One quiet afternoon in my twenty-fist year of life, I decided to figure out what type of disposable cutlery I had used the most. I was a senior in college, enjoying some time in a study room in the library with my friends, and I had finished all of the actual work I had to do. I didn’t want to leave the group since they were my dearest friends and pretty much the only social contact I had at the time, so I invented a problem to research. I spent some time reflecting on the situations I had used disposable cutlery, how often those situations came up, and what type of cutlery was involved. After an hour’s worth of work, I determined that, by a significant margin (using estimated numbers), that the answer was spoons. As I reflected on this, reviewing my data and checking my math against the journal of events I had made, I realized that this was the reason one of my oldest and strongest mixes of obsession and compulsion (in fact, the main lingering component of my OCD) was about spoons.
For someone with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), obsessions are typically mental and compulsions are typically physical, but what most popular media depictions of the disorder miss is that the two frequently go hand-in-hand. Typically, an obsessive thought leads to a compulsive behavior, but that’s not always the case. For instance, I have an obsession with doors. Any unlocked but closed door represents danger, so I have to make sure all of my doors are either open or locked. Now, even though I’ve dealt with the obsession at the core of this behavior, I’m still in the habit of checking doors after I pass through them. I don’t even think about it anymore, but I’m still performing the compulsive behavior. There’s way more to it than that, a thousand thoughts spinning together into the need to check the state of my doors, but that’s a lot more difficult to explain and not particularly useful to my example right now.
When it comes to spoons, I’ve always had an obsession with dirt and grime that could cause me to get sick or that could make me throw up. As a kid with frequent stomach bugs due to undiagnosed lactose intolerance (which might actually be a dairy allergy but the different has been difficult for me to determine as an adult since it sort of dimished as I grew up), I found it incredibly easy to go down horrible thought spirals about how even the tiniest discoloration on a spoon could lead to me getting sick. Thankfully, this issue was relatively easy to circumvent. I simply used clean spoons. I washed them by hand, picked spoons without blemishes, or used a disposable spoon that I had unsealed from its plastic myself. A solution readily available to me no matter what situation I might find myself in and one I could hide from my family easily since it was frequently my job to set the table for dinner.
It was only at twenty-one did I connect the two. The early use of many disposable spoons led to the obsession and compulsion. Not because I somehow thought sealed disposable spoons were more sanitary or something like that, but because I have vivid memories of the consequences my parents described as the result of picking up a dropped disposable spoon off the ground. Now, no one should continue using cutlery that has been dropped in the dirt without cleaning it, but my parents never really mentioned that step. They always held up the side that had hit the ground, talked about how yucky it was and how I could see the dirt on it, and that using a dirty spoon would make me sick enough to maybe even need to go to the hospital. Quite a story to lay on a small child, but then my parents methods were always to warn severely, graphically, and mercilessly in order to hopefully never deal with it again.
Because I had a childhood full of fast food eaten with hands, cookouts with finger food, and ice cream shops without ice cream cones (I always had sensitive teeth, even as a small child, so I always got my ice cream in a bowl so I could eat it in smaller pieces at a slower pace), my only real exposure to dropped cutlery was with spoons. Any time I ever ate food at party, barbecue, or event that needed cutlery, I used a spoon. My family was taken with the serviceability of spoons and sporks, which there was only one type of cutlery for at any family event. As a result, they featured heavily in a way that was maybe not true for my peers. Because of this, I formed an early association between blemished or dirty spoons and perceived danger.
It was fascinating to learn at twenty-one the origin of something that had shaped my entire life to the point that I had begun actively avoiding spoons just to reduce the stress I felt every time I had to go to the cafeteria. One mostly innocuous pattern in my life had created an obsession and matched compulsions that shaped the way I interact with food even to this day. I have more spoons than any other type of silverware even now so that I can dispose of spoons with irreversible blemishes or so that I can always find a new spoon if it ever touches anything that isn’t my food or the clean surface my food is resting on or contained within.
Now, as I reflect on the ways that the life I live is shaped by the past convenience and desires of my parents who were clearly not prepared to deal with children in a healthy manner, I can only hope that I can someday untangle it all.