Sep 20, 2006

Obsessive but not Compulsive? Uh huh, sure.

This one's for you, P-John.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Before you go on reading, you might choose to take this screening quiz just to determine if you have it. Not that I particularly care whether you have it or not, but it's curious to see how low the threshold is set. For example, I scored between 12 and 17 (I took it twice, but either way I am totally O.C.D. girl) even though I stated that all my obsessive-compulsive tendencies do not affect my life in negative ways, and that I don't avoid activities because of them. But I am still it.

This came up because I was listening to This American Life on my satellite radio at work. There was this episode that was really great, but it was probably especially compelling to those who can recognize behaviors like this in themselves. It covered:
  • The woman obsessed with the number 2
  • Lauren Slater story about getting obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Orthodox Jew talks about whether Hasidic Judaism is like an obsession
  • Woman who made a kitchen out of beads

Never mind for the moment that at least two or three of these four bullet points are related to Judaism* or have to do with a person who is Jewish, that connection is a topic for another day. The first act was a discussion back and forth between a guy and his ex-girlfriend regarding her obsession with bilateral symmetry and with the number 2, i.e. she had to do everything twice, among other things. He claimed this affected their relationship; she claimed he was just being silly and mean about it all, and that it was no big deal. The second act was a rather serious story about a girl's sudden onset of severe O.C.D. symptoms.

As I was listening, I remember how both my sister and I used to have hallmark O.C.D. behaviors, most of which we both grew out of over time. I think neither of us did the whole germ and hand-washing thing, but we both definitely had to touch things a certain number of times (for me it was three, because OBVIOUSLY 3 is the best, most whole, most perfect number) and conducted pointless little rituals. These things were never accompanied by voices saying "you must do this or something terrible will happen," but nonetheless the feeling was there that one must really continue doing the rituals JUST BECAUSE.

I remember that for a long time, every time I closed my closet door in my bedroom, I had to flip the lightswitch on and off three times. I also had to look out a certain window three times before going to bed. Then there were the more spontaneous compulsions, ones that just popped up based on circumstance -- like you must say something three times in your head before the light turns green. I still sort of do that, like my mind will determine that I have to reach the other side of the crosswalk before the hand starts to flash. Or else? I dunno, just or else.

It is interesting to note that these feelings come up mostly when I feel out of control of my destiny, namely when I am on a plane. Since I'm nervous on the plane anyway, because I can't simply hop out and fix the thing if it breaks and I certainly don't have any control over the piloting or any previous maintenance, I launch into rituals mode. I start doing things that will supposedly keep the plane aloft -- it used to be that if I didn't have my walkman (remember those?), that would suck because the walkman was the key ingredient in keeping the plane up. You know, stuff like that. It's less bad now, but still there.

So anyway, the other day P-John was waiting for me at lunch so we could go visit our friend's baby in the hospital. He said, "when are we leaving?" and I said, "two minutes," and he said, "two real minutes or two girl minutes?" and I was like, "no need to drag gender into this, you can just say 'two real minutes or two Dubin minutes' and be specific about it."

Then, I had an epiphany! The reason there are "Dubin minutes" so often is because of my O.C.D! You see, I can't actually get up from my chair until some specific unit of my work is done, OR ELSE! So if I say "two minutes" what I really mean is "until my O.C.D. requirements are met, and I don't know when that will be," but as you can imagine, one can't really SAY that because it's too long and somewhat antagonistic. So you just say "two minutes."

On the way to the hospital, I explained my epiphany to P.J. -- I thought he would relate because the guy is totally obsessive, too. But he then claimed that he's "obsessive but not compulsive." I challenged that, of course, but he was adamant; for example, he said that although he prefers his pens and pencils all lined up orthogonally to the edges of his desk, he knows the world won't end if they aren't that way. Dude, ok. He gave a few more examples like that, but I remained unconvinced.

I guess what I am proposing is that you CAN'T be obsessive without being at least somewhat compulsive. Whatever moves you to have obsessions, whether minor or major, rules you to at least some degree and causes you to act out semi-pointless rituals in order to fulfill them. I also think that O.C.D. is a spectrum, ranging from benign obsessions that don't really hurt anyone to full-fledged life-ruining dedication to the gods of the disorder. On the low end, we have people who simply can't concentrate if their desks aren't neat, and on the high end we have the crazy hand washers who would benefit from medication.

So, think about it. Can you be obsessive without being compulsive? Can you be compulsive without being obsessive, and if so, is that what Tourette's Syndrome is all about? Please think about it this week and get back to me. In the meantime, I'll be messing up the pens on P-John's desk.

* Unrelated: My mom went to services this week at the Valley Outreach Synagogue, where the service was conducted by the cantor who officiated our wedding. She said it was totally Rosh Hashana: The Musical! I am sorry I missed it... you gotta love reform Judaism.

10 Comments:

Blogger hilsbells opined...

hmm. i got a score of 8 on the test which still indicated a probable obsessive/compulsive disorder. wow. wonder what the threshold is.

oh and happy new year! i didn't make it to temple this year - i figure why go if the best part of temple is the shofar and you can't blow the shofar on shabbat. i know that means i'm going to hell but i did make my momma's rosh hashanna challah bread as my own kind of celebration, which turned out divine. so there.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Megan opined...

Seven. You know, I'm not obsessive about stuff, but I do get compulsions, like the right direction to run around the park. Or to braid pine needles. I am MUCH better about counting my steps now, thank you.

12:19 PM  
Blogger lil miss dubin opined...

Uh, great. I scored 23. Lordy. But I was torn because I tried to split the difference in my answers between my totally disabling OCD (in college, say), and my current, much more mild OCD. I think I pick my skin and use hella face products because of OCD, BTW> (I kind of realized that watching "Intervention" last night.) So creepy. Eew.

6:19 PM  
Blogger capella opined...

Seven. I'm, like, normal.

Although I do sometimes get annoyed that things are not being touched properly, like it is hard to get your finger properly down into the groove on the light switch. But then I go obsess about the fact that I am going to get fired, or one of my imaginary boyfriends (dubin: TOD emailed again, if he weren't far away and a virtual stranger and probably married it would be pretty cool), instead.

9:14 PM  
Blogger amanda bee opined...

11, but I think it is bogus.

I don't know how to answer question two, as various people in my past disagree with me about whether my concern with order (I just like to be able to find things. Is that so wrong?) qualifies as "overconcern." I just spent something like 18 hours in airplanes and airports. I was thinking about germs, but I think with good reason. I wouldn't say that "unpleasant thougths repeatedly enter my mind" though. I worry about burglary, but a lot? What is a lot? What is unneccesary re-reading of letters? I re-read letters before I send them, sometimes. Sometimes I don't and I regret it. Sometimes I don't and I don't need to.

Also, I live in New York City. There are a lot of places I don't go because they are nasty. Hell, a lot of people won't come to NYC because it is nasty. Is that avoidance? Plus, I watched Noah's home burn down and my apartment in Greenpoint was burglarized way too many times. And I happen to loose things alot so I think I'm justified in being worried about loosing things.

I think I got an 11 because I claimed no ability to control my thoughts (even though I only identified a few mildly obsessive thoughts). Who can control their thoughts?

I like being me.

Meanwhile, I had a professor once who insisted (god bless Berkeley) that you couldn't be masochistic if you weren't also sadistic and vice versa. I call bull- on that. And I think you can be compulsive without being obsessive. An obsession is a persistant thought, a compulsion is the strong impulse to act on that thought (in this context anyhow). I'd say that empirically speaking if you act on your obsessions (by, say, lining up your pencils) you are compulsive. If you just are consumed with thoughts of order, that is obsessive. I came to this conclusion using the dictionary, so I must be right.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Christine opined...

I totally scored a 9, which surprised me. I think it was low because I am more obsessive than compulsive.

11:00 AM  
Blogger AEW opined...

I, too, found the test very unscientific. Or unspecific? I think internet tests only contribute to our population's idea that we know more about ourselves than ever before when, in reality, we just think we know more. Anyway, I scored a 4, which is to be expected, since I am neither obsessive nor compulsive, and instead spend most of my time worrying about how I will be punished for not practicing enough obsessive-compulsive oversight regarding most aspects of my life. If there were a test for people who suffer from persecution complexes yet feel incapable of preventing themselves from committing the very acts for which (they perceive) they will be persecuted, I'd definitely score in the 20 range.

Not that I, like, obsess about it or anything, though.

3:01 PM  
Blogger NiHiLiSTiCD opined...

The test is nonsense. I scored an 11. I can be obsessed about something temporarily but not in a ritualistic way. My behavior exhibits few compulsions and I can easily dismiss urges and not acting out a compulsion doesn't bother me. It does bother me that the three categories on this test are "likely, probable, unlikely." PROBABLE MEANS LIKELY. It's not meant to diagnose, it can straight up say yes or no. Or it could just change the word probable to possible. I'm guessing they make money off of treating patients, so it's in their best interest to lower the bar. But I wouldn't know because I'm not obsessed enough to check.

2:59 AM  
Blogger NiHiLiSTiCD opined...

Oh and Amanda Bee.. you have OCD

3:00 AM  
Blogger shyam opined...

I also believe that compulsions can be controlled like your friend P-John (on the other part, it is really difficult to control my obsessions).He never said that he had no compulsive behaviour.What he meant was in "good mood" (basically the mood in which your mind would listen to you)these compulsions can be really avoided and vice verse when we are really negative or low mind it become unavoidable or as you said you said "something bad will happen" mindset will come.I started really doubting myself that I really had OCD because people with OCD have known to wash hands and do stuff reapeatedly that others really notice, But I did not have such compulsions only touching the wall 2 times etc were my compulsions and over the years I really adapted with this compulsive behaviour

8:28 AM  

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