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Tag: Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Short Stories: A Crooked Sign

sign

My wife and I have thirteen grandchildren, aged two to twenty-one. Three of our grandchildren are ages 16, 15, and 14. All three are intelligent kids, straight-A students. I have found it interesting and enjoyable to watch them grow up. They are now at that age where they are not adults, but neither are they children; conversant in the things of the world, yet without much real-world experience. All three of them read my blog. They peruse my bookshelves, trying to size up the man they call Grandpa. My grandchildren don’t know much about Bruce Gerencser, the preacher. I had left the ministry by the time they were born. The Grandpa they know is disabled, unable to drive, a man who is a curmudgeon who loves to talk about politics, religion, sports, and make snarky, sarcastic jokes. My oldest grandson, the fourteen-year-old, and I were in the garage looking for my Hitachi corded power drill the other day. I need it for a project we were working on in the house. The drill was nowhere to be found. In the space of a few seconds, I said, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. 🙂 Evidently, one of my children “borrowed” the drill and hadn’t returned it (I’ve threatened to put RFID tags on my tools so I will know where they are.) That meant I had to use “the beast,” a 1/2 inch drive Black and Decker drill I have owned for twenty-five years. As we came into the house, my grandson said with a smile on his face to his father, “Grandpa said the “F” word five times in two seconds!” We all laughed . . . and then I said fuck again. 🙂

Yesterday, my oldest son was over with his family for dinner. Polly and I made: fried catfish, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, asparagus (from our garden), and coleslaw, complete with beer, pop, or unsweet iced tea. After dinner, I noticed my son was trying to straighten up the sign I recently put up over our liquor cabinet. I said, “what are you doing?” I then told him that I meant for it to be crooked on purpose.

My sixteen-year-old granddaughter and fourteen-year-old grandson were perplexed. The grandfather they knew NEVER hung up ANYTHING crooked. EVER! Their father grew up in a home where a tape measure, shims, plumb-bob, and a level were never far away. He and his siblings have “fond” memories of helping me perfectly align the pulpit in the church’s front and center. I mean, perfectly align. Welcome to Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

By the way, this is the first time I have ever deliberately hung something crooked. I doubt I will continue down this decadent path. 🙂

Why the crooked sign? I love its take on the Bible verse: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. 🙂 The crooked sign also reminds me of how Polly walks when she has drunk too much wine. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christian Perfection: A Personal Story

be ye perfect

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

I am sure you have seen the bumper sticker I am not Perfect Just Forgiven. The Christian driver of the car is warning you ahead of time that he plans to drive like a non-Christian. As he cuts you off in traffic or changes lanes without a blinker, remember, he is not perfect, but he is forgiven. I am quite sure that there are no perfect people. I have met some great examples of human character, but given enough time, they will always show that their feet are made of clay. In the human realm, perfection does not exist, and it seems quite clear to me that perfection does not exist in the spiritual realm either.

I have battled with perfectionism most of my adult life. Coupled with an obsessive-compulsive personality, the result is that I have often set an impossible standard of living for myself. I crave order and structure. I demand answers. The TV has to be perfectly centered on the entertainment center. All of the cables must be hidden away so no one can see them. When I go to the doctor’s office or the store, I quickly point out crooked signs. Polly laughs as I try to straighten out these hanging monuments to human laziness and imperfection. I am the type of person whom people would love to have clean their house but can’t stand to be there while I am doing it because it would drive them crazy. I am the one person in America who still has the receipt from the lifetime-warranted $4.00 can opener purchased 5 years ago. Any of my six children will tell you that they have heard their father say to them countless times, everything has a place. That, and the Bruce Gerencser classic, do it right the first time.

My desk drawers are kept in perfect order, though thanks to declining health, I’m finding it harder to keep every paper clip and rubber band in its proper place. My clothes must hang the same way, sorted by type of garment. Back in the day, when I bought newspapers, I had to be the first person to read them. Why? Everyone else messed up the paper. I liked to read it first, making sure every section was is in its proper order.

