8 December 2014

Once more won't hurt

Checking compulsions manifest in many ways, but amongst the most common are verifying that doors or windows are locked, or that water, gas or electrical appliances are turned off.

Even those who don't suffer from OCD can relate to these concerns: almost everybody has, at one time or another, found themselves doubting that they've, say, turned the cooker off, and gone back to double-check.

That double-check is the end of it for most people. Those with checking compulsions, however, have to repeat the process multiple times before they're satisfied that they have really completed it. 

For them, satisfaction is measured not by objective evidence, but by a feeling - the feeling that things are now 'just right' or 'certain', or that they are 'comfortable'. Seeing that a cooker knob is in the off position, and being unable to smell gas, is simply not enough.

In a bid to achieve that nebulous feeling, multiple checks can become hours of checks, which, in turn, can become constant. It's all too easy to tell yourself 'Just once more won't hurt'. Such is the insidious, persuasive voice of OCD.

The most common reason for compulsive checking is the fear of causing harm. One former colleague with checking compulsions told me that she hated being last to leave the family home in the morning, as the responsibility for locking up then fell to her. She was, consequently, often late for work, as she found it so hard to achieve the degree of certainty about her home's security that her OCD demanded.

Such compulsions are secondary to my need for order and symmetry, but I do have some, such as verifying that my front door and car are locked, making sure the fridge door is shut, and ensuring the gas rings and cooker are off.

When I leave my car, for example, I always have to check that all three doors (driver, passenger and boot) are locked, even if I have only used the driver side. This necessitates testing all three - by jiggling the handles - one after the other, without a break, rather than separately, as I remove any bags or luggage. Only once the car is emptied, do I circle it, checking one-two-three doors in a row. If I'm not concentrating, or get distracted, it leaves me with a feeling of uncertainty, of things 'not being right', and I have to go around again.

Image courtesy of sixninepixels/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Usually, I can escape this ritual after no more than three checks, but that is still two too many. Better, nevertheless, than one of my neighbours, who returns to his car again and again after parking it, and takes several minutes to satisfy himself about both its security and positioning.

One trick I use to help fight these compulsions is to mentally 'tag' an important action with a word, as I'm carrying it out. If, later, I begin to doubt myself, that word serves as evidence, helping me to differentiate between performing the task on that and previous occasions. Those with checking compulsions tend to have a lack of confidence in their memory, so this really helps. Not only does it save me time and effort, but sometimes even an unnecessary trip back up the stairs to my flat.

You might find it worth a try, too; if only to help deal with those odd moments of doubt that afflict everybody!

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