Albert Holley deals with the symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Milford Mill boys basketball coach Albert Holley begins knocking out his checklist the night before a big game.
The clothes are washed and neatly folded. The dishes are clean, and the kitchen's granite countertop is free of fingerprint smudges. The rest of the house is just as spotless.
In the morning, he feels the need to stick around until his wife leaves for work and their two daughters are off to school, making sure no last-minute messes are left behind. As he heads to the front door, Holley passes through the foyer where the frills on the rug have to be perfectly straight.
"Then," he says, "I can go about my day."
The extensive routine isn't an over-the-top superstition that he thinks will help assure a win for his two-time defending state champion basketball team, which is 19-2 and ranked No. 1 in the area heading into the regional playoffs.
This is a part of his life.
Although never diagnosed, Holley has symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety condition in which people have unwanted thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations or behaviors (obsessions) that make them feel driven to act on (compulsions).
The International OCD Foundation, based in Boston, estimates that about 1 in 100 adults in the United States — between 2 to 3 million total — have the disorder, which ranges from mild traits to a debilitating dependency. It has many different forms with familiar symptoms, including excessive hand washing, repeated checking, extreme hoarding and nervous rituals.
'I have to create order'
Holley's form of OCD deals with order and symmetry.
And, also a teacher in Baltimore County's AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) program, it affects every facet of his life.
"It causes you to focus on things that most people don't care about," Holley said. "Walking into my classroom, if there is no order, then I have to create order before I can go on and start something else. The chairs have to be straight, the desks are a particular way, all my books are lined up and my chalkboards are clean. I just have to make sure everything has its proper place before I can move on."
A graduate of Randallstown High and the University of Baltimore, Holley, 40, was raised in a tidy household. And while he always considered himself a "neat freak," he didn't recognize he had the condition until his early adult years. He would visit a friend and see a typical young man's place — a bit dirty and unkept. He began to wonder why his pad had to be immaculate and why fingerprint smears bothered him so much.
After marrying his wife, Melissa, and having his daughters, Nyla, now 8, and Alissa, 4, Holley became even more aware of his disorder when it came to the challenge of living with his family.
"I just thought this was the way people were supposed to live. You're supposed to have everything in order, you're supposed to clean everything." he said. "You sort of see that everybody isn't the same, but you still think people are just different and there's nothing wrong with me. But as I got older, I started to realize that I couldn't function unless certain things are in order. That's when I realized I had a problem."
Despite describing his condition as "often taking on another job," Holley has never sought medical attention. He's apprehensive about taking medicine and believes he's been able to manage his OCD to a point where it's never gone overboard. With it, he has a beautiful family, a job that enlightens youth and plenty of success as a basketball coach.
In his sixth year at Milford Mill, he has led the Millers to 121 wins and the past two Class 3A state titles. On Friday night, they won their fourth straight Baltimore County championship, and they have now won 67 consecutive league games dating back to December of 2008. More important to him is the fact that 23 of his 25 graduated players have gone on to college.
"I've seen people who are incapacitated by [OCD]," Holley said. "So with me, it may be not to a varying degree or it may just be the form that I have. I try to think of it as the focus it gives me helps me to be successful. A lot of times, success makes you feel like you have the answers, so you don't look elsewhere for them a whole lot."
'He looks at every last detail'
Dr. Gerald Nestadt, director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine OCD Program, said many aspects of the disorder remain a mystery.
"As far as the cause, we have not the slightest idea," he said. "The only indicator is that it does appear to be familial, and therefore we're studying genetics to see if there's genes involved."
Nestadt said the disorder affects men and women equally in different cultures, and it's usually a lifelong condition. When first diagnosing cases at Johns Hopkins, a scale consisting of five questions is used to measure the severity of a person's condition.