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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