May 4, 2005

It drives me crazy when people say things like, “I got all OCD about filling out that form” when what they mean is, “I was more thorough/punctilious/neat than necessary when filling out that form.” Obsessive-compulsive disorder is something quite different. When you have OCD, your mind is filled with intrusive, irrational thoughts often so forceful and terrifying as to render you incapable of concentrating on anything else, and you end up performing rituals with the intent of warding off whatever those thoughts make you afraid of. One of the most common obsessions, for example, is a fear that everything around you is contaminated. This is often paired with a compulsion to wash your hands. People in whom this compulsion is particularly strong can wash their hands until they bleed, and keep on washing. Often people with OCD have more than one obsession and/or compulsion; why just wash your hands when you can wash your hands and have to tap your doorknob with each finger of each hand when leaving or entering your apartment?

I speak, of course, from personal experience; my OCD, while not crippling, has shaped my life in any number of ways, some seriously problematic, others simply annoying. One of my more benign compulsions is displayed to most amusing effect at the water fountain at the gym, where I have to take sips in sets of four or go mad with discomfort. The ideal grouping is four sets of nine sips of water, but usually there are others waiting to drink whom I do not wish to anger, so it doesn’t often work out that way. Most of the time I end up taking four sets of five sips, which is satisfying enough to quiet the urge and yet quick enough not to draw the ire of those behind me in line. If there’s an urgent need for brevity I can take sets of three sips, but if I went down to two I’d have to take four sets of four sets of two sips, and that would be ridiculous.

I was telling E.S. about all this the other day as we waited for the subway. He was fascinated, unsurprising given that he is a psychiatrist-in-training.

“So you usually take 20 sips of water, right?” he asked.

“Yes, exactly.” I said.

“Four sets of five sips?”

“Right,” I said.

He paused. “Well, couldn’t it be five sets of four sips?”

It was the meanest thing he’d ever said to me and I almost pushed him in front of the oncoming train.

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18 Responses to It drives me crazy when

  1. Jess says:

    I almost got stuck at the part where you mentioned sipping 4 groups of 9 sips. The thought of you bent over the fountain, tight buttocks presented to those behind you, as you’re locked in a lengthy sipping process brought out all kinds of thoughts. So what gym is this? I’m feeling… um… thirsty. ;)

  2. Fiona says:

    Regarding bowling. Perhaps you’ve forgotten your bowling birthday party, circa 1988? I haven’t. It was decidedly un-heterosexual.
    Fiona

  3. Jill Smith says:

    … no.

    Two sets of TEN sips – now that would be mean.

  4. zenchick says:

    E.S…..E.S…..there’s more left to his residency, right?!

  5. Brian says:

    When you were whoring about Manhattan in the good old days, would you organize the men in orgies into four sets?

  6. That is mean! Sheesh!

  7. jon collins says:

    and he would have deserved it, too.

  8. anapestic says:

    Four sets of nine is so pleasing because it factors down to two-squared times three-squared. As someone who habitually (not quite compulsively, I reckon) multiplies all the digits on the mailboxes I pass and checks license plate numbers to see whether they’re divisible by three, I feel your pain.

    I urge you, however, not to shove ES in front of the train. He’s just playing with numbers. Besides, there would be a lot of paperwork to fill out, and you would feel incomplete until you could find nineteen or thirty-five other people to shove in front of a train. Though perhaps that wouldn’t take too long in Manhattan.

  9. i. bendito says:

    Push him in front of four trains.

  10. Lux says:

    I’m amazed that someone with OCD would even drink out of a water fountain.

  11. Mike says:

    It’s probably similar to how I feel about people using the word “depressed” when they’re just feeling down. Until your psychiatrist has told you that you’re quite frankly bonkers — or unless your Dad died or you have some other, similarly traumatic event-based reason for depression (which fortunately for you will still be temporary) — you’re not depressed. *Smile*

  12. birdfarm says:

    Anapestic: I think I’m in love with you.

    Lux: Not everyone has the same “concerns.”

    Faustus & Mike: is it just my persecution complex ;-) or is the most over/misused “diagnosis” that of ADD?

    People say “so sorry I didn’t mail your birthday card, I must have had an ADD moment there…”

    No, you were forgetful or distracted. “Normal” people don’t have “ADD moments”–unless they’ve just witnessed a war crime or been severely injured (perhaps by being run over by a train).

    People with ADD don’t have “ADD moments,” we have ADD all the #$*#&$ing time. But for the sake of comparison, an “ADD moment” would be where you drive away from the gas pump…with your wallet on top of the car and the gas nozzle still in the car… but you never pumped the gas…but you don’t realize this til you run out of gas…and then you’re screwed because your wallet is gone…but you have no idea what happened to it…or even if you had it earlier today.

    That’s when you *wish* Faustus would come and push you in front of a train.

  13. Mike says:

    Well, one relatively good test for ADHD (I dunno about regular old ADD) is to give the person meth and see how hyper they get. But then I’m an addict, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me.

  14. Mike says:

    Oh, and from my understanding, the feeling of “sketching” on meth after having been awake for more than a couple days is akin to what ADD people normally feel like, at least in terms of attention deficit. So I can empathize at least to a small degree.

    (While sketching,) I myself have driven away from the gas pump having not filled up the tank — and I’ve driven away from the gas pump not having filled up the tank and having forgotten to remove the nozzle from my tank, too. Whoops. The gas station manager was pretty pissed about that. If you let it get to you it can be very frustrating; fortunately, it only requires twenty or thirty hours of sleep to get past… I can’t imagine living with it full-time!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I can probably come up with a couple of odd things I do.

    If I’ve left my house and forgotten something, I can’t go back to get it, even if I just stepped outside and locked the door and have plenty of time before I need to be anywhere. Well, I can force myself but I have to force myself and I feel like I’m wading through a huge physical pressure or like I’m weighed down by something all the while I’m retrieving whatever it is.

    I have to chew equally on each side. That’s why you have to give me time if you want the last bite of whatever I’m eating, so I can redistribute my chewing. If you ask at the last minute when I only have two bites left I won’t let you have it.

    NY

  16. birdfarm says:

    Wow, Mike, that’s kind of validating, actually.

    That “normal” people can see what this feels like, if they do terrible terrible things to their brains.

    Though actually the idea that giving a person w ADD a stimulant has the reverse effect that it has on a “normal” person isn’t actually accurate, because a “normal” person on a very small quantity of stimulant (e.g., 10 mg adderall) will also get more focused and may seem calmer because of it. Better way to diagnose is to use brain imaging (PET scans) which show that ppl w ADD have overactive portions of their brains.

  17. Mike says:

    Well — I didn’t mean give them a “normal” quantity per se. A drug dealer / former friend of mine had a totally different reaction to meth than I did — and you can generally pretty well about a person’s reaction to meth. He often got sleepy, if you can believe that.

    I meant the suggestion as more of a joke, anyway… ;) Glad to have validated you!

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