“How do you decide?” I probe my close friend.
“Well, I just listen to my gut,” she responds matter of factly.
I slowly nod–borderline incredulous. Who knew that making a decision could be so, well, easy?
For OCD sufferers, decision making is an exercise in agony, indecisiveness, and self-doubt. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take the esteemed authors of Decision-Making Under Certainty in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
These authors chronicle–in painstaking detail–the chronic indecisiveness characterizing OCD sufferers. Referring to OCD as “the madness of doubt,” the authors state that “individuals with OCD often exhibit indecisiveness, pathological doubt, and avoidance of uncertainty.”
Sorry—you may have just heard me grimace in that knowing, half smirk way. As any OCD sufferer knows, doubt–and the attendant anxiety–are willful, ravenous creatures. If the smoldering doubt doesn’t consume you, the swirling pit of anxiety will.
In my case, I have watched indecision nearly paralyze me. In school, I would agonize over every last word of a a homework assignment. The writing process, painful during the best of days, would become agonizing. A 30 minute homework assignment would devolve into a three hour torture session–replete with frustrated sighs and guttural groans.
Careers and relationships have also stagnated, if not suffered, because of indecision. Opting for law school (of course, on the last possible day of enrollment), my career has meandered from one unfulfilling career path to another. It has been a continual and, at times, fruitless search for something more meaningful than typical law firm tedium.
Family and friends have expressed frustration–even exasperation–with my chronic indecisiveness. “Matt, just pick something,” they bellow. I suspect they view my indecisiveness as manipulative–something straight out of the passive-aggressive playbook. But as I mull over my options, there is an overriding concern: What if I make the wrong decision? In some cases–most notably when the OCD is at its shrieking histrionic worst, it seems easier to delegate than make an all-important decision.
Welcome to somebody else’s life–one where you are more passenger than participant.
I have openly discussed my decision-making difficulties with a trusted counselor. In a somewhat colorful example, I liken my decision-making calculus to that panicked eight year old on the diving board. Before teetering to the edge of the diving board, I peek over–apprehension crescendoing into a full-throated roar.
“Should I jump into the blue abyss of uncertainty?” I lament.
And–for the most part–I do. When indecision surges through my synapses, I realize that I have to jump–even when the decision (and its consequences) might be calamitous. As I have learned, the answer to life isn’t “D–none of the above”–even if bubbling in that proverbial scantron seems tempting. Even comforting.
You see–ambiguity (and my corresponding dread of it) are a hallmark of everyday existence. And despite to my hopes to the contrary, neither has a shelf life.
“So, Matt, how do you decide?” I muse to myself.
“Well, I just listen to my gut–and jump regardless,” I respond matter of factly–a small sense of relief creasing my face.