A Walking Tour of My Neuroses

When I was a kid,  every night before bedtime, 7-year-old me would pair my stuffed animals up on the shelves so that they had someone to hang out with for all eternity in case I croaked in my sleep. I didn’t want them to be lonely.

While I did understand that making sure my Pound Puppies and Pound Purries were provided for in the event of my untimely demise constituted as weird and morbid (even though my intentions were good), I did not realize that it fell under the banner of neurotic behavior. Who knew?!

As an adult, I’ve maintained many neurotic tendencies. Some have served me well. Others have pushed me to wade in the waters of Lake Anxiety, swimming to the exotic shores of Mountainouttamolehillkaztan.

I’m not a jet setter by any stretch and you won’t see this shit on Trip Advisor, but allow me take you on a walking tour of my neuroses, pointing out some exciting attractions and pit stops along the way. The tour is free of charge, devoid of large groups, and might make you feel a little less weird by the end of it. Shall we?

Morning Rituals

If you’ll follow me into the kitchen, you’ll see cheery, red- and almond-colored appliances, offset by bright hibiscus print valances to tie the room together. It’s cozy and kitschy — just the way I like it. You’ll also see me going about my post-breakfast, pre-leaving-the-house-for-work ritual of making sure the burners on the stove have been turned off.

I check them a few times. Once to make sure they’re off and no gas is secretly leaking into the house — ready for one wrong click of the refrigerator to cause it to go BLAMMO. I make sure they’re off, even though I can’t smell any gas. Then I check them again, just in case my elbow or purse accidentally whacked into a knob and reactivated it.

Now that I’m 254% positive that the stove is not on, let’s take a leisurely stroll to the living room. On the couch directly across from the TV, you’ll see my adorable stuffed friend Sammy, who I love more than most people love their family or pets. And unlike most people’s relatives or pets, Sammy is incapable of dying. He also won’t betray me or resent me. (Maybe.) But most importantly, Sammy won’t die. I can look at my fuzzy pal safely and never have the creeping feeling of mortality set in, knowing that someday, I might have to say a final goodbye to him.

As you can see, this behavior is reminiscent of my Early Period Neuroses and can be compared to such works as “Creepy Child Wants Stuffies to Have Friends If She Dies” and “Goodnight, Morbid Moon.”

Since Sammy will spend a good 10 hours by himself on the couch until I return home, I like to be sure he’s provided with ample entertainment. So, before heading out the front door to work, I will gently place the cable remote in front of his front paws, pat him on the head, tell him I love him, and that he has free reign to watch any cable channel he pleases while I’m at work.

Workplace OCD Habits

Now that we’ve left Sammy to channel surf on the couch all day, let’s lock the front door and scamper up the street to get to work on the bus! Wheeee!

Now, while you’d think that traveling via public transportation would be a recipe for disaster, it isn’t. I quite relish seeing people nuttier than myself in the wild. Plus, it beats the anxiety that accompanies driving. (Also, I don’t have a driver’s license. I’ve choked on the parallel parking portion of the driving exam more than Jenna Haze has choked on her co-stars.)

If you’ll kindly peer over my shoulder, you’ll see the various to-do lists and productivity apps on my phone. Usually, I’ll go through these apps during my morning commute: I review my G-calendar for any meetings for the day. I look at my Trello board to see which projects are due in the next few days.

Pro neurotic tip: I like to mentally “trick” myself by noting on Trello cards that a project is due a day or two earlier than it actually is so I get ahead of my workload. I hate cutting a deadline too close and having too many things hitting all at once, if I can possibly control it. Staying ahead of things helps ward off shivering feelings of anxiety and — in the worst case — IBS attacks. With these IBS attacks, my body hasn’t totally betrayed me because I am able to function when a surprise project hits or I have to meet an ultra-tight deadline. However, it’s usually a few days later, when I don’t have any commitments, that my body will take a shit… literally. And painfully, since these incidents involve my stomach seizing up, cramps, and cold sweats for about an hour as I pee out my ass.

And sometimes I vomit, too. It’s a fun time. (Bonus: learn more about how I cope with my IBS issues over on my YouTube channel! An added attraction thrown in, free of charge!)

