Guest Blogger! Checking OCD: Never Quite Sure

Happy Monday, friends!  I wanted to introduce you to some other types of OCD, outside of the Pure-O that I have suffered from.  Today’s post about checking OCD comes from Tina Fariss Barbour of the Bringing Along OCD Blog.  I encourage you all to visit her blog and subscribe to her!  Thank you, Tina, for today’s insightful post!

Checking OCD: Never quite sure
By Tina Fariss Barbour

I’m cooking a simple meal of pasta and sauce. I can heat the sauce in the microwave. But I need to use the electric stove to boil the pasta.

The water boils and I cook the pasta until it’s done.

Then I reach over to turn off the stove.

I carefully and slowly turn the knob towards the off label. Slowly, slowly. I’m waiting for the click that tells me I’ve reached my destination.

I hear the click and stop turning. It’s off.

Or is it?

I squint at the off label. Does the line on the knob match up with it enough? Is it supposed to be exactly in the middle of the label, or can it be off-center?

And did I really hear the click? Was it the right click? Was it something else in the kitchen that made a clicking sound?

I reach over and turn the knob so that the stove is back on. The pan with the pasta is still on the stovetop.

I turn the knob off again. But I turn it too fast, I think. The click sounded different, and I didn’t feel the slight vibration under my fingers that the click usually makes.

Even though the line on the knob looks like it’s right under the off label, the click didn’t sound right.

I turn the knob again. The stove is on. I say that out loud.

“The stove is on.”

I turn the knob carefully, concentrating. I hear the click.

It’s off. I say that out loud.

“The stove is off.”

I’ll just look at the off label one more time.

Looking straight at the label, it looks like it’s lined up with the knob. But when I look from an angle, it doesn’t appear to be right under it. Which perspective is correct?

And the knob moved a tiny bit once I took my hand off of it. Does that mean it moved back into an on position?

I turn the knob on again. On. Turn. Listen. Off. Stare. Turn. On. Turn. Listen. Off. Stare.

Two hours later, I drain the water from the pasta.

That scene depicts a ritual that I have carried out, in different places, with different foods on the stove, for different lengths of time, many times.

The scenery may have changed over time, but the underlying fear has been the same: if I don’t properly turn off the stove, it will ignite something, there will be a fire, and people will die.

That fear of harming others is the basis for my checking. It makes checking one of the most challenging of my symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Before I was diagnosed with OCD at age 26, I didn’t know there was a name for the actions I felt compelled to perform everyday. I thought of the actions as a way to “just make sure everything’s all right.”

Besides my obsessions with stoves, I’ve checked to make sure lights are turned off, the water faucets have been turned off, there are no clothes dropped behind the dryer, the dryer filter is properly free of lint, soap is completely rinsed from dishes I’m washing, and on and on.

Checking takes up a lot of time. And when I stand and stare at a light bulb, trying to convince myself that it is dark, not lit, I can feel the anxiety invade my body: I get hyper, my legs and arms feel numb, and I want to scream and run away.

When I started taking medication for my OCD, my checking compulsions lessened quite a bit. But I still find that the compulsion to check comes around, especially when I’m particularly stressed.

Lately, I’ve been using a form of the therapy that Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz writes about in his book “Brain Lock.” My therapist has modified it a bit.

Basically, when I turn off the light, or turn off the faucet, and feel the urge to check it, I tell myself, it’s the OCD that wants me to check. My brain is different because of OCD.

Then I refocus on something else, which many times, means walking away from the light fixture, shower faucet, or whatever it is that I want to check.

My goal is to accept that I will have anxiety during these times, but I will not give in to the compulsive urge to check. Every time I resist the urge, it makes it a little easier the next time.

Checking is all about looking for certainty, certainty that nothing bad will happen because I haven’t done something dangerous like leave the stove on.

But none of us—those of us with OCD and those without—can ever truly know certainty as long as we live as humans here on earth. We must learn to accept and even embrace the uncertainty and live life anyway.

24 thoughts on “Guest Blogger! Checking OCD: Never Quite Sure

  1. Tina, this is very descriptive and I could relate fully to your checking the stove! I have had checking on and off my entire life and I would have described it exactly as you did! I agree with you that medication helped, but never took it away completely. In times of great stress, it resurfaces. Great guest blog post!

  2. You wrote, “When I stand and stare at a light bulb trying to convince myself that it is dark, not lit.” I imagine that is so hard for non-checkers or those without OCD to comprehend. I have done that so many times, as if seeing is not enough to believe. But you said it best..”the uncertainty” lingers. The books by Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz have helped me immensely and I am so glad you mentioned his therapy. Great post Tina.

    • Krystal, You’re right. It is hard to explain how I can look right at a light bulb and “see” that’s it’s not on, and yet have doubt about it. Schwartz has really helped me, too. For me, it was a whole new way of dealing with OCD. I didn’t have to try to stop the thoughts–just label them differently and then move on (refocus). Thank you for your comment!

  3. Beautifully written, Tina! Although my symptoms were never this severe, I can completely relate with what you’re saying. I love the solution, telling yourself that your OCD brain is wanting you to check. And that we have to accept the uncertainties of life. Easier said than done though, right? I’m glad you’re making such huge gains and sharing your story with others. Excellent post!

    • Grace, Thank you so much! I like that about Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and his ideas, and the ideas of my therapist too–just because it’s a thought doesn’t mean it’s coming from who we are. We are not our thoughts. That was eye-opening for me!

  4. Oh boy. Staring at something, trying to convince yourself that what your eyes are seeing is real. Done that. In fact, just did it yesterday for a couple seconds. I like how you said that you could feel the anxiety invade your body during the staring compulsion. That is EXACTLY what it feels like. Awful.

    This post is great and I’m sure will be helpful to others who may not even realize that they have OCD.

  5. i hate what OCD does to people. It is so hard to understand, but being Jackie’s mom, I do know how hard it is to live with. My heart goes out to all OCDers and my prayers.

  6. Jackie, I would love if your mom would do a blog, or even a post on that for her perspective. Sadly, my mom is not supportive. I think she feels insulted that her daughter has OCD, like it is some sort of negative reflection on her. Ok, that made me start to get teary so I guess I need to change the subject.
    I have a blog at and if she does doe a post I would love to read it.

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