Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Magnificent obsession, Part 3

so fresh
Originally uploaded by taniwha.

Let me just start by saying this: I love the internet to pieces. I have a massive hard on for cyberspace. I want to have Blogger's children.

Here's one reason:

In looking up info on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Wikipedia was quick to note that there is another disorder that is often confused with OCD, but is in fact quite different from it--Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). A link was provided, and I clicked on it without further ado. Bingo, bango. Instant gratification for a psycho looking for more symptoms to classify other weird people--or even myself.

I was quite intrigued by what I read about OCPD--not simply because it seemed to (perhaps) fit Robo-dentist, but also because, yet again, some of the symptoms matched behaviors I'd exhibited myself.

Here's what Wiki-poo had to say:

"Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), or anankastic personality disorder, is a personality disorder that is characterized by a general psychological inflexibility, rigid conformity to rules and procedures, perfectionism, and excessive orderliness.

"Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is often confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the names sound similar, these are actually two quite different disorders. Those who are suffering from OCPD do not generally feel the need to repeatedly perform ritualistic actions (such as excessive hand-washing), while this is a common symptom of OCD. Instead, people with OCPD tend to stress perfectionism above all else, and feel anxious when they perceive that things aren't "right".

"People with OCPD may hoard money, keep their home perfectly organized, or be anxious about delegating tasks for fear that they won't be completed correctly. There are few moral grey areas for a person with OCPD; actions and beliefs are either completely right, or absolutely wrong. As might be expected, interpersonal relationships are difficult because of the excessive demands placed on friends, romantic partners, and children."

"Diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR)

"The DSM-IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders (see also: DSM cautionary statement), defines obsessive compulsive personality disorder as a "pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost

shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)

is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)

is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)

is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value

is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things

adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes

shows rigidity and stubbornness

"It is important to note that while a person may exhibit any or all of the characteristics of a personality disorder, it is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the person has trouble leading a normal life due to these issues."

Once again, my psycho-ego swelled, as I realized that this disorder seemed to fit me to a "t" during the era when I worked in a non-profit publications office for many, many years.

I started in publications when I was going for my MA in British and American lit--in my early twenties. My first boss was about 10 years my senior, and was an exacting workaholic. Although he could be quite charming, he was also very moody, especially when under deadline pressure.

From the beginning my approach to my work was super-perfectionistic. I proofread and checked everything thoroughly. It would typically take me a lot more time to perform my tasks than it would for a "normal" person. I was terrified of making a mistake--the thought of fucking up terrified me. I found it hard to throw away anything, and wrote incessant lists. My file cabinet bulged with reams of paper devoted to ancient projects; when I moved from office to office I lugged around cartons of obsolete crap, most of which I would never have occasion to use. Although as I moved up the "ladder" I sometimes had to delegate, I felt much more comfortable doing it all myself, so it could be done the "right" way.

I had a moralistic attitude toward work, feeling that I was "superior" to those who did not dedicate unpaid overtime--as well as part of their weekend--to toiling away to get everything done perfectly and thoroughly. I looked with derision at the nine to fivers who were not beset with anxiety and the compulsion to put their jobs ahead of their life. I loved to talk shop to whoever would listen. Since my (now) ex boyfriend didn't want to think about work after five, I turned to another workaholic pal to commiserate with. We spent many a long evening after work (when we could tear ourselves away) downing pints of Bass at my fave bar a few blocks from the office, smoking endess cigs, and dissecting fellow employees. I loved to discuss their shortcomings and ways I was being "fucked over" by those less dedicated to the "cause" than I was.

When I had to delegate, it always involved written step by step instructions detailing exactly how I wanted the task to be accomplished. This way, I had it all in writing, so there could be no misunderstanding.

Seven years and a few modest promotions later, I was the boss's "right hand woman." Although he sometimes said I was "too meticulous," in essence he valued this quality in me, along with my fierce work ethic. My job was inextricably tied up with my self-esteem.

The most difficult and stressful tasks for me were those that involved ambiguity and the responsibility for determining the accuracy of what would go into print. We were a small, busy office with numerous tight deadlines, but I couldn't compromise or sacrifice absolute perfection for alacrity.

