OCD: An Editor’s Secret Weapon

One of my favourite moments during my time editing QUAY Magazine was when I called Eleanor Stafford, the magazine’s founder and designer, during my proofreading process for our August 2020 issue to inform her that I had found one final error to be corrected.

The error I had spotted was this: in the bottom right-hand corner of page 24, there was a quote, and the opening quotation mark was facing the wrong way. Instead of facing right to open the quote, it was facing left to close it.

Clearly such a grievous error could not go uncorrected!

With a sense of panic and urgency flowing through me due to the severity of the situation, I took a minute to compose myself, then phoned Eleanor with my voice unsteady and a cold sweat running down my brow.

‘Eleanor,’ I said, ‘we have a major problem… one of the quotation marks in the corner of one of the pages is facing the wrong way!’

After a couple of seconds silence, Eleanor said to me, ‘Alex, how on earth did you spot that?!’

Still anxious and shaken by our narrow escape from disaster, I somehow managed to get the following words out:

‘Because it’s me.’ I said. ‘You know what I’m like!’

Understanding OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often characterised as being either a potentially amusing condition which causes people to carry out deep cleans of their home in the middle of the night, or a severe affliction where sufferers are trapped in repetitive, time-consuming routines which they struggle to escape from, making it difficult to live a normal life.

Both of these interpretations are true, but there are many more aspects to OCD which aren’t talked about anywhere near as much; aspects which could be considered either positive or negative (sometimes at the same time), depending on the affected individual and their personal circumstances.

In terms of my circumstances, having OCD has led to certain lucky accidents happening throughout my life – editing QUAY Magazine being chief among them.

When initially sharing Eleanor’s office space as a mere hotdesker, she would sometimes ask me to correct misspellings in emails and suchlike. At times, I would say things like, ‘that word is misspelled. Not that one, the one further down. Even further down. Keep going. In the corner, far too small for the human eye to see… zoom in. See? You’ve left out an ‘s’ in Mississippi. Rookie mistake!’

Over time, as the editing position proved a difficult one to fill, it was a role I kind of fell into – bit by bit.

And so began my crusade against poorly utilised quotation marks.

The Off Switch Is Broken…

As well as helping me become a surprisingly effective magazine editor, OCD has provided my work with other benefits too.

For example, when given a date, deadline, or instruction that something needs to happen by a certain time, it naturally sticks in my head. Then it nags at me, gnawing away at the corner of my mind, acting as some kind of internal reminder that I have things to do.

It is difficult for me to switch these notifications off – OCD does not work like an alarm clock with a Snooze function which you can press to get yourself a few minutes peace.

Often, the only way to clear my mind is to either complete the work which needs to be done so that it doesn’t nag at me anymore, or to distract myself by focusing on something else of greater concern.

Needless to say, neither of these options is a perfect solution.

In this scenario, OCD provides me with productivity gains at the expense of relaxation time. For many people, this would be a negative, but as an unmarried man with no children and several pastimes which have been curtailed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I consider it a positive – in the current circumstances at least.

OCD And COVID-19

On the topic of the pandemic, OCD has undoubtedly provided benefits when navigating the complex processes we have to follow in order to protect ourselves and others.

For example, when we were all instructed to wash our hands more often to avoid spreading the virus, it was the validation that many OCD folk had been waiting for all their lives.

That’s because washing your hands 6-10 times a day can cut your risk of COVID-19 infection by 36%, according to a May 2020 study by University College London.

Plus, since this study looked at infections of respiratory viruses similar to COVID-19 (i.e. the viruses which cause colds and the flu), the findings mean that regular handwashing is an extremely effective way to stop yourself getting ill with the common seasonal sniffles. In fact, handwashing is generally considered to be the single most effective way to protect yourself against a vast array of diseases.

Suddenly, those handwashing rituals undertaken by OCD people don’t seem so strange after all, do they?

It turns out we were the sane ones all along!

The Struggles, The Striving, And The Thriving

This article is not an attempt to minimise the very real struggles that many people with OCD live with every day of their lives, nor does it try to make light of the issue.

Instead, the point I hope I have made is that, like many things in life, OCD presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages – many of which will manifest uniquely in each affected individual.

While a condition like OCD requires careful management, coping strategies, and oftentimes therapy and medication, it should not be seen as a debilitating affliction which devastates everyone it affects.

Instead, try to evaluate its upsides and downsides, and assess how you can use the benefits to your advantage, while working around the negatives as best you can.

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