Sometimes I wish I'd never learned the proverb "It's better to be safe than sorry," because it's become my enemy. It's pretty much the worst thing a person with OCD could ever be told.
Say I went to a party last night. I wake up this morning replaying the events of the whole party over in my head. Did that one comment I made about the host's home come out wrong? Were people offended? Did I look like I thought his house was a mess? I had better apologize when I see him because it's better to be safe than sorry.
Or what if I'm cooking dinner, and the thought occurs to me that maybe I didn't wash my hands after touching the raw chicken. Then I touch the outside of a bag of flour. To a healthy mind it's no big deal if I didn't because I'm not serving dinner yet and I'm really only touching the pan handle with my chicken hands. Well, just in case, I'd better wash my hands anyway. Better safe than sorry.
But Am I?
These tendencies to "re-check" and "re-do" are my rituals. I can check anything, depending on what I'm worried about. As a person with OCD these rituals are soothing, but I'm addicted to the relief of doubt they give me...until I doubt something else.
The more I check, the more doubt takes over and I fall victim to checking things repeatedly, or worse: fearing things that cannot be checked-away. Soon the snowball effect of anxiety and depression consumes me. Depending on what I'm worried about I might land myself in an emergency room, 10 pounds lighter (read: sicklier).
The Problem of the False Premise
While "Better safe than sorry" is a helpful rule for the healthy mind, it's poison to the obsessive-compulsive mind. Checking and rechecking everything is a misapplication of the rule to situations that don't warrant it. I can check that I've turned the stove off, but what is the liklihood that I wouldn't see its glowing coils when I turned off the kitchen light? Pretty unlikely. The axiom assumes that every situation is highly risky, when in most cases it isn't.
A Different Kind of Relief
As part of my constant recovery I am taught to go towards the anxiety. Going toward it means flat-out avoiding the tendency to recheck. It teaches me to accept doubt. Accepting doubt flies straight in the ugly face of the proverb and my perversion of it...but it feels great.
I take a look at my life from a wider angle: How is it better to let doubt control me? If I'm certain that my purpose is not to live in suffering, and I am not living my full potential if I am paralyzed by worry, then it would follow that being "better safe than sorry" is, in fact, a lie.
Whew, what a relief.
4 weeks ago