I obsess over the smallest of things. If something isn’t working right, I will expend hours attempting to fix it. I know all about the law of diminishing returns, but I know I can figure it out if I have enough time. This approach has served me well in many areas of my life. With significant amounts of time invested in figuring things out, I have become something of an expert on certain things (computers, for example). Sadly, an increasing loss of cognitive function is ever-so-slowly robbing me of my storehouse of knowledge (and minutia).

I bought my first computer almost 30 years ago. I started out with a DOS Vtech 286 and have owned numerous computers since. Currently, I have a Windows-based desktop computer I built, a newly acquired Lenovo Legion Laptop, and an iPad Pro. While I, at times, have Luddite tendencies, I do love owning new technology. Whether it is a new camera or the latest, greatest offering from Apple, I invest significant time learning everything I can about my recent purchases.

I have broken, crashed, and screwed up more computers than I can count. Well, I could count them. Making lists of things is another thing l seem driven to do: how many jobs have I had, how many cars have I owned, how many houses have I lived in. That’s how my brain works. I don’t know that I understand it; it’s just how I am. If I’m sitting in the doctor’s office impatiently waiting for my savior to walk through the door, I will occupy myself with counting how many ceiling tiles there are or some other silly game. Polly, did you know there are 43 ceiling tiles in this room? No, I didn’t, she says, smiling as she returns to reading a six-month-old issue of People Magazine. Polly, did you know that the tiles on the one end of the room are a different size from the tiles on this side? No answer, just a smile as she returns to the latest on Brad and Angelina. Polly, did you . . . no smile this time. Time to silently play the ceiling tile game, I tell myself.

My three oldest sons have a plethora of stories they could tell about their father’s obsession with perfection and order. They’ve watched me go to great pains to make sure this or that is level. My need to make sure the church pulpit was exactly in the middle of the center aisle is legendary, right down to 1/32 of an inch.  Back before we had HD television, I would obsess over cable roll in the TV picture. I’d check every connection, every cable, as I attempted to find the cause of the roll. While digital equipment has put an end to cable roll, rarely does a year go by without one of my sons making a joke about there being something wrong with my TV’s picture quality. Ah, fond memories.

In every area of my life, I strive for perfection. It is a frequent topic of discussion during my visits with my counselor. For all my striving to be perfect, I know I’m not. I have character flaws and shortcomings that are ever-present reminders of my imperfections. However, as any perfectionist will tell you, knowing you have imperfections just makes you try all the harder to be perfect.

Where did my drive for perfection come from? I wasn’t raised in a perfection-dominated home. My mother kept a clean, but cluttered house. If I wanted to play sports, I could, but my parents never pushed me to excel. The same could be said for my schooling. There never was any pressure from my parents to be an exceptional student. By the time I got to high school, I learned how to get by, a smart kid who could get B’s and C’s with little effort. So where exactly did my perfectionist tendencies come from?

I am convinced that my battle with perfectionism and all its attendant problems stems from my religious upbringing. It goes something like this: A perfect God gave us a perfect Bible and he expects us to keep his commands perfectly. I believed the Bible to be the perfect Word of God for fifty years — a direct revelation from God to me. In this perfect Bible are verses that speak of perfection. Verses such as:

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Genesis 17:1

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. Deuteronomy 18:13

Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. I Kings 8:61

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. I Chronicles 28:9

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil. Job 1:1

Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. Psalm 37:37

For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. Proverbs 2:21

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Matthew 19:21

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

That the man of God [pastor] may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:17

One verse, above all others, reminded me of God’s standard for my life:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect Matthew 5:48

I remember thinking as a newly-saved, baptized, called-to-the-ministry teenager: Wow! God demands and expects perfection from me. And according to the Bible, this goal was attainable. 2 Peter 1:3 says that God gave me the Holy Spirit that would teach me EVERYTHING that pertains to life and godliness. God saved me, called me, and filled me with the Holy Spirit. He also gave me a perfect book, the Bible. Within its pages was all knowledge necessary to live a godly, holy, perfect life.

