The Curse of OCD


The problem with having Obssessive-Compulsive disorder is…umm…well, kind of obvious. My obssessions aren’t too bad–the typical obssessions with locks and washing hands and making sure the stove is turned off (I don’t even cook all that much, so I’m really just checking to see if my roommates turned the oven off). The up-side of it is that this is actually a convenient disorder for a graduate student. See, you get obssessed with an idea or topic, and next thing you know, you’ve read a few books on that topic. The down-side, as you’ll soon see, is that you read a couple of books and then can’t do anything but write about them even if you’ve not exactly formulated your thoughts in any way whatsoever. Don’t go a-looking for a point in this post, as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Unfortunately for you, I’ve been reading some disturbing books lately. Not intentionally, mind you, it just kind of happened. So now I’m a) trying to make sense of them, and b) trying to learn more about the topic. Which right now is huge (actually, it’s a couple of different topics that I’m trying to make sense of at the same time). A brief preface before you continue on: I’m not trying to make a political point, even though I will briefly mention President Bush. It just so happened that I read the following two quotations from two different books within about a ten minute period and for whatever reason, my mind has been spiralling since then and I’m afraid they’re going to have to hook up electrodes to my head ala Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I understand the two statements take place under different circumstances and come from people with different responsibilities. I’m not saying one response is better or worse than the other, I’m just saying they got me thinking. I’m more interested in the emotional response each of them gives on a personal level than on a political level.

The first quotation is from The 9/11 Commission Report and is President Bush’s initial response to hearing about the attacks on the WTC (I think it was his initial response–it might have been his second or third, but it is one of the first things he said):

“Somebody’s going to pay for this!” [And by the way, liberal as I am, I don’t think this is an irrational response at all, and I think someone should pay for it as well.]

The second quotation is from Hans Nossack’s book The End, and it is his initial response to seeing his home destroyed and learning that many of his friends had been killed by bombs and his neighbors had been burned alive in their cellar (this is kind of long, so apologies):

“Woe to us if the powerful should take revenge some day for this contempt! But I believe they didn’t even understand it. And another thing: I have not heard a single person curse the enemies or blame them for the destruction. When the newspapers published epithets like ‘pirates of the air’ and ‘criminal arsenists,’ we had no ears for that. A much deeper insight forbade us to think of an enemy who was supposed to have caused all this: for us, he, too, was at most an instrument of unknowable forces that sought to annihilate us. I have not met even a single person who comforted himself with the thought of revenge. On the contrary, what was commonly said or thought was: Why should others be destroyed as well? I have been told that a man who was prattling about revenge and about exterminating the enemy with gas was beaten to a pulp. I was not present, but if it did happen, it was in order to silence a blasphemous stupidity.”

I realize these two situations are completely different. I don’t know the significance of Hamburg to the Nazis in WWII, so I’m not sure why the whole city was destroyed, and I know that the Nazis were doing horrific things to Jews, and others, in Europe at the time. And I know that Bush was reacting to hearing about something that was unimaginable for most of us. I really didn’t even want to use his quote because I didn’t want to post the third political column on this blog this week. So you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it was just reading these two things in a short period of time that got me thinking about how and why I respond to situations and people the way I do.

As with all graduate students who become interested in some topic or other, I quickly realized that I don’t know very much. I’ve started reading more about war in general, trying to understand that level of violence (specifically, The Peloponnesian War, by Donald Kagan, as a place to start, since that was maybe the first war between a democratic state and a non-democratic state), as well as a couple of books about emotions and how to control them (most notably Destructive Emotions, by Daniel Goleman). And this reading has led me to the understanding that I know even less than I thought I might know.

What I do know: There are a handful of people that I have to actively work at not hating. I have to work at it every single day, and I don’t always succeed. I think they did me wrong in some way or another. It doesn’t matter, though, if I was right or wrong in my dealings with them. Thinking I’m the injured person doesn’t help me sleep better at night. The reason I love the Nossack quote above is because it doesn’t matter to him who was right or wrong. He’d lost everything and nothing could change that. I’m sure he was angry, but he chose to channel that anger into something positive. That same spirit is the reason that Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of my heroes. Dr. King was angry. He’s known for dreaming, but he was also angry. But he chose to use that anger to do good. He didn’t let the anger overwhelm him.

If I were to write a seminar paper on this topic right now, I’d fail the seminar. I’m not even sure what questions to ask. I’ve already mentioned two different levels of violence and emotional responses. One political, one personal. Wars are at times necessary, so I need to understand better a bit more about wars historically (of which I know nothing). Emotions on a personal level, however, are connected to politics. Our emotions as people generate the politcal atmosphere of our different nations (at least, in democratic nations). So, if I were to begin writing a research paper on this, I’d probably start by trying to make some sort of connection between those two.

