October 23, 2002
3:43 PM   Subscribe

The strange range of human behavior continues to draw us like moths to a flame. Consider Amanda Fielding who continually performed self-surgery on her braincase, Catharina Geisslerin, the woman who vomited frogs, and the Collyer brothers, who collected so much junk that it crushed them in their own home. Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first dictionary of the English language, was compelled to whirl, twist, and make highly ritualized hand motions when going through doors. When he went for a walk, he touched every post he passed. If he missed one, he went back to touch it. Recent research suggests that obsessive-compulsive child behaviors can be caused by strep infection. Who do you think are the most interesting, eccentric, and compulsive personalities?
posted by Morphic (31 comments total)
How about Tesla?
posted by troutfishing at 3:46 PM on October 23, 2002

Adrian Monk?
posted by rushmc at 3:53 PM on October 23, 2002

Lots of stories of weirdos and geniuses who were weirdos in the Big Book of Weirdos- and they are animated! All the others in the Big Books series are pretty awesome too.
posted by puddsharp at 4:10 PM on October 23, 2002

Obsession with Obsession
posted by stbalbach at 4:15 PM on October 23, 2002

I saw comedian Howie Mandell on tv once talking about his obsession and fear of germs. His is a cross between a phobia and ocd, and apparently they can often go hand in hand. He is so fearful of germs that he has a separate house to move into when his wife or kids are sick, and he has developed intricate compensatory behavior to avoid touching or being touched. I've never been much of a fan of his, but it was interesting to hear him speak on this, he did so with great insight and humor, and his aim was to try to help other people.

I always enjoy Nomar Garciaparra's little superstitious rituals when he gets up to bat. A lot of sports and entertainment figures have these quirks, though they usually don't rise to a level of full blown ocd.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:20 PM on October 23, 2002

Who do you think are the most interesting, eccentric, and compulsive personalities?

Me. ;-)
posted by davidmsc at 4:48 PM on October 23, 2002

Is the compulsory touching and need for completeness/symmetricalness a symptom of OCD or a physical manifestation of Tourette's? What exactly is the relationship between the two? I remember that the main character in Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn had Tourette's, but it manifested itself physically more than verbally, which (I assume, not really knowing much about it) is the usual manifestation.
posted by luriete at 5:01 PM on October 23, 2002

I never had strep and yet I find myself constgantly touching myself. Can this affect my hearing?
posted by Postroad at 5:40 PM on October 23, 2002


Dr Johnson is an interesting example of the existence of compulsive behaviour within a wider spectrum of symptoms - such as tics and involuntary vocalisation - suggesting Tourette's. See the Tourette Syndrome Association Samuel Johnson page.
posted by raygirvan at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2002

"I never had strep and yet I find myself constgantly touching myself. Can this affect my hearing?"
No, that's going to affect your sight. : )
posted by Catch at 5:52 PM on October 23, 2002

Wow! I had no idea. I had strep annually as a child. And then suddenly I stopped getting it. I also have OCD, which began to emerge 'round 8 or 9. Wow! Wow!



Seriously though. Wow!


Absolutely fascinating. Any of our resident doctors or anyone who knows of more information care to chime in?
posted by crasspastor at 6:25 PM on October 23, 2002

The guy who did the excellent page on the frog-vomiting woman also wrote/writes the Brian Bogglers in Discover magazine, and an excellent math history/science fiction book, The Loom of God. Great collection of links!
posted by whatzit at 6:34 PM on October 23, 2002

Thanks for that link, raygirvan. It's fascinating to see how Johnson's contemporaries saw his tics and compulsions. So many of them seem to have viewed them simply as personality quirks or vivacious speech, with no sense of pathology attached. Very interesting indeed.
posted by hippugeek at 6:52 PM on October 23, 2002

On the flip side of the coin are those individuals who insert objects into their rectums. Modern medical journals list an astonishing array of objects: a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's syrup, an ax handle, a 9-inch zucchini, a plastic spatula, a Coke bottle, an 11-inch carrot, an antenna rod, a 150-watt light bulb, 72 jeweler's saws, an apple, a frozen pig's tail, an 18-inch umbrella handle, two Vaseline jars, a teacup, an oilcan, a 6x5-inch tool box, a two-pound stone, a baby powder can, a peanut butter jar, a ball-point pen, baseballs, a sand-filled bicycle inner tube, sewing needles, a flashlight, a tobacco pouch, a turnip, a pair of eyeglasses, a hard- boiled egg, a carborundum grindstone, a suitcase key, tumblers and glasses, and a polyethylene waste trap from the U-bend of a sink. In 1955, one depressed man inserted a six-inch paper tube into his rectum, dropped in a lighted firecracker, and blew a hole in his anterior rectal wall.

Man, am I glad I just oversleep!
posted by wolfgangnorton at 6:53 PM on October 23, 2002

I never had strep and yet I find myself constgantly touching myself. Can this affect my hearing?

No, but you'll get hair on your palms....
posted by jalexei at 6:53 PM on October 23, 2002

I was struck when reading Running With Scissors, an autobiography by Augustine Burroughs, how similar his experience with OCD was compared to David Sideris' (vividly described in Naked.) They both found that many of their mannerisms and tics disappeared when they took up smoking. They both described this as if they had been born to smoke.

