The lovely people at The Big Issue published this piece in their Olympics special edition – #411, street date July 17-30 2012.

It skims the surface of the pros and cons of living with OCD.


Need your medals or Olympic posters organised? Kris Swales can help.

There are two types of people in the world – those who joke about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and those who make light of actually having it because the reality of being an OCD sufferer can be very serious indeed.

Let’s look at the positives, though, of going through life as a proud bearer of the ‘Obsessive’ part of the OCD equation. If you spend a lot of time lost in your own mind, you might be mistaken for the ‘strong, silent type’ (alternatively, people might think you are shy, aloof, arrogant, or just plain rude). You’ll forge a reputation for always getting the job done. You will be organised, bordering on anal retentive, with attention to detail so trivial that being labelled ‘a control freak’ is not so much an insult as a badge of honour to be worn with pride.

Exhibit A: the CD collection. Regardless of its relentless expansion across barely adequate storage units, CDs will be arranged alphabetically by artist; then chronologically intra-artist; then by genre and/or vaguely connected artists within each letter; then, if the gods are really smiling, with similarly coloured spines next to each other where possible.

Extravagant packaging that doesn’t quite fit into regulation CD case slots will bother you. Double-disc sets that have to be stored away from the rest of their brethren will annoy you. The consternation of having to slot yet another disc into the rapidly filling sectors reserved for ‘B’, ‘M’, ‘S’ or ‘T’ artists, requiring yet another reshuffle, will infuriate you no end. But you’ll do the reshuffle, and you’ll do it well, and it’ll feel good. Real good.

Until you reach the anything-goes world of dance-music compilations, where the proliferation of DJs, genres and brands – not to mention packaging that seems designed specifically with avoiding easy archiving and display in mind – is so out of control you’ve just got to admit defeat and colour code if you can.

This is the fun side of OCD – your friends laugh at you, your employers love you, girls want you, guys want to be you.

Then there’s the not so fun side. If you’re prone to compulsive behaviour, you may just have to ensure you hit the top of every set of stairs or crack in the footpath with your left foot; conversely, you may have to wash your hands three times before leaving the house every morning, and many more additional times if you ever darken the door of a public bathroom.

If you’re prone to obsession, meanwhile, getting stuck in an ‘intrusive thought’ loop is like being on a roundabout with no exits. And these false ‘intrusive thoughts’ – that you don’t really love your partner; that you’re actually gay (or straight, as the case may be); that you want to physically or sexually abuse your own children; that you are, in fact, a murderous psychopath – seem real. So real that the real world almost ceases to exist as you battle obsessions so debilitating your body feels like it could explode at any second.

Once you get that under control, it’s still far from plain sailing.

As you’re bedding down for the night, a simple query can trigger an internal monologue with more twists and turns than all five seasons of The Wire, leaving you physically ill and no closer to sleep two hours later. Then, in the ultimate act of control freak assertion, you’ll track backwards from your final destination trying to remember how you ended up there in the first place, eventually realising the starting point was a question as simple as “When was the last time I called Mum?” And after that, if you still haven’t worn yourself out, you’ll be off again, imagining conversations that will never happen, reliving ones you wish you hadn’t, dissecting the plethora of permutations for the future…then waking up in the morning and starting all over again.

Still, sleepless nights or not, there’s some solace in knowing you’ll always be able to find your copy of The Beatles’ White Album – sitting out of chronology over in the multi-disc set section between Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, with flagrant disregard for the rules that apply elsewhere.

Just being able to accept that small pocket of non-alphabetised chaos is one giant leap for OCD kind.

Kris Swales is a Sydney-based writer. For a nominal fee, he’s available to organise your music collection.