Long story short, after many years of being the helpmate of an exacting workaholic and trying to be the perfect little worker, I wound up having a "breakdown" and being hospitalized for a four weeks. It took me several months to get over this trauma. It was my first major depression (with extreme anxiety), and was followed by my first hypomanic episode. On the heels of that came another major depression, but the second time I did not have the luxury of checking myself into the nuthouse for a rest cure--I had to work, albeit in a very dysfunctional and semi-vegetative state. Needless to say, my work relationship with the boss who had once admired and depended on me was never the same.

The incident that triggered this breakdown came after I took over the second-in-command position when someone left. One of my new responsibiliites was overseeing two book-length college bulletins. The work involved was immense and quite detail intensive.

My boss had been pressuring me to get this bulletin done. It was way behind schedule, and our client--the grad school dean--needed the book for their students, since it listed all courses and requirements for the new academic year. I'd delegated some of the work to others, but one day became convinced that I'd given incomplete instructions and consequently that the whole bulletin was riddled with errors. I was afraid, for example, that some of the course numbers for prerequisites for a particular class might be incorrect--the end result being that many students' academic careers would be ruined, and that our office would be ruined as well, with everyone losing their jobs--all because of me.

My boss, totally exasperated, tried to point out that a bulletin with some errors in it was certainly better than having no bulletin at all. But I just couldn't see that at the time, and it was off to the loony bin for me.

It was all a delusion, and my reaction was quite extreme (but not unprecedented). But now, viewing the OCPD criteria, I realized that my work behavior back then seemed to conform, at least in part, to the DSM definition provided by Wiki-P. Perfectionism, rigidity, difficulty delegating, reluctance to discard old files and obsolete paperwork, preoccupation with details to the extent that I couldn't see the forest for the trees, excessively devoted to my job, moralistic about perceived "slackers"--here was the younger Elvira in a nutshell.

Years later, I read a book which supported the hypothesis that the glass ceiling for women existed in large part because, being brought up female, they were playing a different work game than their male colleagues. Women were generally encouraged to be helpmates, to be "nice," to put others ahead, to not be too assertive about what they wanted. They assumed that in the work world, they would be rewarded for their efforts in the same way they were at school--you toiled and did what the teacher/prof asked. Your hard work was recognized and rewarded with a good grade--all without stepping on others' toes.

Nevertheless, since expectations and limitations for women were changing, many sought a career rather than just a job. They naievely assumed that hard work alone would get them ahead, and didn't understand the corporate (mostly male-driven) politics of the white collar world--especially the swimming with the sharks mentality.

They didn't realize that when one spends all their time with one's nose to the grindstone, by the time one finally looks up from their paper-laden desh they will likely find that they have been left behind while others who have paid attention to things like networking and schmoozing moved up the ladder. While they might be busy taking copious notes in a meeting as if it were a college lecture, others left their pads and pens untouched and studied body language and the kinds of messages that were so eloquent yet left unsaid.

Here were the women who had worked for many years in a low level position, helping and teaching younger men the ropes--only to watch as these ambitious men moved up and out thanks in part to their help. These were the women whose offices looked like a paper factory, with sticky notes stuck to the computer and bulging files piled high on their desks--while the VP's office was virtually pristine and paper free. These were the women who couldn't understand how inept people could actually retain their employment--perhaps because they helped their boss look smart in comparison or served some other political function that hard working women could not perceive. And so they often found themselves, year after year, overworked and underpaid and underappreciated--figuratively if not literally making the coffee while others made the vital decisions.

Although the office and the organization I worked for was a "kinder, gentler" non-profit, with a fair number of women in power postions and a disproportionate number of women in middle management positions, this more female driven work culture nevertheless rewarded those who knew how to take time out to schmooze with their colleages and superiors--to get themselves known. They seemed to know what women like I did not--that despite toiling away til 9 or 10 pm while the boss and most co-workers had left hours ago, there was no one there to note their excessive toil, which often included crossing every "t" and dotting every "i." . They did not tend to toot their own horns, and didn't realize that they might be sacrificing efficiency for perfectionism--thus wasting their own valuable time and often losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Well, enough about me and onto Robo-dentist. Did she fit enough of the criteria for OCPD to be fit into my little diagnostic box?

From what I'd seen and heard, Robo-dentist did appear to be obsessed with a rigidly followed agenda of strict order and procedure.

