Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Curse of Medical Students' Disease

There are often situations that arise in my life that make me stop and think "Why in the world am I like this?" Usually I am forced to admit that I have no idea.


My Abnormal Psychology professor once warned our class about "Medical Students' Disease." This is the phenomenon that occurs fairly regularly in med school students where they begin diagnosing their friends, family members, neighbors, cashiers, taxi drivers, pets, and themselves with whatever horrific illness they are currently studying. Twinge of stomach pain? Gastrointestinal bleed. Mild cough? Tuberculosis. 

A psychology student can fall prey to this "disease" as well. And I'm inclined to think it's even easier to "diagnose" someone when you're a psychology student. That girl in class who always has something to say just to hear herself talk? Histrionic personality disorder. That guy who just gave you a funny look in the hall? Paranoid schizophrenic. Any little behavior can be misconstrued as something it's really not.

I'm not so bad about making snap diagnoses of others. I tend to diagnose myself. And this is exactly what my professor warned us not to do. I actually began making diagnoses for myself two years before I was ever warned of Medical Students' Disease. It started in my Intro Psych class.

We were talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I'm sure most of you are well aware of what that looks like. A&E has a show about it, very aptly named "Obsessed." Apparently A&E loves to spotlight mental disorders, because they also have "Hoarders" and "Intervention." Oh, and I think "Heavy" is also A&E. But I digress.

Pulled the image from here.
So my prof is trying to get all of us intro psych students to think about what daily life is like for a person with OCD and a severe germ phobia, since the two often go hand-in-hand. He does this by asking us to do a thought experiment.

He says to us: "Imagine your hands are covered in dog poop..." and my inner turmoil has already begun.



My notes swirl in front of my eyes into a mass of scribblings, and all I can think is "NO PLEASE SPARE ME!"


But my professor was unrelenting. Of course, he was also blissfully unaware of the turmoil I was feeling. "Imagine it's really caked on there. There is dog poop in every little nook, cranny, and crevice of your hands."


"It's under your fingernails."


"Now it's drying, and I'm not allowing you to go to the bathroom just outside the door to wash it off. You just have to sit there and deal with it."


My arms felt useless, and my hands felt like they were literally crawling with bugs. Germs. FILTH! Then, calm as can be, prof says "Who would really like to go wash their hands now?"


Slightly ashamed of myself, I timidly raise my hand, along with just a few others in the class of about 65. My friend sitting next to me kind of laughs, then looks at me and says "That bothered you?"

Now feeling even more like a weirdo for wanting to bolt to the nearest bathroom and scrub the skin from my hands, I just say "Well...*timid laugh* Yeah. I'm...I'm pretty uncomfortable right now." *more timid laughter* My friend smiles and says "Huh, that's funny," and goes back to listening to the lecture.

Meanwhile, I'm lost in my own head trying to remind myself repeatedly that there isn't actually any dog poop on my hands. It was a thought experiment, that's all. The poop isn't real. There's no poop, and no reason to wash my hands.



I suffered through the rest of the lecture, while my professor talked about how the dog poop scenario is how many OCD sufferers feel all the time. For those in the class who weren't phased by the thought experiment, I doubt they truly understood the horror of what this would feel like. Me? I left the class with one thought in my head: I'm a germaphobe with OCD.

Fast-forward two years, and I have a different professor lecturing my class on how it's common to start diagnosing yourself, but to try not to do it. Failed that task two years ago, thanks, but I appreciate the warning.

While I've never seen a psychologist and been given an "official" diagnosis, I'm pretty sure I really am mildly obsessive compulsive. I don't like touching doorknobs or door handles with my bare hands, and if I have to, I always wipe my hand off after. Among other things. But if I tried to list them all, this post would end up so long that even I wouldn't want to read it anymore. 

I suppose things could have turned out worse though. I could have diagnosed myself during a lecture on psychopathy.

23 comments:

  1. Heh. Well, if makes you feel better, I heard that Donald Trump is a germaphobe. :-P

    And I could picture my hands covered in dog doo as well. I think I just might shower now...

    -Barb the French Bean

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  2. Awwwww! That made me laugh, and also feel bad for you. I love the doodle for "it's under your fingernails", and the one after that. Great post!

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  3. @Barb-I've never heard that about Donald Trump! Interesting. Haha. Makes me feel a little better. I just hope my hair never ends up looking like his...

    @Bio-Thanks! Glad it made you laugh. It made me laugh remembering the whole uncomfortable scenario. And I take you loving my doodles as a great compliment, because I always love yours!

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  4. That happened to me in psyc class too!! Only that my prof used a different scenario, but I remember thinking afterwords, "well that settles it, I'm definitely OCD." Which now looking back on it, I am definitely not OCD lol. But I feel your pain, Joanna, darn those professors messing with our minds!

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  5. I wish I could look back and say I'm not OCD, but sadly, I think I really am. Mildly anyway. Every so often I just get overwhelmed with the urge to clean/sanitize/straighten EVERYTHING. I drive myself nuts sometimes. Haha.

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  6. I was a psychology major too. My junior year I lived with my (now ex) bf and a person we found on some roommate website, who also went to our school. Our roommate was kind of terse, very introverted and spent hours in his room. Shy I thought. Until my abnormal psychology class covered schizophrenia. He displayed what I was convinced were the negative symptoms of schizophrenia: apathy, no interest in social interaction, anhedonia, etc. I don't think he liked me very much, and I was just the teensiest bit afraid he would stab me in my sleep. Luckily that didn't happen. Also I've diagnosed myself with OCD a million different times. And my friends. I love diagnosing my friends.

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  7. Well I'm glad you weren't stabbed in your sleep! I usually get family members asking me for opinions on what might be wrong with them, their friends, other family members, etc. So I have no shortage of people to diagnose, even though I try hard not to. Haha.

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  8. I howled with laughter, went to wash my hands (twice) then called my mom to tell her she needs to read this post.

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  9. Well thanks! Hope your mom enjoys it too! :D

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  10. I do this all the time too, and I've never even studied psychology! I diagnose myself with mental disorders all the time, along with my friends.. but I don't usually tell them because that might not go well hahah. But I wouldn't worry too much about it, I don't think normality really exists, so that pretty much makes us all a little crazy!

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  11. Well you're lucky you've never studied psychology if you already do this all the time! Haha. And yeah, I definitely think everyone has a little something wrong with them. Some just more than others. :)

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  12. Hey, I love your drawing, it's so comical.. ><
    This post has made my day, ha3

    http://girls-on-the-run.blogspot.com/

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  13. Hey, Inggrid! Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much! :)

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  14. They're right Joanna, the little drawings really do make this a riot! Well done!

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  15. Thank you! It may not look like it, but I work really hard on them! Haha.

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  16. It's always amazed me how much expression one can get from a few lines. This thing would really make a great animation!

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  17. Well, if I had ANY idea how to do animation, maybe I would! Haha. :)

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  18. haha omg even just reading that made me freak out a little! especially when your professor said "it's under your fingernails", i suddenly felt like there was something there. ahh! :(
    but anyways, i love your blog! and the little doodles that go with it are so funny!

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  19. Thank you! I'm glad you love my blog! My blog loves being loved! :)

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  20. This is so funny!! I love the drawings!

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  21. Thanks Julie! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  22. Nursing students self-diagnose as well. The only difference is that we're used to having poop caked on our hands.
    Your cartoons are awesome and I laughed so much during this post! You're fantastic!

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  23. Thanks so much, Sandra! Glad you liked it! :)

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