By Her Friend
“A truly good friend should pay more attention than I did to OCD symptoms when they’re right in front of you.”
I have some great friends. And like most people, I think I know my friends pretty well. But that didn’t turn out to be the case with my friend Amanda. After you read my story, I think you’ll agree that a truly good friend should pay more attention than I did to OCD symptoms when they’re right in front of you.
Amanda and I worked at the same company for a number of years. We were both recently out of school and excited to be working at an international company with a great reputation, located in Chicago’s downtown Loop district.
We became friends. We ate lunch together, worked on business projects together, sometimes had dinner together and sometimes went on weekend shopping splurges. I went sightseeing with her parents when they came to visit from out of town, and I grieved with her when her mother unexpectedly passed away.
But I think my friendship blinded me to Amanda’s secret. There were “odd” things I just didn’t think about. Amanda was an impeccable dresser. It didn’t seem unusual to me that she was interested in the latest styles and wanted to browse the department stores and boutiques. She always suggested we meet at a store or restaurant to start our excursions, but I didn’t even think about the fact she never invited me to her Gold Coast apartment. (I saw it the week she moved in, but not again for several years.)
“There were boxes stacked in the living room nearly to the ceiling filled with sheets, lingerie, expensive stereo equipment and table radios.”
There were other “eccentricities” that I didn’t pay attention to. Amanda was always talking about getting married, but didn’t keep a boyfriend very long. I thought she just didn’t find the “right” one yet. I didn’t think she might be displaying signs of OCD “perfectionism”. When she talked of buying things for her “Hope Chest”, I envisioned my mother’s cedar chest that my mother had carefully filled with table linens, sheets and towels before she was married to my dad. That was not what Amanda meant by “Hope Chest”. I didn’t realize that when I wasn’t with her, Amanda was going on buying binges for everything. from dinnerware to appliances to electronic equipment -- and clothes.
I was thrilled when after years of dating and dropping her suitors, Amanda finally decided on a permanent boyfriend, and soon after became engaged to be married. We became focused on The Wedding. As her Maid of Honor I was charged with a number of wedding-related responsibilities, not the least of which was to help her pack up her apartment for the move to her husband-to-be’s house. I was not prepared for what I found when I walked into Amanda’s apartment.
The apartment had two bedrooms and two baths. One bath was only to be used by “visitors” - I was asked specifically (and many times) to not go into Amanda’s own bathroom. When I asked why, she said she had a “thing” about cleanliness, and needed to have her own perfect bathroom that no one else touched. As I look back now, I can only imagine her feelings of fear and anxiety when she had to use the ladies’ room at work.
There were clothing racks completely filling the second bedroom (no furniture). On the racks were hundreds each of blouses, sweaters, dresses, skirts, business suits and slacks on hangers -- many with the tags still on them. In a walk-in closet, there must have been over 100 coats -- raincoats, wool coats, fur coats, lightweight and heavy coats, ski jackets and parkas, most of which I’d never seen. In fact, I hadn’t seen most of the clothing I was then packing. I won’t even try to describe how many pairs of shoes, boots, sandals and slippers there were or all the different styles and heel heights. Again, most had never been worn.
I believe now that I was looking at a classic case of OCD hoarding. Although Amanda had registered with a department store bridal registry, she already had all her china, crystal and silverware -- in duplicate, triplicate, or more. I asked her why she would need 50+ place settings of china and she said that she might want to have a very large dinner party someday, so she wanted to be prepared. And besides, “they might discontinue the pattern of the china or crystal, and it would be hard to replace any that got broken”. It was the same for the silverware. And there were boxes stacked in the living room nearly to the ceiling filled with sheets, lingerie, expensive stereo equipment and table radios. She said she would perhaps want to put a stereo system and radio in every room of the house -- someday, when she had a house large enough to accommodate all the duplicates she had purchased.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I vowed to have a good long talk with Amanda some other time about all this. I didn’t want to spoil the excitement and happiness she was experiencing leading up to The Wedding.
I never did have that talk with Amanda. She died tragically in her first year of marriage from a previously undiagnosed illness (which had also claimed the life of her mother). Whether her mother’s death had been the trigger that started Amanda on her OCD journey, or whether she had just been excellent at hiding her obsessions and compulsions all along, I’ll never know. But I hope that everyone who reads this will think about some of the “excuses” our friends make for unusual behavior, and try to be a real friend by talking with them openly and frankly if the behavior might actually be symptoms of OCD. Being a true friend to someone with OCD means caring enough to help them find treatment. I will always wish I had been a better friend to Amanda in that respect.