The new-fangled grace and love passivity that is quite common in Evangelical circles these days had no place in my life. James said faith without works is dead. While I knew that good works saved no one, I strove to show my love, devotion, and dedication to God through my good works. As a pastor, I expected church services to be orderly. I expected parishioners to give 100% of themselves to the work of God. I taught them and tried to live by example that God deserved 100% of our time, effort, and money. Think of what Jesus did for us, I often said. Should we not give our all for him?

Such thinking led to an outward form of righteousness. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but God demanded it, as did many of the people I pastored.  Over time, I learned the fine art of covering up my imperfections. I didn’t commit awful, evil sins, but I did do things that were contrary to the perfect standard set forth in God’s infallible Word. This dualistic way of living kept me in constant turmoil. Right with God. Messed up, not right with God. Pray for forgiveness. Right with God. Rinse and repeat.

Eating too much, watching R rated movies, going to a strip club, fighting with my wife, not claiming love offerings on my tax return, buying non-essential stuff, not giving more money to the church, not praying enough, or not reading the Bible as much as I should — all these kept me in a seemingly constant state of repentance. This kind of thinking was reinforced every time I attended a preacher’s or Bible conference. Great men of God — great outwardly, anyway — would rail against sinning preachers and their worldly habits. I’d hear their pronouncements, and their words would cut me to the quick. You need to repent, I’d tell myself. So I would, and with the fervor of the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, I would strive for perfection once again, knowing that in a day, week, or month, I’d be right back on my knees pleading with God to forgive me of my sins.

Since departing the ministry fifteen years ago, and leaving Christianity three years later, I have been on a path towards regaining self-worth and personal identity. Christian perfectionism robbed me of my humanity, and here I am, an aged, broken-down ex-preacher learning what it is to be human. My focus and standard of conduct have changed dramatically. My list of “sins” is much smaller than it ever has been. Bit by bit, I am learning to just live life and enjoy what comes my way. Above all, I’m working to embrace my imperfections. This isn’t easy, and it doesn’t mean I no longer strive to be better in areas where I need improvement. The difference now is that the standard has changed. There’s no God to please and no church demanding perfection. I’m free to be who I am, a man who still craves order, but who is learning that it is okay if the window valances at the dentist’s office are off-center, or the pictures in the doctor’s waiting room are crooked.

How about you?  Do you have a story to tell about how Christian perfectionism affected your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, the Fixer

fix it man

Earlier today, my good friend Brian Vanderlip said:

Hey Bruce, Practice resting and see if you can beat me at it! I have this theory that all those damaged by the fundy virus are unable to relax without guilt making it impossible to sustain or nearly so. I sit and read for a while and then get up because I feel guilty… Just for taking it easy with a book! That guilt-free time of rest and reading is what I wish for you, my friend, and the strength to venture forth with your camera. Pope Brian has absolved you of your ignorant disdain for cheese with burgers and your foolish nonsense about toilet paper rolls being hung any old which way. (Comment on the post Living with Fibromyalgia.)

Brian is the son of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher, and, much like myself, a crusty curmudgeon. I love Brian’s numerous turns of phrase, while at the same time making thoughtful points and observations.

In today’s post, I want to build on what Brian said about how our former religious beliefs and practices made it almost impossible to rest; that attempts to rest and relax often brought feelings of guilt. Spend decades and decades in such an unhealthy environment, and it leaves deep, lasting psychological scars. Even after divorcing Jesus and walking (running) away from Evangelical Christianity, some of us have trouble getting away from the pathological need to be perpetual motion machines. In my case, I spent my life fixing things that were broke: churches, marriages, and relationships. When I was looking for a new church to pastor, why was I so drawn to dysfunctional churches that would require herculean efforts to fix? I hope to answer this question and others in this post.

