note, I love your column every Sunday – its the first and sometimes the only thing that engages me from the paper. A BIG thank you for inspiring me to think on a Sunday :)

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  • lauren

    i totally identify with the ‘leaping into bed to avoid being snatched by the bogey monster’ thing. many years ago i bought a lamp for my bedside table so that i can switch the light off AFTER i get into bed. whenever the light bulb dies on my little lamp it sends me into full blown panic. i thought that maybe i would grow out of this as i got older but alas not. quite sad really.

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    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

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