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.

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12 thoughts on “Driving with me and my OCD

  1. Fortunately I seem to cope with driving fairly well apart from occasionally where I fear I’ve knocked someone over or off their bike knowing full well I haven’t, but having the fear I have and having continued to drive I feel overwhelmed to go back and check. I have checked my car for damage before, though even then can find a mark and make it into something it’s not. Your blogs are really useful and I do hope those that think OCD is all about cleaning takes note!! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Very good blog. The only thing that I do with my driving is take the quickest, most easiest route to drive (one with as little gear changes but this is just out of lazyness). I take the motorway if I can to avoid towns/cities. This can sometimes be a longer journey in terms of mileage, if I have to backtrack to get onto the motorway.
    It’s only just recently that I’ve realised why I do this.
    My fear of forgetting isn’t just within me. I think other people will forget things too (I make lists for my boyfriend, I think people will forget who I am) so this is why I avoid towns/cities where I can so I don’t have to go through the humiliation when someone blanks me/doesn’t wave back/doesn’t recognise me. I’ve stopped waving to people I know incase they forget who I am, people probably think I am being ignorant by blanking them. It’s a no win situation for me.

    • I’m a TV researcher hoping to make a programme about the reality of living with OCD with particular reference to driving anxieties and coping mechanisms. I’d love to speak to you if you have an email address you could send? We are not planning to trivialise the issue but to raise awareness by making an interesting programme which is not about cleanliness and OCD!

  3. Wow thanks for sharing! I know that this type of OCD exists but it is refreshing to read because I have the exact same thing. Just like you are an avid cyclist, I’m an avid runner but some days are more difficult than others as I suffer from the similar “hit and run” fears (e.g., having to look behind me to make sure that I did not push the person that walked past me into oncoming traffic – or cyclist for that matter lol). Thanks again for sharing and good luck with your struggles 🙂

  4. Yes. Car parks. The most horrifying places. So many people. Everywhere! I used to think it was just me. Thank so much for sharing and giving me hope that I will drive again.

  5. I have the Driving OCD. but mine has escalated to even when im being driven I feel something is going to happen I always have to ask the driver to drive slowly and even then I panic, Its even got to the point now and has been for some years that even when im walking I have to check up and down the roads till all the buses or lorry’s ect. have gone safely past it can take me hours to get home from the shops which is infact only at most a 15 minute walk from my flat. Its as though just by me thinking something might happen will make it happen ( its called magical thinking) I think. I feel responsible for everyones safety its a nightmare. ive had OCD for 60yrs now. ive managed to live a very full life though but every day is so stressful, im on Sertraline 100mil, at the moment and will be working up to 200mil. at which time the Doctor said it should kick in and help my OCD. I truly hope so it has helped my general mood ect. and I do feel better more ,but it hasn’t helped the OCD. I wish you all to recover soon your not alone when I was a young man OCD. didn’t have a name so I felt I was the only one in the world that felt this way. So keep posotive and never give up you can beat it theres lots of help out there. God Bless you all.
    Michael. Hove Sussex UK.

    • 60 year – Oh my Gosh. I personally don`t believe in pharmaceutical treatment, it`doesn`t fight the cause/roots of it.There`s a huge amount of guilt we all suffer from (caused by our sadistic superego). The feeling of guilt is very REAL, the other thoughts are not. I had OCD, cause I did the opposite, that my parents want me to do or to be in life. My therapist told me to strengthen my ego and do my thing. The more succesfull you are, the stronger your ego, the weaker the guilt.It worked in my case. Only in times of low selfesteem, traffic OCD sometimes comes back.

  6. Im so sorry I see ive already written about my OCD and driving I didn’t realise I was on the same site please excuse me must be getting old.
    Michael Williams Hove UK.

  7. Found this article humorous and relieving! Driving OCD is one of the forms that mine has decided to test me with lately. Just had a bad week with it. Reading someone else’s point of view always helps me with my symptoms.

  8. They don’t disappear with me even when im being driven I feel responsible and its got so bad now even when im walking I feel I have to check up and down he roads incase an accident has accured. It can take me an hour or more to do a 10 minute journey. I can call the police and check the papers ect. ive had OCD all my life from 11 im 73 now but ive still had a wonderful life travelled the world but never without OCD.. Don’t give up theres lots of help out there nowdays when I was a young man no one had even heard of OCD.

  9. You are like my twin.
    I been dealing with OCD my whole life. Driving seems to be the worst problem. Start about 15 years ago. I never had a driving issue before it just started and really sucks. I in joy driving a lot, but not now. I been voiding at all cost. It has been much worst the last year since my divorce and not being with my kids has much. I have all the same actions has you and driving at night is very hard. I am finally going to see a doctor to start medicine I should have done this years go. I to love cycling and starting there to. Its starting to ruin my life this sucks.

  10. Driving is one of the hardest part of my OCD. I honestly dread getting into my car. Turning around constantly. My OCD can turn my 35 minute drive to work into a 2 hour adventure of sweat, nausea, panic and illegal turn arounds. It can be extremely difficult on the highway when I have to back track exits. It’s unfortunately a daily battle. I try to drive as little as possible. I find myself always making lies of why I am consistently running late. I have learn to cope with compulsions and the troubles I have while walking, but driving is still something that I seem to have trouble with due to the time and gas it takes. My car is in bad shape to how hard I brake and turn the wheel. I try to set goals everytime I get in the car, and tell myself I won’t turn around no matter what, but anyone with OCD knows how that can be.

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