It seems like a stick looking straight down, but at an angle, it looks like a nail. When I nudge it with my foot, it rolls a little, but I still can’t tell.
People are coming. I turn and walk in the direction of my original destination, the student services building.
But it might be a nail. Somebody might step on it and get hurt. It would be my fault.
I turn around again, and I walk back the 10 feet. People are passing by.
I lean forward, put my head down and move it around, like I’m looking over the ground below. Maybe they’ll think I’m just looking for something I dropped.
After they pass, I touch the stick/nail again with my shoe. I can’t tell.
I pick it up. It’s a stick. But it’s a hard stick. I can’t break it. Maybe it’s not a stick.
I place it at the edge of the sidewalk, right where the concrete meets the grass, out of the way of walkers.
I take up my journey again.
But someone could still step on it. And it might not be a stick.
I go back and pick up the stick. Maybe if people see me do it, they’ll think it’s something I dropped.
I carry it with me into student services, into the bathroom. I throw it into the trashcan. Then I wash my hands.
That’s a small illustration of one of my harm obsessions. It was strongest when I was in graduate school.
When I walked on the street or on campus or through a parking lot, I checked for things on the ground that could harm someone.
|At one point in my life, a walk along here could cause me a lot of anxiety.|
I don’t remember ever finding any nails. But I found lots of sticks and rocks that could potentially be harmful. Or so I thought.
Walking somewhere was never a quick trip or a straight journey from A to B when this OCD symptom was at its peak.
I had to check every stick I saw, every little rock and anything that looked like it could be harmful.
I had to stop and examine it. I had to pick up a lot of things to figure out what they were. And sometimes that wasn’t enough.
This harm obsession was sometimes at odds with my contamination obsession. If I picked up a stick or an unknown object, I was contaminating my hands. But I had to pick it up in order to keep other people safe.
That was what it was all about. Keeping other people safe. It was my responsibility.
So harm trumped contamination long enough for me to get to a sink to wash my hands.
When I started taking medication for my OCD and depression, some of my symptoms got a lot better. The picking-up-sticks was one of those.
My eyes are still drawn to potentially harmful objects on the ground, in the driveway, in the parking lot. But now I have a new tool. I can call the obsession for what it is—OCD—and walk on, refocus.
Have you experienced a checking or harm obsession like this?