Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The lights at work: Are they really off?


The lights at work—specifically, the two lamps I use in my office—have been a checking nightmare for me.
My ritual has been to turn off the floor lamp first, then unplug it. I then stare at the lampshade, trying to convince myself that it’s dark, that the light is off.
Then I stare at the electric receptacle, trying to convince myself that there’s nothing plugged in.
Then I turn off the desk lamp and stare at that lampshade, again trying to convince myself that the light is off.
I don’t unplug that lamp, which shows just how inconsistent OCD can be: I feel the need to unplug one lamp but not the other. If it’s dangerous to leave one lamp plugged in, why not the other, you might ask.
I have stayed behind while the others left work, to be alone to check the lamps and make sure they were out.
On my checking fear hierarchy, leaving the office without checking the lamps is a 90. That means that I have extreme anxiety over these lamps.
I’ve been working on this checking dilemma for weeks, with mixed results. I could turn them off and leave fairly quickly, but I was first trying to convince myself that the lamps were off before leaving. I couldn’t figure out how to get past that.
Then I had a talk with my therapist last week about OCD and logic.
He reminded me that there is no logic in OCD and that I can’t use it when trying to combat an obsession or a compulsion.
According to what my therapist told me, when I turn off the lamps, it’s time for me to leave the office and focus on something else.
  I’ll have anxiety, he said. But I need to be actively engaged in whatever I do next, like driving. Don’t engage with the thoughts about the lamps, he said.
  And it’s helping. I turn off the lamps, and though I’m still glancing at them, I’m no longer spending time convincing myself that they’re off. I’m packing up and leaving the office. I feel the anxiety, but it dissipates quickly as I focus on other things.
Now I want to get to the place where I’m not even glancing at the lamps, where I’m not even thinking about them after I turn them off. I hope I can build on the success I’m having.
  If anyone has advice on how to do that, I’m all ears!

23 comments:

  1. All I can say is that I believe your therapist is a good one. It's kinda like exposure therapy but it your case....you are being lead to slowly try to stop your behavior and after so many times of not checking the lights...realizing nothing bad will happen....you will feel less anxiety about it.

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    1. Middle Child, yes, it's exposure therapy with a gentle touch that my therapist suggested. It would be tougher to leave the lights on all night while I was gone, and I may eventually have to do that, but for now, I'm making progress doing what I'm doing.

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  2. This is probably a temporary fix, at least that's what my therapist tells me as we work on the underlying issues... but here's what i do with the stove: I keep a notebook dedicated to my log by the stove. When I cook something I note what I made and the time in one column. Then when I turn off the stove I note the time in the next column. In the third column I note my ten minute check that everything is off. Then in my final column, which is when I leave the apartment, I note that I have looked at the three previous checks and done a final check. I take the notebook with me. That way when I'm far away (like an hour away on my way to school) I can look at my checklist and see that I checked three times, and I have it in writing, so I don't need to turn back. It has helped me so much this semester. I still have to check a bunch of times before I leave, but I have the three official checks in writing.

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    1. Catherine, I'm glad your notebook method is helping you get through this time. Sometimes temporary fixes are what's needed until we can deal with more.

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  3. I agree with 'Middle Child' in that it is similar to exposure therapy.

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    1. Keith, yes, it's a way of doing exposure therapy, and it seems to be helping me.

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  4. "Now I want to get to the place where I’m not even glancing at the lamps". Boy oh boy, can I ever identify with that Tina. I have similar checking rituals, not with lamps, but with doors being closed. I will stare at the door to make sure it is closed. It drives me bonkers because I can clearly see the door is shut but I can turn my back and I have this urge to check to see if it really is closed..even though I know it could not have opened on it's own. I guess that is why they call OCD the "doubting disease." What I want to do is believe and not have to check it at all or it would really be nice if I did not care if the door is open or closed because most of the time it is a bathroom door which I liked closed but it's not exactly the end of the world if a bathroom door is left open. Sometimes I wonder if I should intentionally leave the door open..and risk the uncomfortable feeling and anxiety that that brings. ?????

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    1. Krystal Lynn, what I'm doing now--not engaging in thoughts about whether or not the lights are off--is helping me. But with your doors--if it's not dangerous for them to be open, perhaps leaving them open and dealing with that anxiety would be helpful?

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    2. Yep, Krystal Lynn - totally agree with Tina. If there is no legitimate danger in leaving your bathroom doors open, then leaving them open and learning to sit with the anxiety is exactly what my psychologist would have suggested. Ugh, it's hard though, I know.

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  5. Sounds like you're doing well. Sometimes it helps to tell myself that I would know...if it wasn't the way it's supposed to be.

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    1. Thank you, Kristina, it's a work in progress.

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  6. That's great that you are making progress. No doubt you'll get to the place that you can leave without glancing at the lamps!

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  7. You too?

    My therapist and I have been working on lights for weeks now as well. With mixed results for me as well.

    I am especially struggling with all the Christmas lights. Sigh. Lights are sure a checking nightmare even when your therapist intellectually explains the risk to me.

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    1. Elizabeth, me too. Funny thing is, I'm not having trouble with the Christmas lights. Mostly it's the two lamps at the office that have their OCD hold on me.

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  8. What is the worst that can happen if they are left on? Logic is where you may be able to beat it. Go to logic. It is not logical and logic will beat it every single time.

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    1. Jodi, I could do the downward arrow exercise where I go through the series of worst things that could happen, and that might help. Thanks for the tip.

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  9. Lights are funny. At my job when I first developed OCD, lights were SO tough. I was convinced I'd leave them on, they'd start a fire, the sprinklers would go off, and mold would grow. That was also my mold fear phase, lol.

    I just moved to a new cubicle space in my current job where for the first time in years, I turn on a light over my desk. And for some unknown reason, it's not causing any trouble at all. Go figure.

    I think this is another practice, practice practice sort of thing. Keep it up!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Ann. I will keep practicing!

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  10. Keep it up, Tina. You are going in the right direction! This post just shows how there is no rhyme or reason to OCD. You only have issues with certain lights........go figure!

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    1. Janet, there really is no rhyme or reason. It's so inconsistent! Thanks for the encouragment.

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  11. Hey - great work!! I think you are doing all you can to fight this. Turn them off, then walk right out!! I find if I give myself an opportunity to hang around and check something again, well, that's exactly what I will do. You are doing awesome - really proud of you. : )

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    1. Thank you, Sunny, for your encouraging words. You're right--if I give myself the opportunity to check, I probably will.

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