4 Dec 2013

The Art Of Driving When You Have OCD

OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, affects 1.2% of the population to a greater or lesser extent.  I have OCD, to a lesser extent.

OCD has a few different symptoms such as compulsive and irrational thoughts and behaviours which are often dealt with by repeating processes, or checking.  Other symptoms include over-thinking situations and procedures and what I would call a high level of hygiene but you might call an obsession with hygiene.

As I mentioned my OCD is quite mild, partly because I'm now 42 and have managed to suppress a lot of it.

OCD doesn't affect one's ability to drive, unless it is so severe that the occasional thought about driving your car headfirst into a brick wall is followed through.  Happily I don't get such thoughts.

But my OCD does affect my life in general, although no-one would know unless they observe the minutae of my day to day existence.

Speedmonkey itself is a by-product of my OCD.  The need to channel my energies into something useful - and which uses brain capacity that would otherwise go into a hyperdrive of looped thoughts if there is nothing to do.

If I am truly 'trapped' by a situation, such as being in a lecture or church (neither of which I've had to endure in a long time) and I am not able to read, write or talk then my brain goes into meltdown and I often fall asleep.  I was once woken by my boss part-way during a conference on town planning legislation because I was gently snoring - in front of 200 people.

Driving is a stimulating endeavour and my brain reacts well to it.  In fact the OCD enhances it.  It keeps me alert to the situation I am in and the other vehicles around me.  I usually have a good knowledge of what is going on all around the car, and react quickly to any changes to that situation.

I check the mirrors frequently, I check the road ahead (really far ahead) often, I get frustrated if I am behind a large vehicle and cannot see beyond it.  I used to think I had poor night-time vision but have come to the realisation I simply want to see more than the headlights allow.

When I was younger I used to be scared of the dark.  When driving at night I would frequently check the back seat to make sure nothing was on it, in the darkness.  This was a direct product of OCD, although I didn't realise it back then.  I even stopped and checked the back seat to make sure nothing was lurking in there one or twice.

Then, a few years ago, I realised I don't believe in god, and therefore I do not believe in anything supernatural at all and therefore I should not be scared of the dark.  So now I'm not.  Having OCD makes such decisions simple and final.

But I do repeatedly tap the steering wheel, I do sometimes have to touch the indicator stalk with my right hand after touching it with my left, I do sometimes get annoyed with drivers who don't immediately react to a green traffic light, I do sometimes drive past parking spaces where I couldn't park perfectly in them.

And I do have to make sure the climate control system is set to the same temperature on both sides of the car, and it should never be an odd number, and it should never, ever be set to 0.5 of a degree.

A clean windscreen is also a requirement.  I have to use non-fibrous cloth (such as kitchen paper) and make sure it is absolutely clean.  When I see someone clear a misted windscreen with their fingers I wince.

I also struggle to converse whilst driving.  Children chattering in the back seat is a no-no and anything but shallow conversation with someone in the passenger seat is difficult, as it distracts me from the task in hand - that of driving.  Instructors on track days often have to repeat instructions as they think I have not heard.  I have heard but do not want to acknowledge them as that would take up brain power which I am using.  To reduce concentration on the task is a failure, for someone with OCD.  It is very much an all or nothing condition.

The biggest outward sign of my OCD is my unwillingness to accept a car's faults.  If a car I am driving has a fault I simply cannot cope.  I would rather sell a car than live with its faults.  My Audi S4 cost me £3k for a new alternator and clutch.  It wasn't the bills that made me sell it, it was the thought that it had already developed faults and could do so again.  I sold a Mini Cooper, a Subaru Outback and a Land Rover Defender for exactly the same reason.

It is for this reason I am not a fan of Alfa Romeos.  For an Alfisti it is character but for me it is misery.

Bizarrely I can live with faults that do not affect the drive-train, or my driving experience.  My Porsche's passenger window does not open but it doesn't affect me, so it doesn't bother me.

The cleanliness aspect only affects my driving to the extent I often clean steering wheels and gearsticks of cars with baby wipes (whilst stationary of course), and after I have punched my PIN number in at the petrol station I surreptitiously wipe my fingers on my trousers.

OCD can be a mild curse, but it can also be a benefit.  A driver under the influence of low level OCD is probably a safer driver than most as our brains do not drift as often as others might do.

It also means I can never, ever drive after consuming any alcohol at all.  Some people may drink a pint of beer or glass of wine and then drive, happy in the knowledge they are under the limit.  Even the mildest inhibition of my capacities by alcohol means I simply won't drive.

Article by Matt Hubbard