IT WAS REPORTED some years ago that the footballer Paul Gascoigne may have been suffering from what was rather impolitely referred to as a "psychological disorder".

To wit, he engaged in obsessive behaviour. "All the towels in my home have got to be level," he was quoted as saying. "I put a towel down and it's a bit out of shape, so I tell myself:

'Don't worry about it, go to the pub and forget it.'  I 'd be 200 yards up the road and think, 'No, go back and sort it out.' I'd run back, put the towel right and measure it."

It was suggested that  Gazza's apparent compulsion had been brought on by depression   -his career had already been interrupted twice by serious injury and he had recently broken up with a close relationship.

All this sort of stuff can lead can lead to a condition referred to as  "obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD] which manifests itself by   -among other things- a mania for sorting out the towel rail. Me, all I could think was,  "Is that all?"  I mean, just the towel.

I figure if you can get out of the house in the morning without reorganising the sock drawer, lining up the coffee cups in the sideboard so their handles point in the same direction, arranging all the wine glasses in militarily precise ranks-

And putting the towels away in carefully folded, identical piles- then you're not a obsessive-compulsive at all.

You can tell a real  ob-com  -at least one of the obsessively tidy variety   -with one visit to where he {or she} lives. In an ob-com's flat all the magazines on the coffee table will be arranged by size  -big ones on the bottom, smaller ones on top.

The Cds will be sorted alphabetically, the linen cupboard will look like a display from Heal's.  Even the fridge will be revelation: the vegetables will be carefully stacked in one of those little drawer units at the bottom, the lettuce and tomatoes in another. It will be very tidy.

A friend once opened my fridge and saw the butter. A portion of it had been sliced off and placed in the butter tray; the reminder had been carefully rewrapped in tin foil, the ends precisely nicked in so it looked like a neatly packaged Christmas present.

After we stopped laughing, she took a photograph of it. I am not sure why, Doesn't everyone do that? I think of my own compulsion as nothing more than mild eccentricities  -endearing character traits, even   -though I suspect at least a few friends view them as signs of an imminent break down.

But there is a level at which the mildly eccentric can become harmful. It has been estimated that perhaps as many as  1 to 2 percent of the population suffers some sort of OCD, not all of it to do with folding towels.

The most common disorder is an obsession with personal hygiene, and a phobia about dirt and contamination, other sufferers are compulsively neat and tidy, or obsessive hoarders.

Some are repetitive  -performing the same task over and over  -while others are consumed by a need to check and recheck that they haven't forgotten or overlooked something.

Those with severe cases of obsessive compulsive disorder allow the compulsion to to become their principal activity, to the detriment of work, family life and relationships. 

At the Maudsley Hospital in London, where the Psychological treatment Unit sees about 170 patients with  OCD  each week, the distress that obsessive behaviour can cause is well documented.

There was, for instance, a midwife who was so obsessed with hygiene she would scrub her two-year old son's back until he bled. She knew full well what she was doing, but was unable to restrain herself.

Then there was the women who was so convinced that she had swallowed a ring, and bagged and saved fifteen years of her faeces so she could look for it.

There have been many cases of patients who would clean their house compulsively, or wash their hands over and over until they became raw.

Probably the best known  OCD  sufferer in recent decades was Howard Hughes, whose phobia for germs was such that he he spent the last decades of his life in an isolated environment, swathed in surgical gown, pointlessly wiping every surface with Kleenex tissues.  

OCD can, apparently, strike anyone, men and women, though it usually reveals itself between the ages of twenty and 30. Its cause is  thought to be depression or stress, though there is some evidence it may be inherited. It can be cured, at least in certain instances.

One treatment called  "cue exposure, involves what might be characterized as controlled anxiety therapy, in which the patient is sequestered in an environment with the object of his compulsion   -a dirty towel,say. Though the cure smack of something from Nineteen Eighty  -Four it has apparently worked in the past.

But then there's another problem. According to some psychologists,  OCD suffereres' compulsion or obsession  "has often become the biggest part of their lives.  When you remove something that may take up hours every day, what is left? Their lives can become very empty."

Exactly. What would Saturday mornings be if you couldn't fold some towels? 

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!   -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

"' The Clean Bill Of Health "'

'''Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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