One question that comes to mind, at least for me, is how much obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a central part in my restless need to fix things. Was I always this way? Did my staunch Fundamentalist Baptist upbringing fuel my OCPD? I am not sure I can adequately answer these questions. All I know for certain is that from my teen years forward I’ve been a restless person, always looking for the next conquest. I can look back over my life and it is not hard to see a man who was a wanderer, someone who was never satisfied. Of course, it was my religion that taught me to never be satisfied with self. I was taught and then taught others that we sinned daily in thought, words, and deeds. There could never be a good day, a sin-free day, a day when I felt that Jesus wasn’t lurking around the corner, ready to punish me for my indiscretions and failures. Even as a Calvinist — a sect that speaks much of and glories in God’s grace — I never had a day where I felt that everything between me and Jesus was a-okay. Calvinism is inherently a works-based religion. True Christians® must persevere until the end to be saved, and even then God could say to you, “HA! the jokes on you! You never were one of the elect. It’s Hell for you, buddy.”

As a pastor, I believed most Christians were quite lazy. How dare they fritter their lives away while there was work to do building the Kingdom of God. Hell is hot and Jesus is coming soon, I thought at the time. How dare we lounge around and relax while there were souls to save! So I was quite driven to labor in God’s vineyard. Didn’t Jesus say:

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)

I suspect my personality made it easy for me to work myself to death serving Jesus. I carried the same work ethic into my secular employment. I worked hard, never missed work, and rarely took days off. I was drawn to management jobs that allowed to me to work, work, work. For many years, between my church and secular employment, it was not uncommon for me to work 60+ hours a week. Polly not-so-fondly remembers the days when I would go to work in the morning, come home, shower, and head for the church, returning late at night. Day in day out; six, often seven days a week. I am not looking for a medal here (or condemnation). I recognize that my driven personality caused harm to my family, and materially affected my health. But, you can’t understand the man Bruce Gerencser without understanding what I have shared thus far.

This behavior when on for decades. The churches I pastored loved me because I was willing to be a full-time pastor while working a full-time job outside of the church. Churches loved my passion and zeal, my commitment and devotion. And I did it all for Jesus. Well, that and the fact that I really craved being busy. I was, in every way, a textbook workaholic. It certainly wasn’t for the money. Our family made more in 2020 than I made in eleven years pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Now don’t read too much into that. It’s not that we are well off. We’re not. It just that the churches I pastored didn’t pay well, and not one church I pastored provided insurance or retirement. I don’t blame these churches, per se. After all, I was the CEO. Why didn’t I ask for (demand) a better salary and benefits? On the other hand, why did the deacons/church board/congregants never raise the issue and demand the church take better care of its preacher?

Truth be told, I would have worked for free. I was so in love with Jesus and the work of the ministry that I practically took a vow of poverty. When the churches I pastored had money problems, I was first in line to say, “don’t worry about it. Just don’t pay me this week.” Of course, I never thought I would be a broken-down sixty-three-year-old man unable to work. Choices made decades ago have now extracted their due in the sunset years of my life.

Since how much money I was to be paid was never the object for me, I focused on the work of the ministry: preaching, teaching, evangelizing, street preaching, teaching Christian school students, cutting firewood, shoveling snow, working on church vehicles, remodeling church buildings, and daily ministering to the needs of church members. My motto? Better to burn out than rust out.

Over the course of twenty-five years, I pastored/worked for seven churches. My pastorates were either long in tenure, or quite short: 8 months, 2 1/2 years, 11 years, 7 months, 7 months, 7 years, and 7 months. (What was it about the number seven, right?) What I do know is that I wasn’t very good at determining “God’s will for my life.” I have always had a hard time saying no. Take my short time at Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a now-defunct Southern Baptist congregation. After I sent my resume out to Southern Baptist area missionaries, it was only a matter of days before my phone was ringing off the hook — calls from churches looking for a pastor. I was thirty-five years old at the time, with three children still at home. And, my wife played the piano, and both of us sang special music. Woo hoo! Just what churches were looking for! You would think that I carefully considered each of the 15+ churches that contacted me. Surely, I did that, right? Sadly, I did not. Victory Baptist was the first church that contacted me. First come, first served.

