Admit It: You Wondered About or Double Checked the Iron, Coffee Pot or Washer Before You Left the House or After Leaving on Vacation: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

We all do.  It’s natural. Yesterday I turned around about 5 minutes from home because I wasn’t sure I’d closed the garage door.  We all want our homes, possessions, family and selves to be safe. But what happens when that drive for safety becomes overwhelming, affecting our everyday lives?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsession, (ideas, thoughts, impulses or images) which often result in compulsions (the ritual performance of specific activities or mental acts over and over again). The purpose of the rituals is to get rid of the thoughts and protect those at risk, but of course it doesn’t work. These uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors control who you are and how you function in the world. And even though the sufferer knows they’re irrational, they are unable to stop the thoughts or behaviors without external help.

For those of you old enough to remember record players (yes I had one), OCD is like a needle getting stuck on a record and the same thought plays over and over again.

These thoughts and behaviors seem to fall into categories:

  • Image from Google Images

    Cleaners are afraid of contamination. They usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions which can leave their skin cracked and bleeding.  Usually these activities must be performed in a certain specific, rigid order. For example, one client would come home and stand on a green garbage bag inside the door and in a specific order remove every piece of clothing, put them in the wash and then shower, to ensure that germs from the outside didn’t come inside.

  • Worriers repeatedly check things (iron unplugged, washer turned off) that they believe may cause harm to their home. (An unplugged iron will start a fire a burn my house down.) They may also be obsessed with repugnant images (throwing their child into a fire or off the balcony).
  • Doubters and sinners are afraid that anything less than perfection will cause something terrible to happen to themselves or a loved one. (If I don’t lock the door, someone will come in and kill my family.) As a result, anything less than perfection will result in a catastrophe.
  • Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. Often this includes superstitions about specific numbers, colors, or arrangements. This can include ensuring things happen in threes (or fours) or that phrases and words are ‘finger—typed’.
  • Hoarders fear the risk of throwing anything away, so they keep everything, regardless of its usefulness or value. We’ve all seen where this can end up, given reality television.

How do I know my returning home is simply being responsible and not an OCD activity?

  1. OCD  thoughts are intrusive and out of control. If I hadn’t returned home, I would not have spent the day worrying about my garage because I made a decision about the likelihood of the door being open.
  2. Thoughts are time consuming, chewing up hours of time over a week. If I decided it was unlikely I’d left the door open, I wouldn’t have given it much more thought.
  3. OCD thoughts cause a lot of anxiety or distress and interfere with life. I might have wondered once or twice during the day, especially on the return home after work, but otherwise I would have focused on work.
  4. My concern about the garage door would not have led me to create a ritual to ‘protect’ my home, even when I knew the door was closed.
  5. I wouldn’t (and didn’t) create some ritual to ensure I didn’t leave the door open again (this is not a plan of action to bring to consciousness that I’ve shut the door, but rather an activity (say clapping my hands three times) that is supposed to protect the house, even when I know the door is closed.

OCD usually starts between 18 – 24, although boys seem to get it earlier than girls. Approximately 1 – 2% of the population suffers from this disorder which fluctuates in intensity: when ‘active’ it takes up an inordinate amount of time. But the thoughts and behaviors can recede into the background in certain circumstances.

Treatment is similar to that of any anxiety disorder. Anti-depressives, from the SSRI family (Celeza, Zoloft etc) are commonly prescribed.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy has also had some good results with this disorder.  There is a myriad of valid and valuable self help treatments as well. One of these, developed by Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, offers a four step program for dealing with OCD. As always, outcomes vary. It is rare to be completely symptom free from this disorder but periods of total incapacitation can be minimized.

As alway, no self-diagnosing allowed.  If you worry lots and have rituals to deal with those worries, contact a mental health professional.

I apologize for being late with this post — it’s been that kind of week.

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About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
This entry was posted in Louise Behiel, personality disorders, Psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Admit It: You Wondered About or Double Checked the Iron, Coffee Pot or Washer Before You Left the House or After Leaving on Vacation: Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

  1. iamnotshe says:

    Bulimia is an OCD, right? Hell, at this point it doesn’t matter … but the act of purging and vomiting was clearly irrational and dangerous, but i couldn’t stop. So, the treatments you mentioned … they’re still around, in less rigorous amounts. I’m “growing out of it” … OK, let’s not go down that road… ;-). I’ll admit to “maturity” and my brain being ready to accept HELP and INFORMATION, but not growing out of an OCD or bulimia like growing out of a pair of sneakers. 🙂 Always on the feisty list.

