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How many times do you check your switches before you leave the house? And how much is too much? Young Lim shares his journey of being a homeowner diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

“A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.”

John Lubbock

I was born on the coldest day of the year, at that time the elders told my mom I’d either be gifted with unusual talents or unusual ailments. My mother didn’t think much of it, but as I grew up she noticed I had a penchant for repeating my actions, like opening and closing drawers or packing and re-packing my school bag. And I was also prone to twitching or repeating words. 

I was officially diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder during my army days, back then these were maladies unheard of and it took some time for my family and I to come to terms with me being put on a course of lifetime medication, which seems to the the only way to manage my condition. 

What is OCD

According to doctors, “OCD is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).” While it may not be a life-threatening neurological disorder (it’s not a disease and you cannot catch it like the flu), they do hampen my day-to-day routine in irritating ways not just for myself, but for the people around me as well.

How much is too much

It is difficult to put a quantifiable amount to the number of times you repeat a behaviour before it becomes obsessive, doctors tend to diagnose along the lines of whether your acts are caused by rigid repeated behaviour lasting more than an hour (per day). It disrupts your daily routine and causes significant distress. Growing up, my parents never thought my behaviour was out of the ordinary, they just thought I was an especially forgetful child or trying to delay doing actual work. But I guess that’s why a lot of people suffering from the condition often end up not getting treated, because mental health wasn’t a priority in the past. 

Imagine walking all the way to the train station in the morning, but having to turn back because your mind keeps wondering if you’ve actually locked the door or forgotten to close the windows. Or spending an insufferable day in school thinking if your house has been razed to the ground because you forgot to switch off the heater. 

That was growing up for me. I was also OCD about other things, from needing everything in my room to be in exactly the same place (which drove my maid mad) and wiping all the surfaces repeatedly (which drove everybody mad). 

Now it may be difficult for the average individual to understand what can be so hard about doing something once, and not having to worry about it again, but maybe that’s why it can be a challenge trying to understand what people with mental afflictions have to grapple with.

If I had to put it into words, it’s kind of like a constant doubt gnawing at your gut no matter how hard you try to ignore it. Remember those times you just can’t seem to remember the name of a singer who sang a particular song, and it keeps bugging you because you know who it is but just can’t recall it at that moment. Now multiply that by a thousand times, and that’s what an OCD person feels when doing something. 

OCD over my own home

Fast forward to the day I received the keys to my first apartment, and a whole set of doubts set in. For the first time, I’d be on my own and have to look after all the locks, all the windows and every appliance in the house. The situation was quite literally mind-blowing. 

But thankfully, living in the twenty-first century and an age of new technology, has its benefits. A simple but ingenious way I’ve found to cope with my condition, was to turn my house into a smart home by connecting everything to my phone. In that way, instead of having to turn back and head home to check on things all I had to do was to tap on the home apps on my mobile device to double-check. 

The smart home devices I own include home cameras, a smart lock, doorbell with video-recording and two-way audio, smart switches for the kitchen appliances and lights, as well as a smart device to control my air-conditioners. These days, you can even get your fridge, water heater and blinds connected to your Wi-Fi, putting the entire home into the palm of your hand. 

As for windows, my solution was to keep the apartment air-conditioned throughout, so I never have to open them. As for the stove, I figured that since I live close to a bustling hawker center (thank God for mature estates) I’m much better off buying takeaways or eating out anyway, so I did away with the hob altogether and turned my entire kitchen into an intimate lounge area where my friends can hang out when they come over. Of course, I do have an induction hob stowed away for the times I feel like making noodles or having a last-minute hotpot session. Nevertheless, I don’t have to worry about open flames left unattended anymore. 

In addition to these safeguards, I also found it useful to manage my OCD by creating a notebook of the times I feel the urge to double-check, including the number of times I had to triple- or quadruple-check. This gave me a sense of control and relief knowing that I wasn’t going absolutely bonkers just yet. 

Attending therapy and embarking on meditation helped to complement the oral medication, by helping to still my mind in times of stress so I wouldn’t turn to worrying about checking on my home. It also made me a more chilled-out homeowner, one that wouldn’t scream if you forgot to use the coaster, or constantly checking to make sure the door is locked before turning into bed at night. I still check on things however, but it’s become a part of my life I have come to terms with. And when the checking becomes unreasonable, I bring out my notebook and write it down, preventing myself from doing it again at least for the next hour. 

Another key takeaway I got from my experience was to not undermine someone’s capability or label them as being ‘forgetful’ when they keep checking. You never know if they are battling something not all of us can understand.