Friday, January 05, 2007

OCD and Multiple Choice

P: When did your OCD start?
G: I have had several bouts of OCD that have varied in severity throughout my life. As a 4 or 5 year old I can remember washing my hands a lot and asking my mom if I had germs on a more than regular basis. Anything out of the ordinary would set off a germ panic. Sometimes it was the site of unclean food, other times a deformed person or even a general feeling of being unclean. I would wash and wash again. Until I felt comfortable that I was pure. Purity would be obtained but only briefly.

P: But this particular obsession would then disappear with time?
G: It would subside and in fact fool me into believing that it had disappeared but thinking back it never really did. I have always been worried about cleanliness and germs. Its just that at some times in my life this worry would develop into debilitating OCD.

P: What would trigger it to reappear with severity?
G: A single event normally during a moment of weakness and unease with myself. I remember in Grade 9 (Standard 7 in the South African system), I was placed in a class with a really tough group of kids. Some of the bully boys in the class were into the habit of spitting on their potential victims. Naturally as a victim I was the recipient of such unwanted saliva. Right on my hand. What was worse was that I had to go to class right away and couldn’t venture to the washroom to clean myself up (Lateness in the neo-fascist South African school system was not tolerated). I wiped the spit off with some kleenex, but I knew it was there. Eating away at my skin and spreading germs. I couldn’t concentrate I was freaking out. When I did get the chance to go to the wash room I cleaned my hands thoroughly, scrubbed them like a fanatic but I still was not a 100% sure that I had destroyed the saliva-germs. I was obsessing but the fear was very real. So real that it catalyzed the recently dormant hand washing ritual back into action. This bout of OCD would haunt me for 5-6 months.

P: What other types of OCD bothered you in the early part of your life?
G: Order. I needed to order my books and toys into a sequence or pattern that I felt comfortable with. Books had to be arranged from largest to smallest. Any break in that order would leave me with a sense of unease, that ‘things’ were not quite right.

P: But you outgrew that obsession, didn’t you ?
G: I have for all intent of purpose. However I still from time to time need to ensure that whatever is meaningful to me on a material level is ordered correctly. Specifically the books I write and read. But it’s not an obsession anymore to the extent that it once was.

P: You also had OCD surrounding multiple choice exams. Explain that.
G: It’s a common fear that many have its just that OCD suffers take it to an extreme. After writing a multiple choice exam, I kept obsessing that I had missed a line in my answers out of pure negligence so that all answers after that point were incorrect as they corresponded to the wrong line number. If it was conceivable than in my mind it happened. I had studied and worked hard to learn the material but had blown the whole ‘shebang’ by erring in the simple filling out process. I don’t know how many exams I had ‘failed’ in my mind because of that but multiple choice was always a nightmare. Of course in reality looking back on my academic career all such worrying amounted to nothing. I never once erred in such a horrendous manner.

P: But you hate multiple choice for more than just the reason mentioned above. Why is that ?
G: I feel it is a ridiculous way to test. It doesn’t test what you know but rather how to eliminate alternatives. There is no creativity in multiple choice. The information is in front of you now its up to you as the testee to eliminate. Unfortunately it is very popular in North America as a result of the ease at which it allows for grading. This is a very sad phenomenon, indicative of the ‘numeration’ of our lives.

P: what do you mean by the numeration of our lives ?
G: I mean the process underlying modern western society of turning all and everyone into a number for easy processing. It’s a dehumanization phenomenon. Multiple Choice with its intolerance for human error
is a typical example thereof.
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