Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Magnificent obsession, Part 2

madhouse, part II
Originally uploaded by *Stephanie.

A few days ago, fueled by vodka and "herbal supplements," BG and I talked deep into the night about Robo-dentist. I was determined to solve the mystery of her eccentric "personality." Together, we probed further and marveled over the repetitive rituals, the odd mannerisms, the unnecessary and time wasting nature of much of her "work" routine.

Then it hit me. Although Dr. U seemed like a visitor from another planet, she suddenly appeared to be shockingly similar to someone I deeply love, cherish, and respect. In other words, me.

Robo-dentist, c'est moi!

As I've admitted before, in addition to episodes of major depression and a history of bipolar disorder (aka manic depression), I also have a third diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder-- courtesy of my shrink. And what might this disorder be all about?

Many people will check their stove once or twice or make doubly sure they've locked the door before leaving their house. Sometimes people will be boarding a plane for a two-week vacation and suddenly be gripped by fear that they have left their iron on. The anxiety is well-founded--leaving the stove on, the door unlocked, or the iron on can cause dire catastrope.

BG and I are both very cautious in this regard. Before we leave his apartment, everything is checked and double checked. Then BG will joke--ok, cig butts smouldering on the carpet, stove burners turned on, oil-soaked rags on top of the burners--we're outta here!

Done within reason, these little double checks can be a very practical habit. My ex-boyfriend (I call him the anti-BG), on the other hand, was so careless and lacksadaisical that he would often leave his wallet or keys behind on top of his desk when he left work for the day. After we broke up, he called me one day and said he couldn't find his keys in the apartment, despite the fact that he'd let himself in, so I had to get a new copy made for him. Last Thanksgiving, he left for the weekend and returned to find that the fire department had broken down the door to our coop because someone reported smelling gas. He insisted that he hadn't left any burners on, and maybe he didn't. But I know the boy way too well to completely discount the possibility.

In any case, those with obsessive compulsive disorder take this practical habit to the next level, and then some--until it becomes an impractical, time devouring nightmare. Here's an excerpt from a more "official" definition, courtesty of Wikipedia:

"Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological disorder, specifically, an anxiety disorder. OCD is manifested in a variety of forms, but is most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive drive to perform a particular task or set of tasks, compulsions commonly termed rituals.

"OCD should also be distinguished from the similarly named but notably different obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which psychiatric guidelines define as a personality characteristic rather than an anxiety disorder.

"Modern research has revealed that OCD is much more common than previously thought. An estimated two to three percent of the population of the United States is thought to have OCD or display OCD-like symptoms. Because of the condition's personal nature, and the lingering stigma that surrounds it, there may be many unaccounted-for OCD sufferers, and the above percentages could be even higher.

"The typical OCD sufferer performs tasks (or compulsions) to seek relief from obsessions. To others, these tasks may appear simple and unnecessary. But for the sufferer, such tasks can feel critically important, and must be performed in particular ways for fear of dire consequences and to stop the stress build up. Examples of these tasks: repeatedly checking that one's parked car has been locked before leaving it; turning lights on and off a set number of times before exiting a room; repeatedly washing hands at regular intervals throughout the day....

"Obsessions are thoughts and ideas that the sufferer cannot stop thinking about. Common OCD obsessions include fears of acquiring disease, getting hurt, or causing harm to someone. Obsessions are typically automatic, frequent, distressing, and difficult to control or put an end to by themselves. A sufferer will almost always obsess over something which he or she is most afraid of. People with OCD who obsess over hurting themselves or others are actually less likely to do so than the average person.

"Compulsions refer to actions that the person performs, usually repeatedly, in an attempt to make the obsession go away. For an OCD sufferer who obsesses about germs or contamination, for example, these compulsions often involve repeated cleansing or meticulous avoidance of trash and mess. Most of the time the actions become so regular that it is not a noticeable problem. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning; checking; hoarding; repetitive actions such as touching, counting, arranging and ordering; and other ritualistic behaviors that the person feels will lessen the chances of provoking an obsession. Compulsions can be observable — washing, for instance — but they can also be mental rituals such as repeating words or phrases, or counting.

"Most OCD sufferers are aware that such thoughts and behavior are not rational, but feel bound to comply with them to fend off fears of panic or dread. Because sufferers are consciously aware of this irrationality but feel helpless to push it away, OCD is often regarded as one of the most vexing and frustrating of the major anxiety disorders."

All I can say is, boy, do I ever know about OCD.

Although my symptoms are quite mild compared to what they have been (intermittently( in the past, I first began to exhibit the signs of OCD when I was still a kid. My version of OCD hell included repeated hand washing, stove checking, door locking/unlocking, faucet tightening, repeatedly checking that I'd signed and filled out checks correctly, fear of accidentally scowling at someone and thus offending them, and gazing down subway tracks to make sure I hadn't inadvertently brushed into someone (despite the fact that I hadn't, the obsessive fear would enter my mind), thus causing them to fall and become electrocuted by the third rail or hit by an oncoming train.

