Karen likes Monk, and is prone to stream old re-runs on Netflix when bored. At one point, she even kept an episode or two on her iPhone. And, I can’t blame her. It’s a clever little show.

The thing about Monk is that it presents a picture of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is actually pretty accurate. The reason that this is interesting to me is that I have a nice little touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder myself.

(A disclaimer: I’m self-diagnosed. However, behavioral health has also been my profession for nearly twelve years, so that diagnosis isn’t off-the-cuff.)

For me, it manifests a lot with fixating on whether or not I’ve turned the stove burners off or locked the front door when I leave. I’ve been known to return to the front door three times and make myself late for work in order to confirm that the door is, in fact, secured. I think that this is partly a learned behavior from my father, because I watched him exhibit similar behaviors through childhood.

The problem also manifests…or, at least, it used to…with germs. Rather, with my perception of germs. If I am introduced to someone and shake their hand, I am acutely aware that my hand is now “contaminated” until I have a chance to wash it. When washing my hands, there’s a specific way in which I have to wash. And the ritual that is required in a public restroom can be quite time-consuming.

As a positive, though, I’m really great with minute details. I jokingly say that my disorder makes me great at writing, so I choose not to treat it. A professor in grad school joked that every graduate student has a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or they wouldn’t be in grad school.

Whatever the case, I will say that having our daughter has treated my problem with a sort of “immersion therapy.” Part of this is due to the fact that I reached a point (relatively early) in which I was so completely exhausted as I watched her place her fingers in her mouth after crawling around on the floor that I couldn’t get up to clean her hands, and finally concluded that every other baby in the world does this with no ill effects, and that perhaps it was time to see reason.

What’s interesting about my disorder is that I’ve become much less concerned about my own exposure to germs than to my daughter’s. Previous observation about crawling around on the floor notwithstanding, I noticed that I picked a dropped piece of food up off of the floor a few days ago and ate it. This would have been unthinkable for me a year ago. What I found myself thinking, however, was that it doesn’t really matter what happens to me, as long as our daughter is okay.

So, in my addled OCD pseudo-logic, if I’m harmed by consuming germs it’s no big deal, as long as I can prevent our daughter from being harmed.

This led to a conversation over the weekend about how, in true integrationist fashion, a definite link can be found between obsessive-compulsive disorder and selfishness. Ultimately, the anxiety of OCD (which is classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM-IV TR) is, from a spiritual perspective, the result of an overly self-focused perspective. Of course, it’s easy to draw a connection between sociological theories of how American individualism is a breeding ground for sociopathy, and it’s no great leap in logic to conclude that it’s a breeding ground for psychological dysfunction, as well.  From a holistic perspective, psychological dysfunction is tied closely to spiritual dysfunction. So, seeing a connection between an anxiety disorder and being overly self-focused isn’t a stretch.

Instead of pursuing the typical American treatment strategy, then, of giving everyone a pill to help their symptoms go away without encouraging any actual change in perspective or lifestyle, I wonder if encouraging ourselves…and by extension our culture…to step outside of ourselves and look out for others at the expense of our own best interest may actually be in our greatest best interest.

Counter-intuitive, I know. I’ve found that spiritual truths are frequently found in the inverse of our own logic, however. Perhaps a bit of a counter-intuitive approach would do all of us a world of good.

Photo Attribution: Sheila Tostes under Creative Commons

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