I’ve been dealing with obsessive thinking since my grade school days. Replaying conversations or scenes in my head after the fact, over and over again, until I wasn’t sure what was a real memory and what I’d made-up out of fear (I said the dumbest thing, everyone was looking at me, so-and-so laughed with their friend and I just know it was about ME, the teacher looked at me just now, was I doing something wrong, etc), projecting my worst fears on what someone’s facial expression might have meant (they hate me now, they think I’m weird, they don’t care about what I’m saying, etc), analyzing every angle of a situation and immediately considering the most dismal, worst-case “What If” scenarios (we are traveling outside the country, what if I lose my phone/passport, what if I get lost in a place where no one speaks my language, what if I get sick and can’t travel home, what if what if what if), etc. I had just assumed it was normal to think about every possible outcome until it became apparent friends often had devil-may-care attitudes about things that would send me into a panic for merely considering. “You’re a perfectionist, you like everything to be just so,” my parents would say. “My friends were just reckless and careless,” I decided. “I just wanted more control than they did, that’s all.”

The OCD compulsions started around high school, when germs became a constant low-key threat. I’d clean my room from top to bottom every few days, wash my hands constantly, and avoid touching anything that wasn’t mine. The germ phobia eventually went away sometime around college, but within the last 6 years (got married, bought a house, adopted a cat) I developed a checking compulsion. I’d make circuits around the house to check doors and windows to see they were locked (did I jiggle the handle just right, is the door actually shut all the way, is the deadbolt sitting in the hole or is it misaligned?), looking hard at the stove and coffee maker and space heater controls to make sure they were really off. Some days I’d be late to work because I had to repeat the checks multiple times, each time adding to my stress levels, and then I’d be anxious all day at work, wondering if I’d accidentally skipped one because I felt rushed. Catastrophe lurks around every single possibility. “Someone could be in our house right now, stealing everything, because I don’t remember if I checked the back door. I’m pretty sure I did, but what if I’m remembering the day BEFORE and not today?” or “There might be a fire and my cat will end up dying because I don’t remember if I turned off the coffee maker.” It all boils down to one single refrain: “My negligence might cause us so much grief and hardship that could be avoided if only I check”. But the checks aren’t enough. If my checking routine is disrupted or rushed, I know I’ll be facing a whirling tornado of disturbing “what if” thoughts that repeat for hours until I can go back home and check that everything is okay.

These checking routines are tiresome, and just like everyone with OCD who feels compelled beyond reason to continue doing them, I’m fed up. The number of times I check and the anxiety that comes with it gets worse when I’m stressed in other areas of my life, but even when the weather’s fair and the seas calm, they never go away. It’s gotten so bad now that I will obsessively check my bag for keys and phone, repeatedly, never sure that I really know they’re there before I get in the car and go. “Don’t look, you already know the keys are there,” I’ve said to myself, out loud, before leaving. But I look anyway. Or I put my hand in my bag to feel the items are still there, which is still a check. I can’t seem to stop.

I know, logically, compulsive checking is a byproduct of the “doubting disease”, and a false reassurance that only lasts for minutes before I need to check again. My fear that my negligence might somehow harm myself or someone else casts a constant shadow over my every waking thought. It follows me into my dreams, where I have nightmares around having accidentally left my cat alone for weeks with no one to care for her, or having a front door that doesn’t sit in the frame properly and can’t  be locked, and thus a knife-wielding maniac has gotten inside. All of this is why I’m finally going to try therapy, to hopefully learn how to cope with my own un-reasonable thought process.

This anxiety/OCD song isn’t new or unique, but I hope with therapy I can start changing the tune. Here’s to the next step!

  1. morganpnagrom 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story “Small Cat”. I can’t imagine how much stress that this has caused you having or needing to do so many checks. It truly is hard to minimize these patterns. Overthinking is also a problem I can relate too, and the ” what if” questions can cause sleeplessness and extreme distractions. You took the right step with therapy. Good for you. Wishing you all the best!

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