Perhaps some of my initial childhood OCD was a result of my father's well-intentioned warnings about some of the hazards of life. He advised me never to eat pork that wasn't very well done, for fear of contracting horribly painful and sometimes fatal trichinosis; not to eat any candy that had white streaks in it, for fear that "dope fiends" were trying to get me hooked; and avoiding swollen or overly dented cans for fear of botulism.

In any case, thanks (probably) in part to antidepressants I take which sometimes also work for OCD, my symptoms are a lot milder now, although they tend to increase when I'm under stress.

So in talking with BG about Robo-dentist, it suddenly occurred to me that she might suffer from OCD as well. Maybe she disappeared for twenty minutes at a clip to scrub her hands raw. Maybe she felt compelled by OCD to repeat the Listerine mantra every time a patient crossed her path, whether it was a new "victim" or one she'd been seeing for years.

BG resisted this notion, and indeed, on second thought, it did seem like Dr. U's behavior was more inextricably bound up with her bizarre "personality" in a more global way. Most folks with OCD are as furtive and private about their rituals as possible. The result is that other people may never be aware of their condition. Typically, OCD characteristics do not infiltrate the gestalt of one's overall persona in the way that Robo-dentist's all-too-public quirks seemed to have done.

So it was back to the drawing board once again. I was absolutely determined to uncover the mysteries of Robo-dentist. After additional research, I believe I finally got Dr. U's number. It was a disconcerting discovery, because--yet again--I, too, had exhibited some of these same characteristics!

Next time: The SHOCKING and RIVETING revelations that finally decipher the bizarre enigma that is Robo-dentist!


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Nikky Egland said...

No NO, you cannot compare yourself to Robo Dentist! She is a fuckin freak! You might be OCD, but she sounds like the mom from "invasion."

At 11:07 AM, Blogger !ce said...

This kind of hits home for me, and raises a bit of a question. I'm bipolar and borderline, and my best friend has mild OCD. From a purely clinical standpoint, would you say we are a good match or probably bad for each other?

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Webmiztris said...

I definitely have mild OCD - I check the stove about 3 times before I leave for work every morning. it's a good thing though because at least once I actually DID leave it on, which makes my OCD about it even worse!

At 3:26 PM, Blogger surly girl said...

the other half jokes about his ocd, but freely admits that, unchecked, it could quite easily take over. it's a short step from checking the door and worrying about the iron to putting the light on and off seven times and hopping when you see a red car....

if i sound flippant i'm allowed - my own neuroses and problems also have the potential to take over so we take our funnies where we can get them...

At 1:35 AM, Blogger jane said...

I agree with surly girl. I think those of us who are plagued with some sort of mental illness have the most wonderful sense of humor & the ability to laugh at things that would make others screech.

Robo-dentists sounds wayyy odd though & not in a good way.


At 1:27 PM, Blogger artdetective said...

Have eating disorders ever been classified as a kind of OCD? Just curious.

RE: RoboDentist -- could be worse. At least her hands are clean.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Duddits said...

OCD I think is very common. I think only thing that varies is the degree.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger cleverabuse said...

unfortunately i may be similar to anti bg. i tend to be very forgetful and a little spacey...but hey maybe its part of my charm

At 2:32 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Thanks! I may be many things, but I don't think I'm a robo-anything, at least not yet.

At 2:36 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


That's hard to say. I can only talk from my own experience. BG is schizophrenic, and I am bipolar. I think we emphathize with each other pretty well, having both been in psychotic states. Even the best intentioned "normie" probably can't relate to what's going on inside your head in quite the way another crazy pal can.

At 2:38 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


That seems pretty normal--checking three times versus 20 or 30 or 50 times is no biggie, and as you say, better safe than sorry.

At 2:41 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Surly grrrl:

I found that sometimes having a non-OCD friend/partner helped me because I might, for example, ask them to check the stove or reassure me that it was off. Once I put the responsibility on someone else, I could let it go. Perhaps that's what you meant by not letting it go unchecked? Yes, a bit of the old checks and balances between neurotics et al seems like a good system...

At 2:46 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


"They" say that a lot of humor is derived from painful experiences. I think learning to laugh about it is a way to conquer and process the pain into something positive and empowering. To me humor is a great leveler, a good way to diffuse potential conflict, and some of the best free medicine money can't buy.

But Robo has no sense of humor, and that is one of the things that makes her seem so scary and even "inhuman" to me.

At 2:48 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


No, I don't think they're considered related--though one might make a case that eating disorders and other addictions are compulsive in nature.

At 2:52 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


I agree. Usually OCD mainifests itself as whatever it is that you fear the most. So if you hate being late and are compulsively early, that's not necessarily a bad thing! (is it?) I think a little mild OCD is probably normal and even practical.

