Friday, August 21, 2009

A little OCD

I've always obsessed over little things. In high-school and undergrad I was constantly checking to make sure my alarm clock was set and on. In grad. school lab I obsessed over a couple of things in particular: (1) the Bunsen burner - was it off or on, (2) the door to the lab - was it properly closed and locked and (3) the air shaker. Now, it's the garage door.

During graduate school I tried combating my obsessions by creating routines. They would help for a while, but then the routine would become too familiar and I would alter it or add a step.
For example, to stop obsessing about my Bunsen burner, I would stare directly at it while I shut the door, thinking all the while, "See, no flame." After a while, this no longer worked, so I added to the routine. I would wave my hand over the Bunsen burner before I went to the door. I would get home sans burned hand, and remember that my flame was off. Eventually, I started freaking out about it again and just as the lab door shut I would ask myself, "Self, did you remember to wave your hand over the flame?" Since I was only 99% sure that I did, I would open the door and look again. The only way I could escape the obsessive thought was to make sure I left the lab while at least one person was still there. I guess in my mind this transferred the responsibility to someone else.

Locking the door to the grad. school lab was much of the same. Sometimes, I would go back and check the door 3 or 4 times before I could really convince myself it was shut and locked. At first I would just visually check the door to make sure it was shut, then I started jiggling the knobs. Eventually, I started doubling back when I was half way to the bus stop as I could not convince myself that all was well. Again, if I wasn't the last one to leave, the thought didn't even enter my mind.

So far, these issues do not plague me in post-doc lab. I think this is largely because the person who uses the bench right next to me comes into work around noon and as a result, always leaves later than me.

The only obsession gained since starting in post-doc lab is with my garage door. When I was in graduate school, my husband would drop me off at work in the morning and I would take the bus home in the evening. Now, I drive to work and when I leave the house after my husband I worry, "Did I shut the damn door?" At first, I solved the problem by forcing myself to watch the garage door go all the way down. Eventually this stopped working and I would find myself half way to work worrying about the garage door, so I would turn around and drive back to check. Yes, it was always fucking down, but that really doesn't matter. When I went back for a third time to check on the door I felt insane. Deep down I new the door was shut, but I just had to check again. I don't allow myself to double or triple check anymore out of fear that in a year, I'll find myself driving back and forth to my house 50 times every morning. Mostly, I just try to get the hell out of the house before my husband leaves so that the garage door becomes his "problem." God help me if I ever come home and find that thing open when I am the last one to leave the house.

I don't get this behavior at all. I do not obsess over large responsibilities. It's always little things like shutting doors or turning things on or off. I can still find the humor in it, but sometimes I feel like I am losing my mind a little.


Thomas Joseph said...

Everyone I know has had that issue with the Bunsen burner. I know I did. However, the going back and forth multiple times to check the garage door does sound like OCD. I knew on Assistant Prof back during my grad school days who was obsessed with the fire extinguisher outside his lab. It HAD to be straight and he'd check on it multiple times a day. Of course, us being the shits we were, would tilt it when we'd walk by. Looking back, that was pretty friggin mean (though we found it amusing).

Not to try to psychoanalyze you but, does unrelated stress trigger this reaction in you?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Wow, it sounds very frustrating. When I was in high school I was usually the last one out of the house in the morning, and I often used to go back to check I'd locked the front door, but that was mostly because my parents would have killed me if I'd forgotten.

Do you have a cell phone? Is there any way you could draft a text/email to yourself (just the letter Y, maybe) when you've shut the door or whatever? That way you have a tangible reminder that you've locked up, and you can erase it when you get back home. If you don't have a cell phone, maybe mark your hand with a pen or something...

chall said...

oh... that sounds like me. Double check the bunsen burner... check the door when leaving the house... not to mention the GAS STOVE...

I have decided to try and avoid going back to the house after leaving in the morning if the thought crossed my mind + the first time I didn't do it, the house was still ok when I got back so next time if was easier.

TJ: I know that stress triggers it in me... more than usual anyway.

Krazy Kitty said...

I'm obsessed with forgetting my keys. Here in the studio I rent for my summer internship I need them to lock the door, so I just leave them on the door and all is well. Although I still check each time I pick up my bag that there are indeed there.

In the apartment I live in during the year, the door locks when you close it so it's much easier to forget the keys inside.

Every night before I go to bed I check the keys are in their pocket in my bag. Sometimes I do it several times because I'm not sure I've done it the first time. Then in the morning I check they're there when I take my bag to leave. I check once more when I open the door. And even then, I still need to check when I am right outside the door. I could walk out with the keys in my hand but oftentimes I'm just carrying too much junk for that.

And I behave similarly when in the office. I've been an intern for two months in a place where the doors open with a badge that I keep clipped to my belt, and each time I get up from my desk I check my pocket for my keys... that aren't there as they have no reason to be. I drive myself insane but I can't help doing it.

microbiologist xx said...

TJ - LOL! I probably would've messed with the fire extinguisher too. Stress certainly makes it worse, but honestly, it could happen at any time.

Cath - It is sooo frustrating. The cell phone is a good idea. I'll give it that a try next time. Heck, I have an iPhone, I am surprised they don't make an app. for managing your obsessive thoughts.

chall - I am glad to hear I'm not alone. I've found that not allowing myself to double and triple check does help. It seems like checking more than once actually makes things worse since it's kind of like I am feeding the problem.

KK - OMG. I have done the same things. :)
In the past I used to lose my keys almost every time I put them down. I finally had to get a hook to hang them on. This works great. Of course when I randomly don't use it, I have no idea where to look for the keys.
Oh, and the badge. At my last job we had to badge into the lab every time we wanted to get into the door. To save myself hours of endless searching for the badge that I new I would lose every chance I got, I decided to wear it around my neck. On the few occasions when I left it at home, I would periodically realize the badge was gone throughout the day, start to freak out a little and then remember it was at home.

chall said...

MXX> don't feed the monster! :)

I do think that is part of it though.

Let's work on it :)

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

There has GOT to be an app for that! If not, you should make one!

Anonymous said...

You could sweet talk the husband into rigging a web cam in the garage pointed at the door. That way when you get such a compulsion you could log in and check.

microbiologist xx said...

Well, he's certainly qualified to do it. :)