Moving from Underhill to Burlington was a huge change for me. Underhill doesn’t even have a stop-light and the only “traffic” you run into is a tractor that pretends he doesn’t see the line of 20 cars behind him as he moves at 3 miles an hour down route 15.
Up until last year, I never had anxiety about driving. Now, it is almost impossible for me to drive a mile without having a meltdown. Let me explain. Have you ever had a close call with a biker, oblivious pedestrian or grunge skateboarder who feels the need to ride his skateboard so close to your car that he is touching your bumper? This is an everyday occurrence in Burlington. For most people it’s no big deal. There is the occasional middle finger or swear word thrown around, but all and all, people can come within inches of killing someone and continue on as if nothing happened.
Not me. I convince myself that I have just committed vehicular manslaughter. OCD is often referred to as “The Doubting Disease.” Why you Ask? Because people with OCD struggle with trusting what they see, think and do. For example, if I drive past a biker, I’ll make sure to give them plenty of room. I look in my mirror to make sure they aren’t in pieces on the road, covered in blood, and continue on. However, five miles down the road, the doubt begins to creep in. Was the biker OK? Did I hit him and not realize it? If I did hit him, it was an accident. But if I hit him and continued driving, it is now a hit-and-run and I will probably go to jail for the rest of my life. So, what do I do? I turn around.
I circle the block to make sure the biker is still alive. As I turn the corner and see the man in the bright yellow fleece and helmet with reflectors still upright on his 5 speed, I let out a deep sigh of relief – praise the lord, he lives! I drive by him again and think that I’m in the clear. He’s alive and well and now I can go to work and not think about it anymore, right?
Wrong! At the next stop sign there is a woman with a stroller. I stop, I let them cross, give them a wave and smile at the cuteness of the child whose doll is about to fall onto the pavement. I look as they reach the sidewalk and continue on my way. But wait, there is that nagging doubt again. Did the mother and her precious child make it to the sidewalk or did I actually plow them over? Should I go back to make sure there aren’t body parts, both human and doll, all over the road? Yes – I better go back.
I think by now you get the idea. I have literally circled blocks 20 times before becoming so exhausted and mentally drained that I just give up. Not to mention if this happens in the morning I am a half hour late for work…. “Jenna, why are you late?” ….”oh, you know, I had to make sure i didn’t hit the person walking on the sidewalk, on the opposite side of the street, you know, normal, every day stuff.”
It got to a point where I would drive home from working in Montpelier all day, just to arrive in Burlington and feel the need to go back to Montpelier to make sure the person crossing the road when I left the parking lot wasn’t being loaded into an ambulance. I’ve done it. More than once. And although it sounds completely irrational, it was the only way i could relax when I got home.
At the off-chance I can convince myself not to turn around, I punish myself by watching the evening news and reading the morning paper to make sure there were no hit and runs reported. It is now an ongoing joke in our house. Pat and I have a tradition of watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune during the week. Often times they show highlights for the 11:00 PM news. A few times in the past month, they’ve started with “Police are investigating a hit and run…” at this point I stop listening and Pat has to prove to me that it was not me that hit the elderly man with the cane in Brattleboro. Wait, was I in Brattleboro? Do I even know where Brattleboro is? No. Of course not. Of course it wasn’t me – or was it?
This behavior is known as the obsessions part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Obsessions are persistent, unwanted thoughts, feelings, or impulses that intrude on your mind. They usually incorporate themes of potential harm or danger to yourself or, more often, to others. Obsessions cause excessive anxiety, worry and doubt. (Coping with OCD, Hyman and Dufrene).
So moral of the story – if you see me going round and round and round like a lost crazy person, politely tell me that no one has died. I will believe you, but unfortunately I can’t believe myself.