She seemed to concentrate on unnecessary details, thus losing sight of the main goal of her job description (i.e., fixing teeth). Instead, she favored admonishing BG about the dangers of smoking, writing furiously at her keyboard about BG's art, and xeroxing entire catalogs where BG had shown her one page of a painting that had been included.

She seemed to be perfectionistic in the sense that she couldn't successfully complete the task at hand for fear it would not conform to her rigid standards (thus the temporary fillings).

And what of the criteria for rigidity and stubornness, and the reluctance to delegate unless her way of doing things was scrupulously adhered to?

BG had told me on more than one occasion how Robo-dentist interacted with her assistant. A typical exchange might go like this:

"M, could you kindly mix me the number 32 and the number 46 adhesive? I'll need these in about two and a half minutes."

This would be followed by the unvarying denoument, delivered in an alarmingly roboesque, sing song voice:

"Thank you so much for your help. You assistance is always greatly appreciated!"

Then the two and a half minutes would expire. Robo would suddenly switch gears and blurt out like a crazed drill seargent. While keeping her eyes glued to BG's mouth, she would abruptly fling her right hand out toward her assitant, and bark loudly:


As far as rigidity and stubbornness, BG told me that in addition to her master plan to separate BG from all his teeth (she spent a lot of time "filing teeth down" in order to fit BG for upper plates), she seemed insensitive to his needs in other ways.

BG might complain that a tooth was cracked. Typically, Robo-dentist would give it a cursory glance, and then say, "And now I'm going to do what I want to do." Then she'd proceed to work on more temporary fillings.

Moreover, the fact that this was a personality disorder implied that the problem was much more insidious and pervasive than OCD. Someone can wash their hands a lot in secret but still be an otherwise "normal" human being. Robo-dentist did not appear to be much of a human being at all. Her personality was not really a personality, but a collection of tics and compulsions. I had little doubt that once she changed out of her surgical scrubs and went home, she did not morph into a wild and carefree party animal. I had no proof, but I believed this as surely as I believed that Dubya had the brains of a lobotomized chimp.

So how does BG feel, in the final analysis, about Robo-dentist? Though I've urged him to ask questions, to complain to her superiors, to do something other than be a victim of her Robo ways, he refuses to do so.

To BG's mind, being "nice" is a quality that lets him forgive a multitude of sins.

BG, being a genuinely nice person, will invariably go out of his way to be "nice" to others. This takes the form of bringing cookies and candies, and other freebies to every encounter with a group, and sometimes as an offering to authority figures.

Thus, when we joined AA, BG immediately proceeded to bring in coffee, cookies, and other treats for the group. However, this did not transform AA assholes into grateful folk. Same situation when he briefly joined an art studio and the Art Student's league, to have contact with other "artists." The result was that predatory people would immediately spot him as a sucker and walk all over him. If he gave a cigarette or spare change to a broken down vet at the VA, his reward would be that henceforth he would function as a human cigarette dispenser or change-distributor. BG used to load his pockets up with change whenever he went to the Bronx VA, in anticipation of all the schnorrers who returned his kindness with constant demands for more. Some of these vets had pensions equal to four times what BG had, but they seemed to always have empty pockets nonetheless.

In the case of Robo-dentist and other doctors, BG would always strive to please. He was friendly and courteous; always on time; always respectful. Although this often worked nicely, it also meant that he was more prone to inferior care since he dared not question the procedures of any doctor.

BG is finally catching on, though, to the notion that being "nice" does not always mean you are nice deep down. Ted Bundy seemed "nice" to a lot of people. Sociopaths specialize in being "nice" for their own ends.

And so it was that when BG came to the dental clinic recently for an emergency visit after yet another tooth rotted out and had to be pulled, Robo-dentist wandered through the waiting room, spotted BG, and said: "Mr. BG, what are you doing here?"

He explained that he had a tooth that was hurting and had to be pulled.

Despite the fact that BG had always made allowances for Robo because she was so "nice," albeit weird, he was surprised to find that Robo didn't seem overly concerned about his plight, but instead advised him to see one of the emergency dentists on call. No "Oh, Mr. BG, I'm so sorry you're in pain. Let me take a look-see." On top of that, I firmly believed that her "temporary filling" schtick might be one of the reasons BG was about to lose yet another tooth.

