Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obsessed with Obsessions

I am fascinated by strange behavior.

More specifically, I am extremely interested in people with anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

Honestly, I suspect that everyone has a little OCD in them.

My husband, for example, is a bit of a germaphobe. For instance, after ordering in a restaurant (and his hands—God forbid—have touched the menu), he has to go wash his hands—and then if he uses the ketchup bottle on the table, he has to pick it up with a napkin. And his germaphobia is not just limited to public places. In our own kitchen, if a kitchen towel accidentally comes in contact with anything except for a clean dish, he immediately quarantines it and banishes it to the laundry basket along with the other “germy” items.

I myself have a strange little behavior that I’m a little embarrassed to admit here. As I walked down the street to work, every few minutes, I check to be sure my pants zipper is still up. When I told my friend Diane this, she said, “So what would happen if it was down?” Hmm, I had never thought about that… I guess it wouldn’t really be that big a deal, but still, I feel compelled to check it every few minutes. Don’t ask me why.

So when I heard that there was a new t.v. show about people with even stranger compulsions, I couldn’t wait to see it. The show is called “Obsessed,” and I’ve only seen a few of the episodes so far (I’m going to watch the rest of them online), but already I am hooked. I saw an episode about a guy who was an extreme hoarder, who couldn’t throw away anything that belonged to his dead mother—including her prescription medication. And then there was the germaphobe woman who scrubbed herself for so long and so hard in the shower, that she had been hospitalized twice for losing too much blood from her skin that she had scrubbed raw. Then there was the guy who was so obsessed with exercise (and preventing death) that he worked out something like ten times a day.

These people are crazy, I thought. And I loved not only hearing about their strange behaviors, but also about how their psychiatrists managed to help them.

Then I heard about this book called “Life In Rewind,” about a guy with severe obsessive compulsive disorder—so severe that he had shut himself in his basement and did not take a shower for two whole years. I had to read it.

At first, as I began reading it, it was just an interesting (if slightly sad) story about a guy who witnessed his beloved mother’s death at the age of eleven…and then developed the belief that if going forward in time moves him closer to death, reversing the action will take him—and his loved ones—away from death. Therefore, no matter what he did, he had to reverse that same action. For example, if he walked somewhere, he had to walk backwards the same exact way. He would even speak every sentence that he uttered, backwards. And that was only the beginning of his odd behaviors.

I was riveted by his story.

But the more that I read, the more that I realized something that I really had been missing the whole time I had been watching and reading stories about people with OCD: compassion.

For the first time, it really hit me how awful it must be to be someone with OCD. I found myself grieving for this man, and for his severe depression that resulted from his not being able to control these behaviors. It was indeed a very lonely life for him, and my mind was begging the story to take a positive turn.

And then, he began to get well, and I was so relieved. (I won’t tell you the details of how he got well, in case you want to read this fascinating book.)

But even though now he lives a pretty normal life, he still struggles with his OCD, day in and day out. It’s like this evil monster inside of him that tries to convince him that if he doesn’t do certain behaviors, people that he loves will die—and he has to figure out a way to ignore or even just slightly appease that voice.

It must be awful. I feel so much compassion for him.

And I thank God that the worst obsession I have is a compulsion to check my pants zipper every now and then.


Mathman6293 said...

I had a really great comment written but there was a blogger glitch and it disappeared.

I said something about my compulsion to eat my meals in order. I generally don't mix the foods.

Daisy's Mom said...

I love Iwanski's napkin mittens, and I think I know where he got that from.

I have a compulsion about prime numbers...if any electronic devise has a prime number option, I am SOOOO much more comfortable with the devise on a prime.

But you are right, it's sad to have your life oonsumed by an obsession. My life is only affected when I watch TV or set my alarm clock.

Daisy's Mom said...

consumed not oonsumed... but that sounds like an interesting life. I've been oonsumed... it felt cushy!

Buck said...

I feel uncomfortable if a pen or pencil is pointing to the left.

And you know how I am about eating with my fingers. . . .

Mom said...

We could use a whole lot more compassion in this world of ours.
I can't think of anything I'm very compulsive about. I'm a pretty relaxed old lady.

Bad Alice said...

I don't think I have any strong compulsions, but I do try to avoid left turns without traffic signals. I will often go out of my way to avoid them, which, depending on his mood, irritates or amuses my husband.

sageweb said...

i have an obsession with checking if other peoples zippers are down.

My mom is a germaphobe..(sp?) I have seen her get worse and worse over the years. She thinks it is normal..but when she cant even open up a door in is anything but normal.

rosemary said...

i vacuum every day. i have to. every day....and dust and wash the kitchen and bathroom floors. I got up at 5 this morning because we had to go someplace at 9:30 and i had to get my housework done before we left. I carpet swept when we got home. I am glad someone feels compassion for people like me.

Sling said...

I have a thing for even numbers.
Like,if I have 9 M&M's,I'll eat one really quick so I can have 8 left,and then eat them 2 at a time after that.
Pray 4 me.

Anonymous said...

I too like to eat M&Ms in pairs, but they need to be color matched as well. I will match them up when I open the pacakage, and then eat the oddball ones first individually, then eat the colormatched pairs. It seems really silly now that I've re-read what I just typed.

MaryRuth said...

My new favorite show is the hoarding show on TLC. The scary part is that I can see myself going down that path sometime in the future. I really have to keep it in check. Not messy food and junk piled up everywhere, mostly just magazines and stuff like that. I also like things "just so" and change is sometimes hard.
My BF has a little of the OCD too...he hates when there is time left on the microwave. They say that alcoholism might be a form of OCD. It is a fascinating subject.

Maria said...

In my profession, I have seen many people with severe OCD. I think that most of us have at least one thing that we are compulsive about. For me, it is turning off my electric blanket in the morning. I have to stand next to my bed and check it and then say out loud..."IT IS OFF." If I don't, I will worry all day long that I left it on and my house will burn down.

Bing is obsessive about our shower door. She is convinced that if we don't leave it open for at least 2 hours after a shower, mildew will set it. If I inadvertently shut it before two hours, I get scolded...

Anonymous said...

My OCD is that I like to touch things with both hands. If I touch the railing going up stairs with my right hand, I'll eventually have to let go and touch it with my left hand.

It eventually went away, sort of. I started playing sports but sports that used both hands; football and baseball.

Random Thinker said...

I used to count the syllablesin words and sentences. My sentences had to be even, if they weren't I would add a word to make them even. Nowadays the only thing I do is think I left my curling iron or coffee pot on and call home to have somebody check them for me.

Anita said...

I think having compassion is so beautiful, many people just see a person with extreme OCD as sick, and not feel anything.
My son has a few OCD type ticks, but nothing that has taken over his life,and we do talk about them.
I have small issues with keeping things in order, hangers in my laundry room, other random things that escape me as I'm writing this.