    • Bulimic purging is often used as a tension release, yes. I’ve never thought of it as OCD, though – it’s an interesting concept and one I’ll have to think on a bit. I’ll find a link and post it on your blog later – there are some interesting ocd treatments that might be helpful for bulimia but … follow your diagnosticians directions, assuming you’re working with one.

      • iamnotshe says:

        I’m now easing off treatment. I’ve had so many years of treatment, that i’ve decided to reduce therapy.

        I’m just a psychologist at heart. I have a MA in I/O psych, but was afraid to go the route of “regular” psych because i was actively bulimic. Now that i’m not, and i’m transitioning off treatment, i only comment as a “lay” person. Not a victim of disease. Know what i mean? I think a fascination with other mental illness and behaviors comes with the territory of having HAD or having an illness.

        I’m not looking for treatment advice (so please don’t worry about me)… just trying to chime in and mix it up a little.

        I saw a pamphlet on OCD’s on a desk when i was waiting for an appointment MANY years ago. Perhaps therapists who deal with ED’s also treat patients with OCD’s … that’s my only connection. Nothing psychological. Pragmatic. 🙂

        • You always sound very informed about psyc matters, now I know why. I’m glad you’re weaning off therapy. After awhile I think that’s important. develop support system of people to talk to and get on with your life. EDs never completely go away (IMO) but we develop the tools to keep it at bay. For me that’s ongoing 12 step work, but that’s just me. be well. hugs

  2. Amanda Socci says:

    Hi Louise: You are a therapist? What kind? Did you go to school and receive a medical degree that would give you insight into these types of disorders and treatment plans? From the perspective of the reader, having this type of information beforehand is useful and will help the reader in understanding why you would write this information, given your novel and picture to the right of this website.

    • I have both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Psychology, Amanda, but no medical degree. I’ve worked as a psychotherapist for many years but like so many I’ve decided to let the creative side come out to play.

  3. Veronica Roth says:

    I think my 78-million yr old mother easily fits into several of these categories and here my shrink said she just has control issues! ( I know, no diagnosis allowed) 🙂

    • LOL. right – no diagnosis for us or your shrink. He’d have to see her to do a proper diagnosis. Ironically control issues play a part in the majority of the personality disorders LOL

  4. Very informative, Louise. I’ve never researched OCD so I didn’t realize it was divided into so many categories. Interesting that hoarders are included. I never thought of that as an anxiety condition.

    • It is interesting to see the many types of OCD – most of us tend to think of the arranging and the washing, but it is broader than that. And hoarders are anxiety driven, so the OCD diagnosis makes sense to me. The human mind is so interesting, isn’t it? We continue to learn all the time. Glad you enjoyed this post, Melody.

  5. Jill James says:

    This was great to hear. Thought I was the only one with the whole “Did I or didn’t I shut the garage door? LOL

    • the garage door is my nemesis, Jill. I have to consciously close the darned thing or I don’t remember if I did. As a result, I always lock the house door from the garage, so that it’s protected. LOL

  6. Great post, Louise. Thanks for pointing out the difference between OCD and natural/normal or extra-cautious behavior. I’ve worked with people who have severe OCD. It’s debilitating, to say the least.

  7. Amazing insight and information Louise. I know a few friends that suffer from this and it’s very painful to watch them in their struggles.

  8. Thank you AGAIN, Louise. Now I can tell those who think I have OCD (about germs on hands and doors and windows being locked at night) to read this. I only know of one person who ‘might’ fall into this category. But I think that person actually wants the OCD label…and might be trying to force the symptoms (yes, I know some weird people…but then like attracts like, LOL).

    With your knowledge, you just have endless information to draw on for character creation. I really appreciate your sharing it with us. It helps to make our characters more realistic. 🙂

  9. Reetta Raitanen says:

    Thank you for another really interesting post, Louise. I didn’t know either that hoarders fall under OCD label. I can only imagine the anxiety of the people with the disorder. My only exposure is through the great TV series Monk.

  10. Hey, I resemble some of those… I will admit, I’ve turned around, driven back by my house to make sure I’ve closed gates and garages. I’ll run back up the stairs to check that the door is locked. But, in an attempt to save time and prevent unnecessary drive-bys, I now make a point of visualizing the action and telling myself, “See, I locked the front door, I closed the garage door.” Then when the intrusive thoughts crop up, I can ‘see’ that everything is ok. Not sure if that means I’m crazy, or not, but it works. 😉 Thanks for the extra insights; great post, Louise!