We traveled to Clare and I preached for the church one Sunday. Nice people. Friendly. But, oh my God, dysfunction was on display everywhere I looked. I should have run away, but instead, I agreed to come back and preach for them again in two weeks. Afterward, the church asked me to become their pastor (and the former pastor remained in the church). I should have said no. Everything in Polly’s reaction said to me, “just say no, Bruce.” But I ignored my intuition and my smart and sensible wife, choosing instead to come and “help” these really, really nice people. Victory Baptist was a church I was sure I could “fix.”

While the church had its largest attendance while I was their pastor, seven months later I was out the door. My idea of what the church needed to do to grow and prosper was very different from that of the entrenched, indolent power base. The former pastor’s wife said in a public business meeting before I left, “Bruce, your vision for the church was never our vision.” I warned the church that I would not fight with them, but they wanted to fight anyway, so I resigned. THE issue? Toys in the nursery. Toys in the nursery? Yep. A long-time member of the church hauled into the nursery a bunch of outside yard toys, many of which were dangerous for toddlers. I told her it was not a good idea and removed them. (Our insurance agent would have told her the same thing.) Livid, she took the matter to the deacons. Three days later, we were sitting back in Ohio. Not one church member said goodbye or helped us load our moving truck. This would be the last church I pastored. I was done.

Underneath the story of my life courses a restlessness that drives me to work, work, work. No time for rest, not because of God or some sort of divine calling, but because it’s who I am. I am happy to report that I do rest and relax more now than I ever have. Good news, right? Progress. Not really. You see, my health problems are what have forced me to take it easy. I don’t want to, but I really have no choice. That is, IF I want to live. So, I crawl kicking and screaming to the couch, fretting over what I call the tyranny of the to-do list. Every week and month I get farther and farther behind. Maybe I just need to set my to-do list on fire! Problem solved.

I have, in the past year, rediscovered my love for Lionel O-Gauge electric trains. With the help of two of my sons and Polly, I am building a layout in one of our unused bedrooms. And I promise — I really, really do — that once this is done, I am going to rest.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Contentment

contentment“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this. I have been seeing him for years. I am beginning to wonder if it is time for a change. His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Two weeks later, I am still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” :) Maybe.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on it is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichĂ©s we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-one years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because you say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of training and indoctrination magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent towards virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontent?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontent? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of people the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentmentMy counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing, shooting photographs, and spending time with my children and grandchildren?  I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a recent visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass, having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Living With OCPD

garfield ocpd

I have battled Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) for most of my adult life. While OCPD and OCD have some similarities, there are differences, namely:

  • People with OCD have insight, meaning they are aware that their unwanted thoughts are unreasonable. People with OCPD think their way is the “right and best way” and usually feel comfortable with such self-imposed systems of rules.
  • The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.
  • Often OCD interferes in several areas in the person’s life including work, social and/or family life. OCPD usually interferes with interpersonal relationships, but makes work functioning more efficient. It is not the job itself that is hurt by OCPD traits, but the relationships with co-workers, or even employers can be strained.
  • Typically, people with OCPD don’t believe they require treatment. They believe that if everyone else conformed to their strict rules, things would be fine! The threat of losing a job or a relationship due to interpersonal conflict may be the motivator for therapy. This is in contrast to people with OCD who feel tortured by their unwanted thoughts and rituals, and are more aware of the unreasonable demands that the symptoms place on others, often feeling guilty because of this.
  • Family members of people with OCPD often feel extremely criticized and controlled by people with OCPD. Similar to living with someone with OCD, being ruled under OCPD demands can be very frustrating and upsetting, often leading to conflict. (OCPD Fact Sheet)

I have been considered a perfectionist most of my life, a badge I wore with honor for many years, and one I still wear on occasion. As we age — I am now sixty — we tend to reflect on our lives and how we got where we are today. Self-reflection and assessment are good, allowing us the opportunity to be honest about the path we have taken and choices we have made in life.