But enough of that little detour! Let’s get back on the tour trail, shall we?

Apart from my strictly work-related apps, I have the CARROT productivity app on my phone. It’s a handy to-do list that has an AI with a twisted sense of humor. It sends you snarky reminders and berates you when you haven’t done anything for several hours. It reminds me of my mother, who I miss dearly. And while CARROT never says anything like, “Your ass is starting to bubble out again. Better lay off those Krimpets,” it helps me keep track of my tasks — big and small — while reminding me a little bit of Mom.

What’s that, Dear Tourist? You wonder what sort of tasks I keep on my app? So glad you asked! These personal tasks range from reminders like, “Finish editing story” to completely ridiculous stuff like “Floss,” “Wash hair,” and “Dry hair.”

Yes, you! You with your hand raised in the back: Why do I need to remind myself to wash and dry my hair? Don’t I have enough of a grasp of personal hygiene to have it be second nature?

Great question! Actually, yes, I’m fastidious about my personal hygiene. (We’ll get to that part of the tour in just a moment!) However, adding those tasks to my to-do app serves a two-fold purpose:

  1. I like crossing things off my list as it gives me a vague sense of accomplishment. Remember when you would get a cool sticker for getting 100%  on a test in grade school? Or better yet, when you’d read a bunch of books and get enough stars on your “Book It!” pin to qualify for a free personal pan pizza with a topping of your choosing at Pizza Hut? Okay. It’s not that euphoric of a feeling. Not even close. But it gives you a fraction of the satisfaction. Crossing off something ridiculously small from your list gives you a small sense of accomplishment — like you got something done today. Even if that something was as basic as hauling yourself out of bed, flossing, and showering. You don’t need to be reminded to do these things, but sometimes you want to pat yourself on the back for doing at least one thing right.
  2. I have a great memory, yet I’m always worried that, someday, I will start to spontaneously forget things. One of the main reasons I have a to-do list is to free my brain up from remembering to do things so that I actually have the full mental capacity to attack a task to the best of my ability. For almost as long as I’ve thought that I’d die in my sleep and leave my stuffed animals without a companion, I’ve worried that my brain will someday reach capacity and leak, causing me to forget to do some of these small-yet-important tasks, like clipping my nails and I wind up like Howard Hughes, with long, curling talons protruding from my hands and feet.

And that brings us to the next and final stop on our walking tour!

Personal Hygiene Neuroses

Alrighty! After that brisk walk from public transportation and a neat little segue on eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and his piss poor grooming habits (Remember kids: you’re “eccentric” if your rich and just plain ol’ “crazy” if you’re not!), that brings us to the personal hygiene portion of our tour.

On the subject of clipping nails, I am obsessive about keeping my nails trimmed to stubs. In part, this is purely functional. I type a lot in my line of work and they’re a pain in the ass when you’re typing.  I wish I could do longer nails. I’ve seen some natural and acrylic nails that are works of art and admire them, but, personally, I can’t deal with them.

The other reason why I prefer ultra-short nails is because I often worry there is dirt or SOMETHING trapped beneath my fingernails if they grow past a certain point. No, I don’t have that brown or black ridge that screams “dirty fingernails!” (Because, as mentioned before, I’m pretty damn meticulous about my personal hygiene.) Yet, my brain leaps back onto the “What if?” train, imagining there is dirt under there and I begin to think I can “feel” it. I’m hyper-sensitive to smells and feeling things against my skin, so even the mere suggestion of something trapped beneath my fingernails is enough to fuck up my day.

Speaking of unwanted items against my skin, that brings us to the next stop on our tour. Over here, you’ll see my closet. Yes, while there are many (many!) issues hiding in that closet just waiting to jump out, you’ll see my wardrobe. And if you head over here, on your left, you’ll see my sock and underwear drawers. Have a look and tell me what you see. (And if there are any perverts in the group, I kindly request you refrain from sniffing.)