    • not crazy at all. for those of us who are always thinking ahead, we have to come up with strategies to ensure we can remember what we’ve done. that’s what happened the other morning – I shut the garage door, without paying attention, or seeing it, and then I didn’t know if I’d done it or not. I consider that smart not OCD.

  11. So I’m confused – am I OCD? Am I? Am I? Am I? (1, 2, 3 . . . ) Am I?

    I am definitely an organizer and an arranger to the point where I can’t work if there’s too much clutter on my desk or if things on my desk or work space are not where they’re supposed to be. For instance if I come back from vacation (which I recently did) and my stapler is missing from my desk (which it was) I cannot perform any work until I find it (which I eventually did). Weird, but that’s how it flows with me.

    The plus side, I rarely lose anything because I’m the kind of person who has a place for everything and everything is in it’s place. I will search relentlessly for something that I can’t find because I’ve misplaced it (or someone has moved it).

    So, I ask you again – am I OCD? Am I? Am I? (oh stop it!)

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  12. I do not have OCD but sometimes I tell my hubby that I do. Before HE tells ME that I have it. At bedtime, I say, “I’m checking to see if the door is locked.” Usually, it’s Not locked. Sometimes, it’s not even closed. But it’s usually not open more than a foot or so.

    Thanks for a reassuring post. I’ve often wondered about that garage door. And I have to say, on this topic, don’t you just love Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets?

    • double checking at night is a good thing. I tend not to do it and have spent the night with the front door wide open. or more likely locked with my keys hanging in the lock LOL…

  13. I hope your weekend is less of ‘that kind of week’ and more relaxing!

    I’m so happy to read all of this. I’m not OCD like my kids think I am. Just a teensy bit, maybe. I used to stress about the iron or garage door, then I figured that’s what I’m paying my homeowners insurance for. Since I’ve never actually left an iron plugged in or the garage door open, I think it’s working. My husband did actually leave the garage door open all night once ~ freaked us out the next morning. He’s never done it since. Whew!

    I am a bit like Patricia in my need for everything to have a home. If the kids move something it will drive me batty until I find it. That’s just because I like knowing everything is where it belongs. My daughter likes to mess with me and move pictures or knick knacks slightly off center. She’ll watch me fix it, then go and move it again. I try to ignore it now because I know what she’s doing, but it’s so hard! i want it where it belongs, not two inches to the left.

    • Tameri, I can just see you and your daughter moving and returning…cute. Isn’t it interesting to think about how we interact with things? I’m not like that at all, but my ex was. He could tell if anyone had moved the change he’d put on the night stand the night before. amazing visual abilities and a great memory.I don’t have either of those, so I never have to worry. And yes, it’s been a better day and week. One more week and i’m on vacation for a week. yahoo.

  14. Your blog made me think of Monk. I miss that show and it was great for laughs. But to those who suffer from this disorder it’s extremely debilitating. And sad. It’s hard for those around them not to get irritated with them which can make things worse. Or at least that’s been my experience with a few people l’ve worked with.

    But I will tell you, I thought I had a very mild case of OCD at one point. I don’t know when or how it started, but when I was working outside the house, I’d have to check my curling iron five times to make sure it was unplugged before I left the house. I’ve even turned around and gone back to check it when I wasn’t sure I’d really checked it even though I thought I had. Since I’ve been working from home, I never even think about it. I unplug it and check it again before I get out of the chair, but otherwise, I can leave the house — no problem. Now, I’m thinking it was anxiety about going to work. 🙂 I never had this issue with irons, stoves, candles, etc. Just the curling. Weird.

    • interesting that it’s just the curling iron. makes sense that it was anxiety about leaving the house for work. I’m always leaving mine on, so I decided to always put them in the sink when I’m using them. so if I forget them on, it won’t burn anything down. Oh yeah, i buy the ones with the automatic shut off, just in case

  15. I have a friend from school who was diagnosed with OCD. He used to have a checklist that he’d made himself and he’d go over it precisely three times before leaving work. Everything on it had to be done in that particular order or he’d worry about it. (Obviously he had other ticks as well, but this was the one that eventually motivated him to get help.) Now that he’s on medication, he’s able to live a much more normal and happy life.

  16. DO all OCD people have rituals? Can they just have obsessive thoughts? Without the actions? For example could someone obsess over dying and constantly worry about their health, but going to the doctor temporarily alleviates their concerns? Or would going to the doctor be their ritual?

