‘Magical thinking’ is probably obsessive-compulsive disorder

Dear Annie: I’m a sophomore in high school. Lately, I’ve been having some anxiety. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it’s this sense of impending doom, as if something very bad is about to happen. For example, I’ll be lying in bed and suddenly I’ll be overcome with dread, thinking the ceiling is about to collapse on me or just some vague bad thing is going to happen. Then I get this feeling that if I just complete some gesture – making the bed and then getting back in or turning the light on and then back off – I’ll prevent the disaster from happening. It’s bizarre, but I feel the need to complete these actions every time the anxiety flares up.

So far, I have managed to keep these spastic episodes to myself; not even my close friends know. But lately, they’re becoming more frequent and intense.

For instance, I work at a clothing store on the weekends, and the other day, I was ringing a woman up, removing the security tag off the blouse she was buying, when all of a sudden, that overwhelming feeling of panic crept up on me, and I felt as if I absolutely had to put the security tag back on and then remove it again – four times. The woman kind of gave me a confused chuckle, and I tried to pretend it hadn’t happened. It wasn’t a big deal, but I worry I’ll do more stuff like that in the future.

I know, of course, that my random gestures aren’t going to stop something bad from happening. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to suppress the urge. What’s going on? Is this normal stress? Am I crazy? — Feeling Neurotic

Dear Neurotic: You’re not crazy, but it sounds as if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. The kind of “magical thinking” you describe – think of it as making up your own personal superstitions – attempts to provide some semblance of control over the external world. Many people who experience magical thinking were raised in chaotic, unstable households and developed obsessive-compulsive disorder as a coping mechanism. Visit the International OCD Foundation at https://iocdf.org for more information, and talk to your parents, a school counselor and/or your physician about therapeutic treatments.

Dear Annie: This is in response to “Confused Mom,” whose young daughter keeps being disappointed by her unreliable, mostly absent father.

When I kept having to tell my children that Dad was not coming, the kids were getting angry with me, as though it were my fault. I finally realized that their dad needed to be the one to tell them he would not be coming; this way, he would hear the disappointment in their voices. So from then on, I would hand the phone to one of my children when Dad got ready to break his plans.

The children were so happy to see “Good Time Charlie” on the weekends, while I was the one who raised them on a daily basis, with all the rules. Both of my children turned out pretty darn well, and they still loved their father – but they understood that he was not a great father. He was only the man who had walked out of their lives when they were 5 and 7.

“Confused Mom,” when your children get much older, they will realize who the good parent was, but I know it hurts to watch a child growing up with expectations and having her heart broken every time her father does not show up. My heart goes out to you.

On the plus side, my children had a great stepfather for 18 years, until he passed away. There is hope for someone else to love your child. — Been There, Done That

Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]