Dear Dr. Darcy:
I’m writing to you because think I might have OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder]. I was just on WebMD and I seem to have a lot of the symptoms. I do things repeatedly, like checking my schedule, highlighting the most important things I have to do each day (those get highlighted in red) then the next most important things get highlighted in pink, then those things that I don’t really have to do get highlighted in yellow. It’s like a ritual. I have rituals about a lot of things ~ like when I make a phone call, I write it down in my ‘phone log’ and I indicate next to it whether I have to f/u [follow up], or if they will f/u with me, or if there is another action step that I have to take.
My friends think I’m crazy because I have “old lady habits” and I’m only 21 years old. I recently started dating someone and I find myself trying to look and act normal so I don’t freak them out. Sometimes when I’m about to go to sleep I get out of bed to check the stove. Do you think I have a problem?
I want to be careful and not minimize your feelings because it’s clear to me that you’re genuinely concerned. For people who are a bit high-strung, googling symptoms online can lead down a negative path. I’m talking about WebMD here and I’m suggesting that you avoid the temptation to research symptoms / self-diagnose because you can make mistakes like the one you just made about having OCD.
What you’re describing does sound habitual and perhaps even ritualistic, particularly the schedule / task management behaviors. However, these behaviors aren’t effecting your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, which is the criteria that a doctor would use in making a diagnosis like OCD. In fact, the behaviors that you’re engaging in sound like they enhance your level of productivity, which is probably why you developed these habits in the first place.
Think of a trait as being a coin, each one possessing two sides. You’re a little neurotic. As long as being neurotic has positive attributes, there’s nothing wrong with it. On some people, their neurotic tendencies go too far, which is the flip side of your coin. Those people would go to bed and suddenly feel the impulse to check the stove, but checking the stove once or twice wouldn’t be enough. They would check it repeatedly and perhaps engaging in this behavior would effect their ability to sleep. When a trait interferes with one’s ability to go about their normal daily activities, the trait becomes problematic.
You sound like you have Productive Adult Syndrome (this is a joke). Essentially, you have developed some mature behaviors that may be unusual within your peer group, but nothing sounds dysfunctional. I’m not sure what career you’re in, but you might want to channel these skills professionally (personal assistant, project manager). I’m betting that your checkbook is balanced down to the penny, that you’re never late on a bill and that you’re always on time for appointments. All in all, I’d say that your behaviors are actually those that the rest of us spend decades trying to emulate.
So you see: Sometimes we can take a positive attribute and over-analyze it until it’s negative. Now get going on today’s schedule.