Overwhelmed With OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects 2.2 million American adults. Matt B. reflects on a childhood experience of debilitating indecision over a souvenir T-shirt:

[M]y fixations had grown to the point where Mom offered to drive me back to the restaurant so I could exchange my shirt for the pink one. I had turned her down once or twice before, but things had gotten pretty tumultuous in my head, and I relented. Fine, I thought. Let’s just get this over with. Maybe then I’ll be able to go down to the beach and enjoy things.

When we got to the restaurant, though, my doubts multiplied. I could feel a tension building, a fizzy pressure in my head. I weighed the pros and cons of each shirt: the gray one was more traditionally cool, but the pink was bolder, full of a weird, preppy swagger. Gray wouldn’t turn any heads, but maybe I didn’t want heads turning – maybe I just wanted to get in under the radar. Pink was edgier, but it ran some real risks.

Mom tried to talk me through the decision, telling me to ask myself which one I liked better. She angled her head forward in determination, smacking her hands as if wiping them clean: “Just go with it.”

I knew, at some level, that she was right, that thinking about things this way was tormenting me to no good end. But I couldn’t decide. I didn’t know which one was better. As soon as I leaned in one direction, I felt terrified that I might be missing out on everything the other shirt had to offer. After ten minutes of indecision, I burst into tears.

Mom stayed with me, but I suspect she was more unsettled than she let on. I’m not sure there had ever been an instance like this one, in which my indecision and ambivalence rose to such acutely painful heights. I felt silly sitting there, aware of how privileged and prissy my concerns would look to most people. Here I was, a young boy on a nice beach vacation with his family, with a totally unnecessary T-shirt already in his possession, thrashing about because he thought there might be a slightly nicer one out there.

I was also aware of what I was missing. Everyone else was at the beach, playing or reading or crashing around in the surf. The beach itself was only a small road and a short sand dune away. I didn’t want to be here, but I didn’t know how not to be.

(Hat tip: 3QD)