You can expend precious energy chasing the holy grail of 100% certainty, or you can choose to settle for 95%, or 70%, or even 20% certainty.
When I was a graduate student, I worked for months to prove the main mathematical result in my dissertation. I struggled with this proof. I churned out pages of chicken scratch calculations. I manipulated equations in my head while I ate, showered, vacuumed, and exercised. I had math dreams.
Finally, I thought I’d nailed it. It was a large and hairy beast that sprawled over many pages. I showed it to my adviser and declared, “I’m 95% sure it’s correct.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Well, you’d better be 100% sure,” he replied.
That’s when I realized that he wasn’t planning to check it himself. He was just going to trust me. And then I started to worry. What if there was an error in my proof? What if the central result in my dissertation turned out to be wrong? Could they take away my PhD? And if I got a job based on work I’d done in my dissertation, could they fire me? Would my career be ruined?
I checked my proof carefully many times. But I still couldn’t be 100% sure it was right. I knew there could be a glitch in my logic that I simply wasn’t smart enough to pick up on, no matter how many times I checked. After all, how many times had I turned in math homework – confident that my answers were correct – only to find out later that there was a major flaw in one of my solutions? And the stakes were much higher here. I asked a classmate – someone a lot smarter than me – to check my proof, and he thought it was correct. But I knew it wasn’t his dissertation or his responsibility, so I couldn’t completely trust his assurances.
I would urge anyone that has identified with anything I’ve spoken about to seek advice and talk to someone.
MY OCD STORY
I’ll set the scene. I’m sat here in bed, slightly intoxicated, listening to Celine Dion. I’ve just read my best friend Joe’s ‘coming out’ story. Scrolling through – there is a section about his mental health and suffering with OCD. I knew that he’d had OCD when he was younger as we’ve discussed it before – we’ve joked about what our symptoms and triggers were. In his story, Joe describes OCD as a mental health disorder. I have never considered my OCD as a mental health issue because I was so young when I had it and it was never referred to in that way around me. During a time when mental health is being discussed much more openly, I feel like sharing my OCD symptoms and triggers may help other people that have also found themselves involved in it.
DISCLAIMER – WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS COMPLETELY TRUE, HOWEVER UNTRUE IT MAY SOUND. THESE WERE REAL EXPERIENCES AND ACTUAL THOUGHTS THAT HAPPENED IN MY ACTUAL HEAD.
I don’t remember the exact age when my compulsions started but I remember it being at the end of junior school and the beginning of high school (around 10-11 years of age). I have always been terrified of being burgled. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think back to where that fear has come from but it’s a struggle to pin point a particular event that may have triggered it. I remember watching the Danny Boyle film ‘Million’ which features a scene where a burglar comes through an attic hatch into a boys bedroom. This could very well have been the start, but I can’t blame Danny for the whole thing, I’m sure there was more to it. We also had our garage broken into a couple of times, which scared me witless, but never our house. I think the fact that it had never happened made me even more scared that it was still to come.
She told me how she wanted to show those above her that OCD can be fully managed and not something to be drugged up and forgotten about.
Oh The OCD Stories, what a pleasure it is to be writing for you.
I spend most days browsing through the stories written by those little beans struggling with the terrible thing that is OCD.
I guess I should introduce myself, I’m Jessica. Pleased to meet you! I run a little space over at littlestlady.com detailing my struggle with abuse and various mental health difficulties right through to recovery. I spend my days between a busy nursing schedule trying to teach others that they can recover just like I did.
See, that’s what I did. Got rid of it all! Gone, goodbye, au revoir! Well I say ‘gone ‘but it’s under management anyway. Considering my OCD took approximately 5 hours out of my days, had me trapped inside my house and unable to complete day to day tasks, to living a normal life, I think you could call that pretty much good and gone.
For all the turbulence OCD brings, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully describe its impact, you never get a better opportunity to learn about the mind and indeed yourself.
Crouching down in the corner of the pub, my back to my group of friends in a bid to conceal my strange behaviour, I focused my eyes intently on the cigarette-end lying on the wooden floor. Squashed flat, it couldn’t have been further extinguished, but still I reached down and picked it up, holding the cigarette-end at eye level and slowly rotating a full 360 degrees, pausing to check at every angle for any signs it was still alight.
Satisfied it was dead and posed no danger I hauled myself to my feet, pausing to mentally replay the sequence of events to ensure all bases were covered and any possible dangers averted. The situation is dealt with, I told myself, repeating it over and over again in the hope the mantra would eventually stick. My increasingly lively mind had other ideas, urging me to just run through the inspection one more time, just to be absolutely sure.
As I stood frozen to the spot, I tried desperately to ignore the urges, pleading with myself to head back to the bar and forget about it. The obsessive and catastrophic trail of thought grew in intensity, quickly overwhelming me and attacking my ability to think rationally – years of obsessive thinking had gnawed away at the line between rational and irrational thinking anyway. Just check the situation one more time, the mind urged me, put the matter to bed and get on with my night, and my life! Powerless to resist, I bent down, resting on my haunches and once again placed the cigarette-end carefully between my thumb and index finger, rotating it 360 degrees, pausing again at each turn to ensure every angle was covered – this time longer pauses with more intense scrutiny. A couple of minutes later, I finally placed it back down in exactly the same spot I found it and turned away.
With this fallback prevention my OCD is still at a livable level
I have OCD and I check everything 4 to 16 times.
I could no longer work and reported in sick, had suicidal thoughts and led a completely isolated life by my OCD. I checked everything 2, 4 or 16 times. If someone or something disturbed me, then I had to do it again.
During an obsession I get anxious, tension in my muscles and I perspire a lot. Sometimes I start to cry and shake. I know it’s hard for others to empathize, but it felt sometimes as if the world was ending. Then I had to check everything and ask others to confirm if things are correct several times. In the past this checking and asking for confirmation was going on all day long.
I am now 50 years old, I’ve had OCD since I was 18. I started checking and asking others to confirm, after I had recovered from Anorexia.
I was recently interviewed for a BBC Horizon documentary on OCD and I was asked if I would get rid of my OCD if I could. I think my answer surprised a few people..
Up until the age of 19 I was a very happy, easygoing, confident individual. On reflection I was possibly a bit selfish and didn’t think about other people as much as I should have done. This all changed suddenly towards the end of my first year at university. I noticed that I became very concerned with making sure my lights were off in my bedroom and sometimes would make excuses from social activities so that I could go home and check they were off.
At the start of the summer holidays I returned home to spend time with my Mum. She went on holiday for two weeks and I would normally have been fine staying in the house on my own and working part time. However, by the time she returned from her holiday I was in the grips of OCD and a couple of days later my diagnosis was confirmed.
In the two weeks that my Mum was away I had become convinced that I was HIV positive. I was showering for hours at a time, constantly washing my hands and arms, frequently changing my clothes throughout the day and was hardly eating. What I did eat I couldn’t make or touch because I was afraid that I would contaminate it. My ultimate fear was that I would infect and thus kill my friends and family.