Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obsessive compulsive...not a disorder for me

The other day - or week, I guess - my dad was in town visiting so we could see a concert in Chicago together. My first sighting of him was outside my dorm as he waited in the car to drive us both to Wicker Park for the show. When I sat down in the passenger seat, we immediately fell back into a routine of talking as if we had not parted for a month. That's what I love about my relationship with my dad. It's steadfast, unchangeable and often silly. Sometimes it's also self-deprecating.

At some point during the drive we started talking about both our tendencies toward OCD. My dad explained how he was mildly afflicted. But I, feeling the necessity of one-upsmanship, went on for a few extra minutes on how my being born of two mildly OCD individuals had made me twice as OCD as either of them. For this, I am not thankful.

In the early years of my life, every night before my mom and I went to bed, before she read me a bed time story and I curled up under my pink Mulan blanket, she would check the lock on the front door. It became known between us as one of her little quirks, an unavoidable compulsion that seemed only natural since I'd watched her test the doorknob every night for years and years.

When I was no longer living with my mom, though, I started to understand why she couldn't help the compulsion to check the door. She had a mental disorder. Not an incredibly detrimental one, sure, but still an issue that taunted her day in and day out. Or at least every night.

I moved into my dad's house and soon after realized I'd inherited the "checking" gene. That's not a scientific term, of course, but it explains what the problem is in layman's terms. I can't help but check things over and over. Whether it's to be sure an object in my possession is still where I last left it, or the door is locked, or I said "I love you" before I got off the phone with my dad or I set the alarm clock to the right time, it is always imperative to do the checks. Or else I worry.

This didn't really start to manifest itself as a problem until I became a college student. Living by myself in a dorm room meant I had no cohabitant to make sure the door was locked for me. So I had to compensate by checking twice...or thrice...or uncountable numbers of repetitions.

In high school, my OCD rituals were a bit more abstract. I would test myself by saying internally that if I couldn't complete a task in a certain amount of time, something bad would happen. I remember watching a television program in Health class, "True Life: I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder," and seeing a girl suffering from the same problem, except her situation was magnified one hundred times. She would bet herself that if she couldn't do a task in a certain amount of time, her mom would die. It's like that childhood game where you avoid stepping on the breaks in sidewalk. "Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back." Except, for some reason, the little rhyme became reality.

Though I've since gotten over the fear of my failed rituals resulting in the impending doom of my relatives, my friends or myself, the traces of OCD still exist.

Every night before I go to bed, I feel the worst of my compulsive checking. My first step is to set my alarm. I click the button on my clock and stare as the wake time flickers across the screen. I look to make sure the alarm is set to "Buzzer" rather than "iPod" or "Radio." Sometimes, if I felt I haven't been thorough enough, I click it off and on again just to be sure. I've even come up with rhymes in my head so that I'm ultra-aware that everything is set for me to go to bed.

Then I check the door. I look at the keys hanging on the wall next to the door to make sure they're present, then look at the lock to make sure the deadbolt has been secured. Then I check again...and again...and again...until I feel satisfied.

Usually being a checker isn't a problem - if you can remind yourself that once is enough. Lately I've gotten into the habit of stopping after I've checked something once so that I don't get caught up and stay on the task for 15 minutes, but that can be tremendously difficult.

Many people suffer from addictions and mental disorders that cause them to feel unsatisfied until they've fulfilled a ritual. And of all problems, this one is fully conquerable simply because it's so easy to be aware of it and force yourself out of the mindset of needing to be 100 percent sure of everything.

I complain with my dad about the fact that I can't seem to leave my room without checking the door twice and that I reset my alarm every night to be sure it will have me up at the right time. But, in a way, this form of OCD has increased my awareness of my own faults and made me better able to conquer them. In two years at college, I've never been late to a class, never left my door unlocked and I've come to understand that I can tackle my own insecurities, even if they are controlled by my brain rather than me.

So I can complain all I want, but being twice the OCD as my parents has also made me twice as reliable and hopefully even more self-aware. A blessing in disguise, perhaps.

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