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Searching for Ted Bundy

(The DSM-IV does not mention, in the diagnostic criteria for OCD, paranoia.
It seems to come along with the rest, however.)

I can’t remember what brought me down to the empty and uncomfortable
room in the lobby of the dorm. There was a TV there;  I didn’t have one in my room.
The chairs were the connected kind, with wood armrests between each seat. Room for one only. Maybe that’s why no one was ever in the TV room in the lobby of the dormitory in which I lived.

It was 4 a.m., and though there was no cable, you could still catch a late night movie on the network channels. Crappy movies, usually, ones you’d never heard of.
Movies barely entertaining enough to keep your attention for more than a minute.

Insomnia and bad films go together. Fit like a glove.

What a bizarre experience it is, that first semester at college, that first time you move out semi-on-your-own. Small windowless rooms, community showers, wide steps that smelled so familiar I can still remember them.  No elevators; what an absolute pain it was, carrying up clothes, books.  The fifth floor was the best, though:  it was the top floor and there were only five rooms.  Only ten girls to share the bath with.  Roomier rooms, and windows right across the hall that looked out over  campus. Who were all those other girls?  I was so unfriendly, kept mostly to myself, so I only knew the girls right next door to us.  My roommate and I had the room at the end of the hall, right next to the stairs. She wasn’t my original roommate:  the girl I was assigned to live with was friends with a girl on the first floor, so a room switch
was arranged.  The new girl and I got along well, better than well.  Until she  got pregnant and ruined everything.  No, no, it wasn’t her fault, not really.  It’s just that when she dropped out due to morning sickness during chem labs, that’s when my trouble began.

We did the normal college routine:  ate fast food, drank all the time,
did homework at the last minute.  Smoked clove cigarettes, because in those days, you could still smoke in buildings, in your own room.  Some girls thought we were smoking something else, though how they confused the sweet nearly cloying smell of cloves with the more herbal smell of marijuana, I’ll never know.  We got caught drinking Chambord in our room by the RA.  We covered the ceiling of the room with black cloth and painted peace signs and song lyrics on it with bright spray paint. We listened to R.E.M. over and over again, to figure out exactly what the enigmatic Stipe was saying.  We wore tights with old denim shorts and skirts and we rummaged secondhand stores for old grandpa looking sweaters.  With alligators on them.

We had no TV in our room, and that’s why, late at night, I’d be in the lobby, after  she left.

I can’t remember when I saw “The Deliberate Stranger,” but in my mind, it is associated with that first semester of college.  I’d like to say I saw it one sleepless night, one of those nights after my roommate dropped out and left me in that room alone, but I can’t be sure.  All I know is that the film and the experience are tied together.

One of Bundy’s last stops:  A college in Florida, a sorority house I think.
Murdered two women and injured two others, middle of the night, no warnings.

This fact stuck in my head:  I was living on a college campus, in a small
town, on a floor with few girls on it.  The doors in the first floor lobby were always unlocked. There were no doors on the floors, just stairs and open entrances.

My roommate, pregnant and constantly sick or sleeping, left me in the fall of 1989.

For  two months, I would sleep only two hours each morning.

It began innocently enough:  I was stressed out due to exams, papers, the
normal stuff, all within reason. I smoked a lot, I ate chocolate donuts, I didn’t get enough sleep.  Big deal. I was twenty and had no worries.  Staying up until 3 am and going to class at 9 am was common.

Then there began to be a problem with the closet.  And the bed.  And all the noises in the dorm.  The closet:  I had to check it repeatedly each night. I would go to bed, and then I would get up and open the door, heart pounding, move all the hanging clothes around, making sure. I would go back to bed I would get up and  check the closet I would go back to bed…. Well you can see what I mean.

And under the bed:  ridiculous.  Tiny, hard, girl-sized bed, with not enough room underneath for me, much less a man, or a person weighing more than say, ninety pounds. Didn’t matter, had to be checked.

And the noises:  What went on in this place at night? Every noise, in my
head, was him.  It was Ted Bundy, and he was coming for me. Didn’t matter if he was in jail or executed, or whatever had happened after his trial:  I was sure it was him.

My routine, for the rest of the semester:

Stay awake all night, ’til the sun comes up. Around 7 am.
Have girls next door wake me for class.
Have girls next door bang on my door, call me, anything to wake me.
Sleep 7 am to 9 am.
Miss 9 am class for two weeks.

I left school early in the next semester, the insomnia was just too much.
The paranoia was too much.  After a few months, I was back to normal.

That was just a preview:  That was a taste of what was to come. That was
only the smallest hint. Checking behaviors, paranoia:  these were signs.

Too bad that it has taken so long to get a show like “Obsessed” on the air.  Not that I could have watched it when my OCD was at its worst– I would have avoided it, most likely.  Watching it now, I am reminded again and again that OCD is such a devastating, life-changing disorder.  I feel so deeply for each and every person on the show; my empathy runs deep for them.

And why shouldn’t it?  When I was diagnosed 14 years ago, no one had ever even heard of OCD:  I’d never heard of it.  I had no idea that when I started avoiding cracks in the sidewalk for fear of ‘something bad happening’ that millions of others were also experiencing similar insanities.  Imagine, walking to class one day, on a sidewalk you’d walked on a thousand times, suddenly having this elementary-school rhyme pop into your head and stay; not only stay, but give you the worst anxiety you’d ever felt?  The absolute belief that if you DID indeed step on one crack, something bad would happen to a family member?

When I saw Karen checking under her bed, I felt a familiar pang.  Years before my life was actually taken over by OCD, I had an isolated incident of checking behaviors.  I do them now, still, on most nights.  I have this tiny apartment, I know that no one can actually fit under my bed, yet I have to check.  In 1989, I lived in a dorm room for one semester.  I had to drop out of college because I could not sleep at night:  I had thoughts of someone being in my room.  I had thoughts of Ted Bundy (even though he was either in jail or dead, not sure which, didn’t matter) coming into my dorm and murdering me.  I could not go to sleep until the sun was up; I slept two hours each night, then got up and went to class.  Every night, I checked the closets, under the bed, over and over again.  It didn’t matter how many times I checked, my mind would not let the thoughts go.  When I did sleep, I slept with the lights on.

So, I dropped out of college.  I couldn’t handle going on two hours of sleep each night; I was literally physically and mentally exhausted.  I did go back, to another university, a few years later.  That’s when the OCD really hit me.

Anyway, back to the show.  Again, both Russ and Karen have had some kind of trauma or loss in their lives.  Both suffered either repeated trauma and or loss of loved ones.  This is a common theme, and it just reinforces the belief I hold that some kind of trauma or stress will bring out OCD.

Russ stated that he became attached to things because he no longer had the people to care about– he associated objects with people he had lost in his life.  We all do this– we all keep mementos, reminders of events or people.  But as he said, letting go is necessary.  I liked the therapist’s approach of one room at a time– I’ve heard that it’s hard for hoarders to do anything about their hoarding because they don’t know where to start.  The task is so overwhelming that they just never begin.

Again, no mention of meds on the show.  Impressive, considering that most therapists want to throw pills at the problem instead of doing the really hard and necessary work.  CBT takes hard work, but it works— it helps more than any other therapy for OCD.  CBT helps the patient, not the drug companies.   14 years ago, when I was first diagnosed, the recent grad who had diagnosed me said that OCD was his specialty in college.  He then gave me a bunch of scripts and brochures.  He never mentioned CBT.  Thank fuck things have changed.

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