There’s so much more to OCD than hand-washing …

washing handsIf you use Google Images and search “OCD,” what you end up with is a lot of photos of lame OCD jokes and of soapy hands.  It reminds me just how little the world really knows and understands obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Heck, before my own diagnosis, I myself pretty much thought of it as “that disease where you wash your hands a lot or have to tap the doorknob over and over.”  Insightful, Jackie.

While it’s true that contamination obsessions are a prevalent theme among OCD sufferers (I read somewhere that about 60% of OCD cases deal in this arena), that’s not the only obsessive theme.*  And even hand-washing is often misunderstood.  People just don’t understand that there are persistent, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that are driving the hand-washing or other compulsions.  Compulsions are a response to what I personally think is the darker half of the disorder: the obsessions.

* Other common obsessive-compulsive themes include a need for order or symmetry, hoarding, checking, sexual obsessions (including HOCD, in which a straight person obsesses about being gay, or a gay person obsesses about being straight), religion/morality/scrupulosity (my OCD world!), and aggressive thoughts around harming others or one’s self.  OCD is probably bigger, wider, and scarier than most people ever imagined.

 

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!
Thanks,
Jackie

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.