A few weeks ago my bike lock gave up the ghost. It was what we professionals call a D lock – with a little imagination they kind of look like the letter D. It happened at a most inconvenient time. I was trying to lock my bike up before getting the train to work. Luckily, they allow bikes on the route I take at that time of the morning – it’s not a major commuter line. Once I arrived at my destination I rode to the nearest bike shop and enquired as to the future possibilities for said lock. The knowing look on the face of the mechanic told me all I needed to know. £44.99 later I was the proud owner of a cumbersome chain – lock.
So, these heavy duty, pricey bike locks are pretty effective. It’s a case of you get what you pay for. But that has never stopped me from worrying. Every time I lock up my bike – and this has been going on for as long as I can remember – I don’t trust myself. Did I lock it properly? Was I in such a rush (running late for my train in the morning) that I just forgot. Or – in my mind – I just wrap the lock round the frame of the bike, without actually looping it around the bike stand. I walk away to catch my train/go to the shops/visit a friend, glancing back to see that I actually tied it up right. I’ll go back to double check, jerking the lock about just to be sure. Once I rang my son from the train and asked him to get out of bed, get on his bike and go and check that I had actually locked it up (I had, he texted me a photo.)
Now I want to make one thing very clear. I am absolutely not claiming O.C.D. for myself. I am certainly not trying to suggest that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is on some kind of a spectrum. Nope. I do not think for one moment that the anxiety I feel about whether or not I have locked my bike up makes my thoughts into some kind of disorder. But what I do think it does is give me some insight into what folks who are plagued by O.C.D.
These thoughts, uncertainty don’t apply to anything else. I never worry that I have left the cooker on, or that I forgot to lock the front door.
According to the American psychiatrist Jeffery Schwartz, this compulsion which says ‘I just want to make sure’ is what drives the disorder. He talks (and writes about) the technique of re -labelling to help manage these intrusive, demanding thoughts that so constrain the ability of sufferers to lead fuller lives. He gives an example of this approach to challenging obsessive thoughts in the following way. He suggests that the person who is having such obsessive thoughts leading them to check and re – check, to clean or wash repeatedly, instead of distraction techniques should notice what is happening and acknowledge it. So, one might say ‘I’m having an obsessive thought that is making it feel like ….. ‘
He follows this with the idea of re – attributing these compelling feelings as being symptoms of a disease. So, for example one might say, ‘It’s not me that’s feeling worried, it’s just my O.C.D.’ I don’t know much else about his work, and as I have said earlier, I am no authority on this topic. However, I wonder if elsewhere he challenges the notion, implicit in the quote above. that we own our mental illnesses. Isn’t there a danger that we see it as an intrinsic part of ourselves and that just makes it harder for us to disconnect from the troubling symptoms?
Do they ever meet out there,
The dolphins I counted,
The otter I wait for?
I should have spent my life
Listening to the waves.
Michael Longley (1939 – )