Despite all this, BG plans to do what he does every year around Halloween (which happens to be his birthday): bring Halloween candy to Robo at his upcoming appointment.

I am helpless to stop this behavior. BG is as stubborn as a mule about these things.

The most I can hope for is that Robo dentist gets cavities from the candy, and that her dentist gives her some temporary fillings in turn. Then, one fine day, when all her teeth have been pulled, perhaps her hubby, who specializes in dentures, can fit her with a nice full set of choppers--which I'm sure will be "greatly appreciated."


At 10:56 AM, Blogger Justine said...

"Women were generally encouraged to be helpmates, to be "nice," to put others ahead, to not be too assertive about what they wanted. They assumed that in the work world, they would be rewarded for their efforts in the same way they were at school--you toiled and did what the teacher/prof asked. Your hard work was recognized and rewarded with a good grade--all without stepping on others' toes."

I think I'd forgotten I knew that. You've really hit a nerve... God my life just became clear to me.
I see I have quite a bit of reading to catch up on here...

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Timothy said...

You are an extremely interesting person!!!! Your blogs are deep and full of good information and entertaining person insight! Thank you! I am always interested in knowing how a woman thinks and feels. It is often not so much different from mine.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger jessie said...

OMG! thats so me!!!! funny. guess i will call my doc and see if they've ruled out ocpd. my guess they haven't. sometimes it seems like it's easier for them to pass a general diagnosis than to really look into something in more detail.

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Walker said...

At the rate that Robo Dentist is going he won't need dentures. He is slated to have temp fillings forever thus a temporary mouth.
I would let him bring all the candies to the dentists office. If anything it would be more of a slap.
The people AA and at the atrist club are no more than assholes who look after themselves first and formost and when they need help they come crawling. I have seen that lot to many times.
After reading this post and the last and your comparison to Robo Dentest in leaves me wondering if your are right and you missed your calling as a dentist LOL

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Blackie,

In my world, I've learned the lesson of the "opposite" is true. More and more men have fallen into secondary roles, and thus, are now helpers to many women who now are in authoruty. It's all so good, however. We (men) now have less responsibility, and actually get our opinion heard in meetings. That never happened when a man was in charge. It's more of a true team effort to get our mission done.


At 9:41 PM, Blogger JC said...

Well, I so hate to admit this, but I can so relate to the whole DSM criteria here too. I have a very neat house and don't function well when it isn't. I have very high standards as far as what I think is right. I can be rigid, have a hard time getting rid of things, hate to delegate, have a hard time completing things that should be perfect, etc. etc. I wish that I couldn't identify with this so much as I don't really need another diagnosis. The problem is that when I look through the DSM I seem to find something in all the disorders, so maybe I am a hypochondriac?

At 2:57 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thank you. I read the book I mentioned many years ago, but it really opened my eyes. Although the insights were helpful, I also realized that to play the traditional good ol boys corporate game to its logical conclusion was ruthless and cruel. I think a combo of male/female values would be the ideal for the corporate culture.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thank you so much. I'm getting a lot of insight from your blog as well.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


You've got a disorder? They've got a diagnosis for it. Thing is, even the therapists and shrinks can't keep track of them all. Like most things, it has its pluses and minuses. I think it can be reassuring and enlightening, but that's just me.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


LOL--I think BG should have just brought plenty of hard candies to the meetings, and then referred everyone to Robo dentist for treatment. Ah, karma...

At 3:04 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


That's a great point of view. Another book I read long ago, "You Just Don't Understand," by Deborah Tannen (if memory serves) detailed the different conversational styles of men and women. In meetings, it was observed that women typically were very tentative in their conversational style--posing a statement as a question, etc.--and of course were bulldozed by the men. It's good to know that things are beginning to become more balanced. Hopefully, everyone can have a voice, and everyone wins.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


LOL--well, BG is very rigid and a compulsive cleaner, and hates to delegate to me because he claims I don't "do it the right way." If truth be told, I think I can live with a super-clean, anal retentive person who hesitates to let me help scrub down the house on a daily basis better than a slob who can't bother to lift his feet while I vacum around him as he slugs on the couch watching football. So I'll take the good with the bad in this case. It's a tough gig, but someone's gotta do it.


Post a Comment

<< Home