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.|
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.