"Once home I would touch the front door seven times with each elbow, a task made more difficult if there was anyone else around. Inside the house there were switches and doorstops to be acknowledged. After kissing the fourth, eighth, and twelfth carpeted stair, I wiped the cat hair off my lips and proceeded to the kitchen, where I was commanded to stroke the burners of the stove, press my nose against the refrigerator door, and arrange the percolator, toaster, and blender into a straight row."
--from Naked.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:07 PM on October 23, 2002

On the list of objects inserted in the anus: I've come across this list several times before and it is always the toolbox that gets me. Who looks at a toolbox and thinks, "Yeah, baby!"? Smooth shapes, rounded shapes, erotic shapes, I can understand, but a toolbox?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2002

SecretGravy: There seems to be a strong correlation between certain mental illnesses and smoking. Schizophrenia comes to mind as the major one. Some theorize that the nicotine affects the metabolization of anti-psychotics, or reduces some of the side effects.

As for OCD, the whole experience of smoking is almost erotic. The smokes are laid in their nice *sealed* package very orderly and cleanly. They are of an even size and shape and can be manipulated in a very ritualistic way. Mix in the rush of some unfiltered Camels, and away you go.

You can smoke at specific times, consuming a specific number of smokes at fractions of the hour, or on multiples of minutes, or as a ratio of the number of smokes in a package to a given period of minutes, hours, or days. A sequence can be developed and stuck to without society raising too many suspicions.

The marketing of cigarettes in the US seems very focused on these aspects. The packs are lined up, color coded, and arranged in nice vertical or horizontal rows/columns. Symmetry and cleanliness are reinforced at many levels.

I am glad I only smoked for 3 months!
posted by Tystnaden at 8:13 PM on October 23, 2002

72 jeweler's saws

Seventy-two?! Does this mean 72 in one person, or 72 people with one jeweler's saw each? I'm not sure which worries me more.
posted by hippugeek at 8:55 PM on October 23, 2002

I had strep annually as a child. And then suddenly I stopped getting it. I also have OCD, which began to emerge 'round 8 or 9. Wow!

I don't have a link for this, but I watched a Discovery Channel (or maybe TLC) program about this. They showed several examples of children who began exhibiting symptoms of OCD immediately after they came down with strep. For some, it was the first time they'd had it, for others, they'd had it many times before without any OCD. Apparently, it's a fairly common phenomenon.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:55 PM on October 23, 2002

I never had strep and yet I find myself constgantly touching myself. Can this affect my hearing?

YOU'LL GO BLIND...yeah...that's it...blind.
posted by Wulfgar! at 9:44 PM on October 23, 2002

Hey! Hey! Quit it!
posted by Catch at 10:06 PM on October 23, 2002

I'd like to learn more about the need for symmetry, tics, etc. I have a problem with a need for tactile symmetry. ie, if I itch one arm, I have an instant need to itch the other in the same spot. If I over itch that, I need to compensate on the first arm. I have muscle twitches, that are semi-voluntary, that follow the same pattern of a feeling of symmetry. It's mild, and I can overcome it many times, but it's annoying as hell. And, I've found it's worse when I think about it.
posted by askheaves at 10:21 PM on October 23, 2002

The strep-OCD link might explain a lot. I had strep constantly as a kid, and while I'm not OCD to the point where it interferes with everyday life, I do have several compulsive behaviors and one repetitive thought pattern. They seem to tie in with other mental glitches--the obsessive thoughts usually come with mild depressive episodes, and flare up for a week or so every few months. I have slight ADD, and some of the compulsions allow me to concentrate, while I use others as distractions to avoid work. The brain is so bizarre.
posted by hippugeek at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2002

i, like Dr Johnson, am a fairly obsessive crack step avoider. i clearly remember in my childhood being told by my grandmother how unlucky it was to step on the cracks between pavings. on the other hand it could be strep.
posted by carfilhiot at 2:47 AM on October 24, 2002

The Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, Inc. is a good place for anyone interested to get a grip on OCD.
posted by taratan at 3:45 AM on October 24, 2002

You know you’re obsessed when...
posted by emf at 5:04 AM on October 24, 2002

Great post, Morphic!
posted by Shane at 5:54 AM on October 24, 2002

OCD? Me? I don't think so... (mustn't click "refresh", musn't click "refresh", mustn't click "refresh"...)
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:24 AM on October 24, 2002

Who looks at a toolbox and thinks, "Yeah, baby!"?

I came in here to make sure the David Sedaris bit about licking light switches was represented, but Gravy, I got as big a laugh from this one line as from many of Sedaris's recollections.
posted by soyjoy at 9:55 AM on October 24, 2002

hippugeek: Interesting also, given Boswell's and others' perfectly clear contemporary accounts of Johnson, that movie and television representations (e.g. Robbie Coltrane) invariably portray him as sluggish, slow and pompous.
posted by raygirvan at 11:18 AM on October 25, 2002

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