When I wrote in my memoirs that when my eldest child left the country I fell into a deep depression and had to be put on antidepressants for a few months, I did not realise just how many people would find that bit useful.
Report by Grace Mutandwa
I have met several people who have told me how they had also battled with depression, but had never had the courage to talk openly about it.
This week I will share something that I never thought was a serious problem until I suddenly realised it was escalating and then recently had medical confirmation.
I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
When my children were growing up, I drove them mad because I wanted a spotlessly clean home and wanted things in their proper places.
Fortunately I was blessed with children, who from a very tender age, had the intelligence and stamina to deal with my demands.
Finding out that I have OCD has helped me deal with things that have always bothered me. I can wash the same dishes three times and obsessively polish cutlery and dinner plates when invited to eat at people’s homes. I try and do it discreetly, but I do it. Tables and chairs at restaurants are never clean enough.
I realise now that the reason why I am not always comfortable with accepting dinner or lunch invitations from people that I do not know very well is because I will spend the whole time obsessing about how clean their kitchen is, how clean their kitchen utensils are and how they handle food!
I have been into homes where dirt and grease have developed a life of their own.
I know most restaurant kitchens are not very clean, but I force myself to focus on other things so that I can at least eat out once in a while.
I have had one housekeeper for the past 20 years and the reason why she is still with me is because she is brilliant at cleaning — even the corners that no one else would bother about.
She keeps the cupboards and wardrobes clean and orderly. The toilets and bathroom are kept spotless.
One good thing about my condition is that I do not expect only my housekeeper to keep everything clean — I also do a fair share of cleaning.
Just to give you an idea of how my OCD has escalated; where I used to make my bed once on getting up in the morning and then simply smoothing down the bed linen at night, I now make the bed in the morning and also just before going to bed at night.
Despite the fact that I have a very good alarm system (which shows if any doors or windows are open), I check more than four times that my doors and windows are closed at night. I get up at least twice at night even when I know I have switched on the alarm just to make sure.
When I travel, unless I take a sleeping pill, I have trouble sleeping because I obsess about the fact that other people have slept in that same hotel bed before me and that the linen is shared bed linen.
Sometimes I pack my own bed linen when I am going to stay with friends outside the country. It does not matter that my friends’ bed linen is clean and ironed, I just hate sharing bed linen. When I spend the night in a strange bed I itch and scratch.
Sufferers don’t realise the effects
White people always get some of these weird disorders diagnosed early, but in the black community people like me are described as being possessed by the spirit of cleanliness (shavi redona) and nothing much is thought of it.
I have found myself disinfecting other people’s toilets before using them. I struggle to stop myself from wiping people’s tables or taking a glass back to the kitchen to wash it before using it because it has a smudge or because I think it was not properly washed.
A relative was once offended when I said I did not like hugging people. I also do not like shaking hands. And, it is all because of my condition and not because I do not like people. I like people a lot, but from a distance. I can shake people’s hands and hug them, but it makes me anxious.
OCD can also make you antisocial and more selective of the places you go to and whom you visit.
I always use a paper handkerchief to open doors of strange toilets, flush the toilet and open and close the tap.
Having OCD is a full-time job although those affected never realise it. At home I sometimes go into the bathroom to have a bath and end up recleaning the bathtub, the hand basin and the walls.
Some days are good but others are quite bad. On bad days the dishes are never clean enough and everything just has to be in its place.
If things are not as they should be, I feel agitated and will not stop cleaning until I feel calmer. I am getting help because I really need it.
Over the years my OCD has scaled new levels and that is beginning to scare me.
I have been doing research and for some strange reason it seems most of the people who have been diagnosed with OCD — famous and common folk — are women.
I am lucky that I have family that understands my weird behaviour and are supportive, but it makes a lot of demands on them.
If you do something that worries people around you please seek medical help, find out why you behave the way you do. It will make your life and that of your family bearable.