When I first realized fifteen or so years ago that I had a problem, a BIG problem that was harming my wife and children, the first thing I did was try to figure out how I ended up with OCPD. While my mother had perfectionist tendencies, she was quite comfortable living in the midst of clutter and disarray (but not uncleanliness). I concluded that it was my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing with its literalistic interpretations of the Bible that planted in me the seeds of what would one day become OCPD. I spent most of my adult life diligently and relentlessly striving to follow after Jesus and to keep his commandments. But try as I might, I still continued to come up short. This, of course, only made me pray more, study more, give more, driving me to allot more and more of my time to God/church/ministry. In doing so, the things that should have mattered the most to me — Polly, our children, my health, and enjoying life — received little attention. Polly was taught at Midwestern Baptist College that she would have to sacrifice her relationship with me for the sake of the ministry. I was, after all, a divinely called man of God. Needless to say, for way too many years, our lives were consumed by Christianity and the work of the ministry, so much so that we lost all sense of who we really were.

ocd santa

Perhaps someday several of my children will write about growing up in a home with a father who had OCPD. The stories are humorous now, but not so much when they were lived out in real time. My children are well versed in Dad’s rules of conduct. Granted, some of these rules such as “do it right the first time” have served them well in their chosen fields of employment, but their teacher was quite the taskmaster, and I am certain there were better ways for them to learn these rules.

My oldest sons fondly remember helping me center the church pulpit, right down to a one-sixteenth of an inch. Did it matter if the pulpit was slightly off center? For the world — of course not; but, for me it did. I felt the same way about how I prepared my sermons, folded the bulletins, cleaned the church, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. When I took on secular jobs, employers loved me because I was a no-nonsense, time to lean, time to clean manager. (Is it any surprise that most of my adult jobs were either pastoring churches or management jobs?)

People walking into my study were greeted by a perfectly cleaned and ordered office. The desktop was neat, and the drawers were organized, with everything having a place. My book shelves were perfectly ordered from tallest to smallest book and then by subject. Dress-wise, I wore white one-hundred-percent pinpoint cotton shirts and black wingtip shoes. My suits were well-kept and matched whatever tie I was wearing. My appearance mattered to me. Congregants knew they would never find me shopping at the local Walmart wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants.

What I have mentioned above sounds fine, right? Surely, I should have a right to order my life any way I want to. And that would be true, except for the fact that I live in a world populated by other people; people who are not like me; people who are happy with clutter, disarray, and OMG even dirt! It is in their personal relationships that people with OCPD have problems, and, in some instances, they can drive away the very people who love them.

For the first twenty-five years of marriage, my relationship with Polly was defined by Fundamentalist/patriarchal thinking. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that such beliefs play well in the minds of people with OCPD. I had high expectations not only for myself, but for my wife and children too. We all, of course, miserably failed, but all that did was increase the pressures to conform to silly (at times harmful) behavioral expectations. It didn’t help matters that I was an outgoing decision-maker married to a passive, always-conform-to-the-wishes-of-others woman. While we put on quite a dog and pony show for most of our time in the ministry, behind the scenes things were not as they outwardly appeared to be.

Towards the end of my time in the ministry — the early 2000s — I began to see how harmful my behavior was when it came to my familial relationships (and to a lesser degree my relationship with congregants). While it would be another decade before I would finally seek out professional secular counseling, I did begin to make changes in my life. These changes caused a new set of conflicts due to the fact that everyone was used to me being the boss, with everything being according to my plan. While Polly and the kids loved their new-found freedom, there were times where they were quite content to let me be the stern patriarch. As with all lasting change, it takes time to undo deeply-seated behaviors.