    • Kourtney, you ask difficult questions…the scenario you paint could mean the trip to the doctor is the ritual, but usually it’s more about doing something right now that will mitigate the anxiety. So i’m afraid of dying, so I clap my hands 3 times to ward off illness (silly example, but it’s that idea). someone who is obsessed by their health may be a hypochondriac – someone who believes they’re sick in spite of evidence to the contrary. But as always, it’s important to talk to someone face to face for a proper diagnosis.

  17. Gerri Bowen says:

    I can safely say OCD is something I don’t have. I may come close, but then I’ll remember that I did close the garage door, I will get rid of stuff I was saving because I might use it later, my hands are clean enough, and so on. 🙂

  18. This is fascinating to me, I had a Neuro Psych and the Psychologist asked if I had any compulsions or obsessions, I jokingly replied I didn’t have energy for that! As a person with a Brain Injury and having issues with remembering, it can be frightening when I inadvertently forget to do something especially when harm to self or others could result. Now I understand where the Psychologist may have been coming from.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, experience and insight. I appreciate how you approach topics with an open, non-judgmental heart and mind and help us understand things on a deeper-than-intellect basis.

    • Sweetie, I’m so glad you stopped by and I’m glad you’re learning stuff as you read these posts. Our behavior always is rooted in biology or environment and so judgement doesn’t enter into it. (Unless it’s done to me, of course ).

      It’s easy to see how rituals could be a part of the process of your illness. How strong of you to not have walked down that path. Well done.

      • I love this way of looking at things, to approach with curiosity and explore what we have experienced or seen/heard in the media. It feels more like a Raiders of the Lost Ark type of adventure than the typical, “lie here on the couch.” I appreciate this very much, a natural sense of wonder and safety to learn and grow, think things through, and have some fun along the way too. 🙂 Thank you. 🙂

        • people are so fascinating — I love looking at why we do what we do. with the beginning assumption that everything is normal for me or you, we can explore safely. take care

  19. Karen McFarland says:

    Good to know I’m normal Louise! LOL! But what I didn’t know is that hoarding is in the OCD family. Now I do know a few people who have symptoms of that one. Oh, it isn’t an easy one to tame either. Great post Louise! 🙂

    • No, Hoarding is a tough one to let go of. and just cleaning out the house is not enough, because it’s a deep seated disorder, there needs to be work done on the emotional level as well. and yes, you’re very normal, Karen. glad you enjoyed this post.

  20. Lawna says:

    Amazing post as per usual Louise! I’m always surprise by the things I learn with each post you write. I don’t think I have OCD, but I have to admit, I’ve turned around and gone back home because I thought I left my curling iron plugged in. LOL

  21. Heidi says:

    Great info here, Louise! I love reading about these things. I had to stop watching Monk because I just loved to imitate him and I had friends that were a bit worried that the behaviors would ‘stick’. I’ve been OK since the program was cancelled and I don’t watch reruns. I also tend to pick up accents and speech patterns. Y’all know what I mean? Seriously, I love this series.

  22. Stacy Green says:

    I’m so late to this thanks to vacation, but I’m a worrier. And I’m a compulsive checker of things before we leave the house on any real trip. But I am able to forget about it after we leave. But I’ve to check things over and over first. And I tend to worry about everything anyway.

  23. My OCD always comes out at night. After midnight, I wake up basically every hour and I can’t go back to sleep unless I check the time. When it’s close to the time I have to wake up, I usually wake up every 10 minutes. Kinda sucks. 😛

  24. emmaburcart says:

    I’m definitely not OCD. When I do wonder if I left the oven on, or something like that, my next thought is always, That’s what insurance is for. 🙂 I think it’s mostly because I’m too lazy to go back and take care of something if I’ve already left the house, and I’m always late, so I don’t ever have time to go back.

  25. Coleen Patrick says:

    I often feel like I have OCD, but not after watching a documentary featuring people suffering with it. The ritual of it was truly exhausting–and I felt so sorry for them!
    My parents once turned around on a car trip after 2 hours of driving because they could not agree on whether or not one of them turned off the iron! But that was more indicative of their relationship, than OCD. 🙂
    Another great post Louise!

    • it is an exhausting illness, Coleen. there is no doubt if you have it – if you do have it. it is totally time consuming. If you think you migh have it, then you don’t – because your life is not wrapped up in the rituals to manage anxiety.

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