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When I was growing up, I used to hear stories about my grandfather’s need of having things sorted in an often peculiar way. One example: items placed on the indoor fireplace mantel had to be lined up with the edge of the mantel. He would run his fingers along the edge and if the items were placed too far back, he would raise his eyebrows in jest at my grandmother. Other examples exist, and if the term OCD existed in his time, he might have been a possible candidate to earn that title.

My granddad’s legacy was that I inherited some of his peculiar ways. His fireplace mantel is one thing, my kitchen cupboards another.

I also arrange my medication in a certain way in my bedside tables. Taking the space of two drawers in one bedside table, everything is sorted by name and expiry date. If someone were to raid my medication, I would see it at once because of a third – and yes… secret – way of ‘cataloging’ everything.

I use the word ‘cataloging’ deliberately here, because I used to be a library assistant. One of the tasks I had, was shelving books. To me it felt like a great OCD task –  even when I didn’t have any obsessive compulsive behaviour traits – because items needed to be put in the exact way according to the Dewey Decimal System. If not, people might not be able to retrieve them otherwise. I added my grandpa’s ‘edge on a ledge’ peculiarity. Of course.

Other ways of having OCD-tendencies is in the form of hygiene. “Because MS is an immune-mediated illness, the body’s immune system attacks healthy nerve tissue resulting in nerve damage. Immune system activity seems to result in the inflammation responsible for many MS symptoms.” (

This means that extra care needs to be taken to avoid such infections, something I had been doing ever since being diagnosed. After catching a hospital acquired superbug some years ago however, I was told I would have to be even more mindful now:

  1. Do the dishes in hot, very hot, water,
  2. Be very mindful of giving people hands,
  3. Cleaning light switches, keys, laptop keyboard & mouse, cupboard and door handles very regularly,
  4. Wash hands after holding rails on trains and buses etc etc. In short: carry a hand-sanitizer wherever I go,
  5. Frequent disinfecting the house, especially bathrooms and kitchen.

This list is by no means complete because other requirements to avoid a repeat superbug, are in place.

Does this mean I am a germaphobe? Perhaps to a certain degree and out of necessity. Why? My aim in life is to continue living at least another few decades, so I joke I haven’t teased enough people yet in my life to die much too young of another superbug.

Am I that overly anxious about germs that it affects my daily life? Not anymore now that I’m used to applying all the rules on the list of requirements. I often forget about having to apply such measures, and don’t panic when I have. It doesn’t take over my life as I refuse to let it.

At first I did question myself though how easy it was to catch something as serious, but I don’t walk around in superwoman tights with a large antibacterial dispenser strapped around my waist. You can’t avoid catching germs unless you dress in forensic crime scene clothing 24/7, something I’m not prepared to do.

In light of branding myself, I am a quarter-obsessive compulsive user of some over the top instructions, but those rules do help!

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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