Magnificent obsession, Part 2
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!