But I won’t ever write this paper, hopefully. In addition to my OCD, I’m also extremely fickle, and usually five or six books on a topic burns me out and/or leads me into some other direction. So, luckily for you, you probably won’t have to hear much more from me about emotional responses and violence. And hopefully they won’t have to hook up the electrodes.

Currently listening to (while reading and writing incomprehensible posts): 10,000 Years, by Honeydogs. In Between Dreams, by Jack Johnson. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, by Bright Eyes. Rooney, by Rooney.

Author’s note: While trying, in vain, to compose my thoughts about this post, I was sitting on my deck this morning and noticed that something had turned over my trashcan and scattered a week’s worth of trash over my yard and driveway. A few moments later, I noticed a suspicious looking cat and picked up the nearest object, which in this case was a shoe, and threw it at the cat and yelled “you think it’s fun to play in my trash?!” So maybe I will read some more about emotional responses.


7 Responses to “The Curse of OCD”

  1. Mrs. Longhorn Says:

    I feel your pain. I get that OCD at times, too. Luckily, post-grad school, it isn’t nearly as bad as it once was.

    I remember having to get up in the middle of the night, excited about some break-through idea, to write down “brilliant” theses, only to wake up in the morning, read it, and wonder what in the world I was talking about!! (Of course, the same mid-night epiphanies did help write my dissertation. Oh, wait, that’s because I was up ALL NIGHT trying to finish at the last minute.) So, I understand your joy-pain. (Big secret, some days I really miss that extreme pressure to think, think, think.)

    As a psychologists, and just being the person I am, anger is a very interesting concept to me, too. (I don’t have all the much respect for Goleman after his book, “Emotional Intelligence” was based almost 100% on anecdotal evidence when he claimed it was scientific, but…he’s hit on something that is interesting to the regular person, so kudos to him.) The interaction of emotion and political fervor is fascinating.

    Not to go too far into politics, but isn’t it interesting how some Democrats love to loathe the president for the same reasons some Repubs love him? Their emotional, subjective appraisal of his thoughts and actions lead them to see exactly what they want to see! Imagine if we could read a “personality and ideology” biography of the past 5 presidents, without names or specifics so as to not identify them, do you really think judgments would be so different between the two parties? I don’t. Or, even better, if you wrote down a bunch of Bush’s traits and presented it as if it were Clinton or John Kerry…(or vice versa, not picking on Democrats)…I’m sure it would make people see that their emotional response to the individual person drives their emotional response to anything that comes from that person.

    So, what I’m saying is that because people love or hate Bush, they automatically love or hate his policy without really considering the policy. They let their emotion drive their interpretation of every facet of the presidency. Do I make sense? (And I am guilty of this, too, so I have to check myself from time to time.)

    And, we don’t only do this with the Presidency. We do this in our personal lives. Like you said, we have to try really hard to hate some people…and we most definitely succeeed. Others, we forgive them for the most heinous things. Funny, these little, emotional minds of ours!

    Enjoyed your ramblings. Sounds like that miniscule hamster on the tiny wheel in your head is just running nonstop. 🙂

  2. Joe Longhorn Says:

    For Mrs. Longhorn,

    That’s it. You’re posting in my spot next week. Start thinking of your topic now.

  3. Coach Says:

    Careful,Mikey. I’m sure you’ve seen this story:

    If not,check it out. Plagiarist!

  4. Coach Says:

    Stupid comment space.

  5. Says:


    You don’t have the arm to chuck a shoe at a cat. And don’t even pretend you didn’t swear at the li’l feline.

  6. Michael Lasley Says:

    Thanks, Dr. F., for that thoughtful response. And, if Joe doesn’t follow through on his offer to let you post for him next week, or sometime, I’ll gladly give you some time or space or whatever. I agree about the way we respond to political figures, and I’m very guilty of it. I think emotions have just as much to do with our responses as rationality, although I say that knowing that that could probably not be proven. I think as Westerners we like to think of ourselves as being guided by rationalism way more than we are. Which is one of the reasons I picked up that particular Goleman book — it’s a conversation with the Dalai Lama and several Buddhist monks and a few Western philosophers and scientists. Someone told me the same thing you said about Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. Any reading suggestions would be appreciated.

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    You’re both right and wrong, Wednesday. I did curse, but not when I threw the shoe. I cursed when I initially saw the trash in the yard/driveway. I was too focused on trying to hit the cat to think about clever ways to curse at it (I refuse to curse at anything if it isn’t clever or unique in some way). If I see it again, I’ll take some time to do that.

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