The irony is that an obsession with security can actually make you less secure because you become so focused on an imagined problem that you don’t see the real problem. When he dropped off our son at preschool, Mike started to worry that he had accidentally hit someone without his knowledge. Instead of looking at the road, he began to look obsessively in the rear-view mirror.
I begged him to stop worrying and pay attention.
When I explained the situation to my therapist, she recommended that we see someone who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, which Mike and I knew little about. Instead, we thought we knew, but what we imagined was the movie version: washing hands regularly, turning lights on and off, avoiding stepping on cracks. Those weren’t Mike’s problems.
Also, people often associate OCD with being a ‘neat freak’. How could my absent-minded husband, with his piles of unfolded clothes, have OCD?
A specialist explained that Mike’s obsession was not cleanliness, but safety, especially around contamination and poisoning. His compulsions were inquiry and reassurance. As with an addictive drug, the reassurances became less and less effective, requiring more and more to get over his fear. So every time I promised him that everything would be fine, I fed his condition.
What we learned about OCD:
Symptoms usually develop in childhood or adolescence, but can also appear in adulthood.
Once symptoms start, it often takes many years for people to receive proper diagnosis and treatment.
Fortunately, the treatment can be very effective.
At our first appointment with the specialist, we made a list of all the things Mike was concerned about and put them in order. Then he started with the easier ones, started to face his fears and just sat with the discomfort.