The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Repeater (“Bet you can’t read it just once!”) is published monthly, or sometimes more often if we can’t stop ourselves, for victims of OCD. As always, we welcome your letters. Of course, we pledge to reveal only your problem, not your identity. All symptoms discussed here will be considered completely confidential, unless some strange overwhelming urge compels us to scream your name to the world at 10-second intervals.
Dear OCD Repeater:
I am normal in every respect, except for a slight tendency to touch the doorknob with my forehead 500 times each morning before leaving for work. Don’t advise me to change my habits. I’ve already tried making drastic variations in my routine. One morning, for example, I touched my forehead to the doorknob 512 times, but instead of producing the inner peace I have come to depend on, this pointless overindulgence left me feeling jaded and world-weary, as if I were only going through the motions.
The next morning, in a mad mood of defiance, I touched my head to the doorknob only 497 times. At first this gave me a false sense of bravado. As the day progressed, however, the premonition grew on me that I would soon pay for my recklessness — and I did.
When I made my daily stop at the Pig & Swig for a cup of cappuccino at precisely 6:15 a.m., I was told they were out of low-cal nondairy creamer. How they snickered when they saw the panic bubbling behind my eyes! I strived to calm myself by rubbing the secret patch of flannel I carry in my pocket for just such emergencies. I even tried stepping over every third crack in the sidewalk on the way to work, but it was no use. My morning, and quite likely my life, was ruined.
I am getting a bit off the point, though. What I want to say is, Why can’t people just leave me alone? I harm no one. I do my job. I pay taxes. Aside from forming a hollow in my forehead so pronounced that my skull is occasionally mistaken for a ceramic planter, my “little hobby” (as I call it) has brought me the only real happiness I’ve ever known. What’s wrong with that?
Soft in the Noggin in New York City
Clearly your need to touch your forehead to the doorknob accomplishes nothing of practical value, except perhaps polishing the brass. To be sure, there are many actions we must constantly repeat that do not in themselves constitute obsessive-compulsive disorder. For instance, I find it impossible to get through the day unless I fill my briefs with a mixture of oat bran and cough syrup while humming “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago. Surely my reasons are obvious. But does anyone have the slightest idea why you carry on like such a jackass? I don’t.
Dear OCD Repeater:
Who discovered obsessive-compulsive disorder? And is there a cure? I have a friend who needs to know.
Just wondering in Wheeling, West Virginia
OCD was first diagnosed in 1963 by Dr. Neil Bogusian, who realized that his wife’s insatiable need to serve “snapping turtle surprise” and lima beans every night of the year was more a cry for help than a cold-blooded attempt to drive him insane. After having her euthanized by the family vet (Mrs. Bogusian was a dead ringer for a dachshund, and had missed her last two distemper shots anyway), the good doctor devised the original five-step program for alleviating the pain of OCD sufferers:
1. Admit that you have a problem.
2. Admit that you are helplessly in the thrall of some malignant, unseen power that is making you admit you have a problem.
3. Admit that you just added up the number of letters in the above two sentences and subtracted the total from the last four digits of your Social Security number.
4. Sing “There was a boy who had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o” under your breath whenever you see a red object.
5. Repeat steps one through four until the feeling of nameless dread passes.
Last issue’s Case of the Month brought a host of helpful ideas. You’ll recall that our correspondent, a Mr. M.L. of Wheaton, Illinois, complained he was unable to cross the street without reciting the Gettysburg Address four score and seven times, and that the strenuous demands of this absolute necessity were consuming more and more of his time, until he started falling asleep on the curb after midnight and being sideswiped by street-sweeping machines.
Some were sympathetic. “I know just how he feels,” wrote M.W. of Peoria. “Personally, I can’t make it through an intersection without reenacting the Sand Creek Massacre. You wouldn’t believe the number of accidents this has caused — or the number of friends I have made.” Others were less patient. C.K. of Buffalo wrote, “He ought to thank his lucky stars it’s the Gettysburg Address and not a pep talk from the Nuremburg rallies.” The best thought came from K.Z. of Des Moines, who suggested a switch from presidential speeches to Scripture passages, preferably John 11:35 (“Jesus wept”).