Driving with me and my OCD

If OCD is a cleaning disorder, EXPLAIN THIS!!

Anyone with even a basic understanding of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will know that, unlike the portrayal seen in some TV shows and newspaper articles, OCD is about far more than cleanliness and perfection.

In fact in some cases it’s about as far removed from cleanliness as it’s possible to be.

It’s also not something to brag about, be ‘proud’ of or aspire to have.  It is in fact a nasty, spiteful illness that drastically compromises the quality of life of its sufferers/prisoners.

One of the lesser known and talked about elements of OCD is the one related to driving.

In some ways this particular strand highlights the flexibility and adaptability of the illness as, presuming that anxiety and OCD have been around for more than a couple of generations (and we know mental health conditions have), then this strand has to be a new ‘branch’ that has grown with the increased use of motor transport in the last 50 years.

Let me first say that if you have OCD and are reading this, it should NOT put you off driving at all. As with most other things in life, OCD drivers are some of the safest, most considerate and caring people out there. Any percieved dangers and thoughts are just that – thoughts – tricks being played by the mind and not a true reflection of what is happening on the road.
I never stopped driving and am glad i didn’t. Yeah, some days my 3 mile drive to work took an hour and i couldn’t drive to my mums an hour away, but i didn’t give up.
It was one of the first things targetted during my CBT sessions and the one that was challenged EVERY day.

This has been one of the longest running and earliest starting parts of my OCD.

There were certainly signs and individual incidents at least a couple of years before something that could safely be recognised and diagnosed as OCD took over control of my mind.

I’ve also found these to be some of the more frustrating and infuriating of my compulsions.  Exceedingly timewasting, annoying, often scary and with fuel prices these days; bloody expensive!

Below I have listed SOME of the circumstances and situations that would lead to intrusive obsessive thoughts and some of the things I would be compelled to do to try to lower the anxiety levels created by these thoughts.

Again, as with most of my other OCD related activity, the key background worries revolve around hurting, or more the prevention of hurting, of others and the personal responsibilities of this happening.

Firstly I’ll cover a few of the peripheral obsessions and compulsions that surround the actual journey itself.
I’ll start our journey somewhere other than home, as that would unleash a whole new level and list of issues involving the actual leaving of home in the first place!
Right, starting with a couple of basic ones that even those non sufferers can probably identify with:

• Door Checking – A variant on the house door checks that are a common occurrence in checking OCD. Many ‘normal’ folk will occasionally return to their car to check the door is locked…..not so many will let it rule their head for hours if they don’t or be terrified not to.

• Checking Lights – Again, something all have probably done; “did I switch my lights off?” ……exactly HOW MANY times do I need to bloody check this before I allow myself to believe it though?

• Checking Handbrake – Double whammy here, not only a checking compulsion but the worry of what or who the car may hit if you weren’t 100% ‘happy’ that the brake was on.

• Checking Windows – Similar to doors, and both have that extra dimension of not only a check but the fear that something private could be taken or even worse that something alien and harmful could be put into one of your safe places.

• Staring At Petrol Pumps – Again more of a contamination issue than anything else, but minutes spent inspecting and staring at petrol pump handles to check the sharp bits (usually peeling plastic coatings).

• Checking Floor Near Car – Simply to check if anything had been dropped whilst getting in the car, blown out of the car and for sharp objects that may have been stood on. Door would be opened and floor checked at least twice!

Now we get to the OCD issues specific to driving:

• Avoiding Journeys And Routes – Avoiding areas with high pedestrian traffic, schools nearby, routes with ‘bad’ memories. Also avoid driving at night as it is more difficult to check mirrors to see if pedestrians or other road users are safe after you’ve passed.

• Stopping After 1st 50 Yards – The first part of any journey I found the hardest, before I had got into my ‘fully aware’ zone. Most drives therefore involved a stop 50-100 yards from the start to check not only mirrors but rear window and even out of door sometimes to make sure I hadn’t run someone over or left anything behind.

• Stopping Randomly In Road – Similarly to above but as a reaction to an especially traumatic part of a drive, such as having passed someone pushing a pram or feeling as if I had been distracted.

• Multiple Laps of Carparks – Carparks = pedestrians = maximum opportunities to have run someone down. This would often require multiple laps until I felt 100% sure and safe.or so frustrated and annoyed that I made myself leave and deal with the anxiety (CBT!).

• Laps Of Roundabouts – Not 100% sure you pulled out safely or pedestrians nearby, no problem, multiple laps of roundabout ahoy!

• Loops Of Routes – Think roundabouts but bigger. A loop of several roundabouts or a block of streets give the chance of double backing and checking for accidents or incidents. My record for the block near my house was 10 times before making myself give up!

• Letting Too Many Pedestrians Cross – Worry you might mow down a pedestrian or have to deal with anxiety? Avoid this by not only letting people cross as normal but also anyone anywhere near a crossing or looking like they want to cross without one.

• Traffic Lights – Nope, you wouldn’t have caught me leaving on an amber or until the crosser had not only cleared my lane but the whole road. Not 100% sure in your mind light was green? Drive back to check for ‘damage’.

• Driving Too Far From Curb – to minimise anxieties related to pedestrians, I would drive just that bit further out from the curb than usual. Typically with OCD, this would create more problems as the fear would then be that you were too far out and would ‘force’ oncoming traffic to go near their curb. This was NEVER the case but OCD doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

• Giving Bikes Too Much Room – As a cyclist I’m never going to moan about being given too much room to ride. As a driver stuck behind me for a mile when I won’t overtake one, I would moan!

• Going Home The Way You Came – Not necessarily a problem…unless it’s to check something you’ve been worrying about all day at work.

• Forgotten Parts Of Journeys – “I don’t remember driving that part of the route”; a common thought for many drivers I’m sure. NOT AN OPTION for the OCD driver who needs to be 100% aware of every part of their day, let alone their drive!

• Checking Bumpers – Didn’t have an accident, didn’t feel any bumps. Let’s check those bumpers just in case.

• Checking News And Papers – Particularly stressful drive? Check the news and next day’s papers for the crashes and deaths your mind is trying to convince you that you have caused.

• Cycling? – Cycling is my passion. So guess what? Our spiteful little friend OCD decides to transfer the driving anxieties over to the bike. As if I wouldn’t FEEL a collision on a bike! Doesn’t matter in the fear obsessed world of OCD.

• Reassurance – Easiest thing to do to relieve anxiety is to make sure you’ve got a passenger on lookout for you, someone you can continually ask “was it alright back there”? Or “they were ok weren’t they”? WRONG!! As with all OCD issues, reassurance and avoidance of responsibility FUELS the illness. It also drove my wife to screaming at me to stop asking her…Sorry xx.

Driving with OCD can be exhausting.
What the condition makes you do is be constantly aware. Absolutely constantly aware of every damn thing, not only the other cars but pedestrians, workers, lights, signs, litter, weather, all of everything!
If the police needed some random fact about some obscure road 3 weeks previous, I was their man!
How do these terrifying thoughts translate to being a passenger instead of driver?
They disappear. Simple as that. Lack of responsibility = lack of anxiety.

OCD you are a bastard.