I am not so naive as to believe that I am “cured” from OCPD. I am not. My counselor is adept at pointing out to me when certain behaviors of mine move towards what he calls my OCD tendencies. I have had to be repeatedly schooled in the difference between good/bad and different. For example, young people today generally discipline their children differently from their baby-boomer parents. Read enough memes on Facebook and you will conclude that young parents have lost their minds when it comes to raising their children. What that brat needs is a licking, right? What I continue to learn is that people who act differently from me, look different from me, or have beliefs different from mine are not necessarily wrong/bad. Most often, what they really are is different. Learning to be at peace with differences has gone a long way in muting my OCPD thinking.

Both Polly and I agree that the last decade or so of married life has been great. One of the reasons for this has been my willingness to realize where my OCPD is causing harm and making the necessary changes to end the harm. The first thing I learned is that everyone is entitled to his or her own space. I have every right to order my office, drawers, and cars as I want them to be. I no longer apologize for having OCPD. All that I ask of others is that when they invade my space, that they respect my wishes. And that works for others too. I have to respect the personal boundaries of Polly and our children. This is why I do not meddle in the lives of my children. I give advice when asked, but outside of that, they are free to live as they please. Do my children make decisions I disagree with; decisions that leave me mumbling and cussing? Yep, but it’s their lives, not mine, and I love them regardless of the choices they make.

The second thing I learned is that it important for Polly and me to have times of distance from each other. It is okay for each of us to do things without the other. We don’t have to like all the same things. Understanding this has allowed Polly’s life to blossom in ways I could never have imagined. If you had known Polly in 1999 and then met the 2018 version, why you would wonder if she is possessed. From going back to college and graduating, to becoming an outspoken manager at work, Polly is an awesome example of what someone can become once the chains of Fundamentalism and patriarchal thinking have been broken.

ocd cartoon

The third thing I learned is that my OCPD can be productively channeled, with my personal relationships surviving afterward. Polly loves it when she comes home and finds that I have emptied the cupboards, cleaned them, and replaced everything neatly and in order. The joke in the family is that people want me to come clean their house for them but they can’t stand being around me when I do. In the public spaces where our lives collide, Polly and I have had to learn to give and take. I have learned that it is okay to leave the newspaper on the floor until tomorrow, and Polly has learned, come holidays, that I am going to clean every inch of the house — with her help of course. She will never understand why my underwear drawer needs to be straightened up for company, and she will likely never understand the need to clean under the stove/refrigerator for four times a year. But, because she loves me, she smiles and says, what do you need me to do next?

My chronic health problems and chronic, unrelenting pain have forced me to let go of some of my obsessions. I can’t, so I don’t. I don’t find this giving in/giving up easy to deal with, but I have come to see that life is too short for me to not enjoy the moment even if everything is not in perfect order. That said, I still have OCPD moments, and I suspect I always will. Several years ago, I had a dentist appointment. The dental assistant had me have a seat in the exam room. When she returned, she found me tapping the valance on the blind with my cane. I told her, I have been sitting here for years with that crooked valance driving me crazy. There, it’s fixed! She laughed. Later, she returned and told me that the all the valances in the other rooms were off-center too. She said, I never noticed that until you pointed it out to me. I likely will always have an eye for when something is crooked, especially wall hangings and sign lettering. Why can’t the doctor’s office get notices straight when they tape them on the wall, right? Dammit, how hard is it to do the job right the first time! Sigh, you see, OCPD never completely goes away, but it can be managed and controlled, allowing me, for the most part, to have satisfying and happy relationships with the people I love.

Enough of this. I have two monitors on my desk, and the right one is an eighth-inch higher than the left. Time to fix this glaring, earth-shattering mismatch, right? Dammit, where’s my level and tape measure?

Do you have OCPD or OCD tendencies? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am especially interested in hearing of how Fundamentalism affected your behavior.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser