This I Believe

Laurel - Rockland, Massachusetts
Entered on March 6, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: illness

The Doubting Disease

I believe that my oven is on, even after I’ve turned it off. I believe that I can put my car in park, remove the key from the ignition, engage the parking brake and still it may roll into oncoming traffic. However, if I say aloud: The car is in park, the car is in park. P. A. R. K. Then, I can be relatively assured that is in no danger of moving. I believe expiration dates are to be strictly adhered to. People tend to treat their condiments the way they do their oldest friends: assuming they’ll always be at the ready whenever accompaniment is needed.

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, often called the doubting disease. It is true that we all doubt and that every one of us has moments when she too must recheck to see that what she thinks is on is off, what she thinks is unlocked is locked. We all ask for reassurance, make lists, order and reorder. But when this doubting becomes irrational, when one licks a candle to ensure it isn’t lit (despite the absence of a flame), well that could be OCD.

Such doubt can grip me anywhere and with various degrees of force. An attack of OCD might begin this way: I notice a jar of something called Muffuletta olive salad at the grocery store. I take it off the top shelf to investigate. I say the word muffuletta a few times over because I like the chunky sound of it in my mouth. And when I return it to its place, balanced atop another jar of Muffuletta, I will worry about it falling on someone’s head. This worry will not abate until I decide to walk away and risk it. That is how OCD is managed, by refusing to indulge—offset even—the obsessive thought with a compulsive act.

If however, I stand there making sure the Muffuletta does not fall on someone’s head, the obsession will increase. I may finger the jar checking to see that it isn’t unstable and then worry that my touching has made it so. To manage my checking, I must literally check it. To know absolutely that the oven is off, the car is in park, and the jar of olive salad will not hurt anyone, I must rely on faith. To control my doubt, I must believe.