At 2:54 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Yes, maybe it's like an Odd Couple type of thing: some people are Felix Ungers and others are Oscar Madisons, and both can be lovable in their own way.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger jessie said...

i have ocd seriously bad. my therapist told me i should try to not clean as much. i spend all day cleaning, so much that my hands are dry and cracked and bleed at times. i buy 10 cans of lysol, 4 gallons of bleach and bleach cleaners every week. he thinks that if i had something to do with my time instead of cleaning that i might ease into the idea of not obsessing about it. my obsession focuses on my fear of getting sick because of an unkept home. ironically, when i neglect to scrub my house everyday i get sick within a week. i spray my house down 3 times a day with lysol then vaccum everything because i dont like the idea of dead germs around my house.
is there something else besides benzodiazipines i can take for anxiety that works just as well? they are so addictive yet nothing else seems to work, so i have to go on and off them so i don't build a tolerance and become addicted. it's nice to know i am not the only one suffering with this problem

At 1:53 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


I'm so sorry to hear that your OCD is so severe. Here's what I've read about the meds issue:

I think anti-anxiety meds are just putting a band aid on the problem. SSRI's (selective seretonin reuptake inhibitors) like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, etc.) are often helpful in alleviating or reducing OCD symptoms. They are primarily used for depression, but are also prescibed for this purpose. Unlike anti-anxiety meds, they are not physically addictive (as far as I know--meaning, you don't develop a craving for them).

There's probably some therapies that are helpful too. I'd imagine cognitive therapy might work for some.

I have found that since taking antidepressants (for depression) my OCD is much improved. At least you're able to get some relief by blogging, etc. so that sounds promising. But I know how tormenting it can be.

Don't know about the getting sick if you don't clean thing. I think sometimes if you avoid germs you don't build up a natural resistance to them, and hence can be more susceptible to them when you are exposed. But that's just my wacky theory.

Anyway, I've bookmarked your blog--looks cool. I'll visit again. I hope you can get some relief for your problem!

At 2:10 PM, Blogger siren said...

I am pretty much in the same boat as clever abuse. I am a pretty spacey type person and very relaxed. I tend not to worry about things until there is an actual problem. This can be a good thing but also very bad as I have the habit of not thinking things trough very well.......until its too late.

At 6:29 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


Yes, there are pros and cons to the Felix vs. Oscar approach. Ideally, I guess it would be nice to have a balance of the two. It's no fun going through life in a state of constant anxiety, but it's also no fun when you're so relaxed that it leads to unpleasant consequences.

I just realized one of the reasons I'm still checking the burners all the time is because when I put water on the stove for coffee and get involved in something else (like blogging) I sometimes forget I've got water boiling altogether--and that freaks me out. I too can be absentminded--esp when I get into my own labyrinth of weird thoughts.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger jessie said...

yes i have tried the paxil zoloft family and they make me so sick! they tried me on lexapro too and it didn't help at all, even the higher doses, whick leaves me with the valium. kinda sucks.
feeling the urge today for bloody knuckles! oh shit!

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Walker said...

I don't know I could dissagree with you assumptiond but you did put up a compelling agrument. Maybebe she is stoned on the laughing gas so much so that she has forgotten to laugh due to the burnt out muscles on the sides of her mouth.
Ok I'm off for part 3

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Blackie,

I wanted to pick up on something you said about BG being "nice" on another post. Is that our family OCD? It's true, all the boys have that nice streak that comes out in many ways and fashions.

Look at Ubba, how he helps his wife(s), R & M, with all the extended family. Then, Squealer-he helps those at work by doing their jobs for them. Of course BG-he can't help but do good deeds for Robo-D.
AND ME-yes, I seem to over-extend in my family matters that only you know too well.

Please help us all get a grip and say "no" every once in a while. I hate to be known as a "yes" man.


At 11:08 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


For what it's worth, here's a link to an article on the OCD online website which compares OCD and OCPD. I'm sure the main site has some helpful stuff too. I have a feeling that therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy are probably used to treat this disorder as well.

At 11:13 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Yes, the laughing gas leading to non laughing in robo dentist is a viable theory. I guess it's a little like speculating on what killed off the dinosaurs--there are a number of compelling, but conflicting propositions, but the mystery may never be solved.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Yes, let me consult my manual...ahem...oh, here it is. Obsessive compulsive niceness disorder: a condition where the sufferer personifies the adage "no good deed goes unpunished." Symptoms include an uncanny ability for users and losers to sniff the sufferer out for unfettered exploitation, etc, etc. May run in families. By jove, I think you've got it!

At 11:22 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Didn't mean you literally in terms of users/losers: was thinking more along the lines of BG and other bretheren. In your case, you do go all out for your family, but I also get the feeling you might nurture certain "users and losers" in other Freud said, biology is destiny, and it seems to be in the BG genes.


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