If you look closely, you’ll notice that there are no tags on any of my clothing. I remove the size and care tags from all my clothes. Especially my underwear. (Side note: Have you ever seen how long those goddamn tags are on friggin’ underwear? Is there really a need to have such detailed instructions for cleaning on a piece of paper attached to an article of clothing that is in constant contact with your crotch? Unless you want that shit to peel off of you like Velcro, you’re going to wash those undies and wash them thoroughly. You don’t need an extra long piece of paper coming within tickling distance of your leather Cheerio to remind you to wash your goddamn drawers. Fuck outta here with that shit!)

But I digress, Dear Tourists! Not only do tags irritate my skin and serve as a distraction, but I enjoy the process of methodically removing the stitches and having unblemished, paper-free, instruction-free clothing because it marks each piece as mine. I will take a few minutes to re-sew the area so that the binding or seams don’t unravel. However, I’ll never have to worry about a label poking up from the back of my neck, even though it would likely be hidden under my (washed) hair. I’ll never have to worry about being in a meeting and feeling an itchy tag poking into my side if I shift in my seat. I nip that problem at its source, quite literally!

Yes, Miss Label Whore near the front of the line. You have a question? Do I remove the tags even from any designer clothing items?

Well, first off, I don’t really own any designer clothing. Not unless you count a few off-the-rack Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren dresses from Macy’s. While I can certainly appreciate a beautiful Alexander McQueen gown, I’m not attending any Met Galas and it’s probably not practical for riding SEPTA. Coupled with the fact that a McQueen jacket would be the equivalent of a year’s worth of my mortgage payments, it’s not in my budget. But even if I could afford a piece of bespoke designer clothing, I’d likely remove the tag anyway. I mean, I’d know who designed it and if you give enough of a damn about a designer’s work, you’d be able to recognize it, too.

Moving along, you’ll see my bathroom, where I like to relax after a long day. I find streaming water to be very calming. And while there can be some unsavory smells in a bathroom — and let’s be real here, I eat a high-fiber diet and unleash about a suitcase worth of shit on the daily — I like scented herbal soaps and other calming fragrances to make it a safe haven.

Taking a relaxing shower helps me unwind and also ensures I don’t have any (real or imaginary) dirt clinging to me. I have a habit of scratching any dead skin off in the shower. I don’t just exfoliate, I use whatever stubby nails I can to try to scrape off any dead skin on my arms or legs. It does not leave permanent marks, although, for a few minutes, I look like a zebra with random claw patterns crisscrossing my arms, legs, and torso. The marks fade after a few minutes, once I’m satisfied that I’ve sloughed off any dead skin.

I fully acknowledge this is a weird quirk. I also acknowledge that I have a far worse habit of picking at dry skin on my lips. Sure, I could use a sugary lip scrub, but in times of anxiety, I feel compelled to pick at any dead skin on my lip. I dislike the feeling of a dry patch rubbing up against the rest of my mouth and feel the extreme need to pull it off. Sometimes, it’s just a tiny speck of dry skin. Other times — particularly in winter months — I yank off a swath of dead skin from my lips and wind up with a raw, bloody patch. It stings, but yet, I prefer that smoother, raw patch to the prickly dry one.

This is one of my neuroses that I actively try to combat. It’s one of the main reasons why I sleep with a thick coat of Aquaphor on my lips to keep them from drying out overnight and avoiding a “picking party.” This is yet another habit I trace back to childhood. My dad noticed it and would always impart the fatherly advice of, “Stop picking your lip, kid. You’ll end up with Rag Mouth.” I never learned exactly what condition “Rag Mouth” was (I still don’t know. My very creative and colorful Dad probably made that up.), but it was enough to momentarily stop me from picking my lip.

Decades later, here I am, still pickin’ after all these years. But I’m getting better at being more conscious of it and finding ways to negate the habit. As for my other quirks, I’m probably not giving those up anytime soon.

And on that optimistic note, that concludes our brief walking tour of my neuroses. I’m so glad you came to explore and I hope you’ve taken away something positive from this little trek. If you just pass through the doors straight ahead, you’ll see the gift shop. Please feel free to take home a few souvenirs from the shop, including a complementary bouquet of dead skin and discarded clothing tags.

Thank you! Please come again!

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