Dan Benjamin on Back to Work episode 204, with some cleanup of uhs, ums, and false starts:
The whole crux of the OCD thing is that you know the fears that you have are irrational, and that the things that you’re afraid of are essentially impossible, but that doesn’t change the reality of the fear. This is the way that I would explain OCD to people, is that there is a loved one on the other side of the room who needs your help desperately, but there is a large tiger loose in the room in between you and them. And, that’s very real. That sensation of like, I need to get over there, but I can’t get over there to do this thing that’s really important, because there’s this tiger in the way that’s blocking me. But, I can get rid of the tiger if I do these things.
None of this makes sense to somebody without OCD. It’s almost a memory thing, in a way. Frequently for people, it’s locking the doors, leaving an iron on, something like that. So like, let’s say you iron a shirt in the morning. And you might say to yourself, OK, I’m going to put the iron away, but before I put it away, I’m going to unplug it, I’m going to let it cool down. So I don’t start a fire, I’m going to put it up on the marble countertop. But I’m going to face it toward the wall so that, you know, a kid doesn’t come around and touch it. OK, so it’s there. And then later, you see it and you wrap it up, right? You touch it, it’s cool, you wrap it up, you put it up on the shelf. You’re like, OK, I’ve done that, it’s fine now. And maybe now—well, I just want to check that before I leave, to make sure that I did that, because even though I remember putting it on the counter top, turning it a certain way, wrapping up the cable, putting it into the thing, I’ve just got to double-check it. And then you’re in your car and you’re like, well wait a minute: did I do that or was that the last time that I ironed?
It’s like a memory thing. It’s like the thing that a normal person would be able to say, like, yeah, I did that, I checked it. For you, you’ve got to check it again. And now you’re halfway to work, and you’re like ummm…did I unplug the iron or did I leave it on? I should go back—I need to go back home and do it.
There’s this tiger in the way.
My strategy for a while was to come up with a word that I would be unlikely to use day-to-day, and assign that to some action. For example, I lock the car doors, and I think to myself: “Octothorp.” Then, three hours later, when I wake up in bed wondering if I left the car open, I can think to myself: “Nope. Octothorp.”
In short order, though, this led to the same problem: “Wait, was octothorp today or was that the last time I got out of the car?” After getting out of bed to make sure the car was locked in the middle of a couple different nights, I mostly managed to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter, and if someone is going to steal stuff out of the car, then that’s just life.