Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OCD: What Happens When We Don't Stick to the Facts

You're driving in a tunnel. The only two outbound lanes of traffic are both congested, but you're moving along at a good clip, say 40 mph. You see brake lights a few cars ahead of you. What do you do?

A) Nothing.
B) Watch the car in front of you to see when he applies his brakes.
C) Slam on your breaks, bringing your car to an immediate stop.

Now you're taking a walk. Your leg starts to hurt. What do you do?

A) Nothing--continue your walk.
B) Turn around and head home--you probably strained it.
C) Go home immediately and drive to the emergency room--it's probably knee cancer.

In the first question, what if you had slammed on the brakes? You would have crashed, causing a massive pile-up who knows how long, closing the tunnel for the rest of the afternoon until the accident could be cleaned up.

That's the what part of the's the why: The reason for slamming on the brakes in the first situation would have been a misinterpretation of the facts. It's mistakenly following the logic of "brakelights mean stop." Black and white. (Or Red.) But really, seeing brakelights a few cars ahead more likely means that that car is slowing down. If that car is far enough ahead, you may not even need to take your foot off the gas!

I've said in another post that my brain doesn't often operate using linear thinking. The one inopportune time it does, though, is when I'm thinking like this, below:

The first line is a fact. The rest are interpretations of that fact, improper conclusions which are drawn from the prior conclusions, or unclear memories that I can't even confirm happened.

Fact: On Tuesday I walked my dog.
2. I put flea treatment on him a few days before Tuesday.
3. A little girl petted my dog.
4. I think I remember her petting him where the flea treatment was.
5. That little girl is going to put her fingers in her mouth.
6. She is going to get sick.
7. Her sickness will cause her to die.
8. I will be sued.
9. I will not be able to forgive myself.

Can you see where my logic fails? It happens in the space between nearly every so-called conclusion I make. By the end I've "concluded" myself into a scary situation, spiking my anxiety. If my OCD is bad enough at the time, I'll fixate on it and send myself into a deep depression.

When you find yourself thinking like this, don't jump to false conclusions. Think about the facts, and only the facts, if you want to live well with OCD.

Don't slam on your brakes.