There are certain things that I try to avoid as much as possible, such as getting gas in the car.  I don’t avoid it because I find it inconvenient, or because I don’t have time.  I find that I avoid certain things like this because they trigger my obsessive-compulsive disorder, or my anxiety, or both.

I am the guy you see wearing a glove to put gas in his car.  I can deal with that, however, it triggers my anxiety because I start thinking about other people judging me.  This is when I start to sweat uncontrollably; and then it snowballs.

My wife will never understand what it feels like to have this run my life, but she does know that it does affect me.  So she will get gas in the cars just so I don’t have to.  In fact, she put gas in both cars in the last two days, and she automatically get out of the car to fill up when I am driving, saving me the embarrassment of having to ask.

Yesterday we went out to eat for dinner with the family.  I wanted barbecue sauce on my sandwich, but I have an extremely difficult time with touching the community condiments on tables at restaurants.  Knowing how much this bothers me, my wife didn’t hesitate to put the sauce on my sandwich for me.

I don’t say all this to brag about my wife (maybe just a little).  I am saying all this because when you have a debilitating disorder it helps to have someone you can trust to take on some of your burden.  They don’t need to be able to understand how you feel.  They just need to understand that this is something that you deal with every day.  And if you do have someone in your life that you can trust, and who is willing to make things a little easier for you, please show them some appreciation.  Because this is not something everyone is willing to do.

OCD: It’s Here to Stay

I read something recently explaining obsessive-compulsive disorder and theories of treatment.  In part of the explanation it says that the person has a behavior and believes that if they do not continue this behavior that something bad will happen.  Part of the treatment stated that if this behavior is stopped, and the person recognizes that nothing bad happened, they may be able to stop the behavior.  I’m not going to go into much detail about this, but it is referring to positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment.

This theory involves negative reinforcement.  By decreasing the behavior which results in a positive outcome (nothing bad happened), this behavior should continue to be decreased.  The problem with this is that even though it makes sense, it doesn’t work that way.

Again, without going into detail, I will try and put this in a little perspective and explain this a little.  I will use the example of checking a locked door a certain number of times.  This book made it sound like someone with OCD checks the door a certain number of times because the feeling is that if they don’t, perhaps someone will break into the house because the door was not fully locked.  At least in the mind of the person with OCD.  The problem is that someone with OCD does not really think that way.  Instead, this person checks the door a certain number of times with the mindset that if they don’t, anything bad that happens may have been a result of that.

Let me explain a little more with an example.  I check the door four times when I leave the house.  I know after the first time that the door is locked, and I know that it doesn’t matter how many more times I check the door, it will not be more locked than it is.  But, however, if I only check the door once and I were to trip and fall at some point in the day, this gets traced back to the fact that I only checked the door once.  Even though I know that one has nothing to do with the other, there was a change in my routine and something bad happened.

For this reason, subtracting one compulsive behavior does not remove that behavior completely.  If I stop checking the door, another behavior will be added.  It could be counting another set of stairs or quadruple checking that the headlights are off in my car.

The bottom line is that we know this behavior is irrational, but we can’t change it.  And if someone who does not have OCD thinks that it is obnoxious, please have patience with us.  Don’t get frustrated because they are checking the door again when you are already late, or they are taking a long time to wash their hands.  And keep in mind that if you interrupt their behavior, they may be forced to start over.  If you think that it is irritating to you, think about how we feel.  We are the people who have to live with it ALL of the time.