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Life’s Longest Ride

SunsetOn those lengthy holiday trips, how many of you played 20 questions? Among bickering siblings, 20 questions was a clever way for your parents to regroup following the latest kid meltdown.

But for OCD sufferers, 20 questions is more than fun and game(s). It represents something more sinister.

Ever had a bizarre, violent thought? You furrowed your brow and likely wondered, “Where did that come from?” But within seconds, you dismissed the puzzling thought — perhaps chalking it up to your vivid imagination.

But for the OCD sufferer, the foreboding thought tortures. As our mind spits out one baffling thought after another, we default into judge and jury mode. “What does this thought mean about me?” and “Maybe I want to commit this atrocious act?” and “What does it say that I would have this hideous thought?” 20 questions turns into 33 and 58 and 72 questions. And, sadly, our minds cannot find a reasonable answer for the unreasonable thoughts.

Insert reassurance — and its neon, Vegas-like temptation.

For OCDers, reassurance is more addictive than the most potent drug. It settles our spinning minds — for a second. But just a second. As we celebrate our mind’s stillness, a new worry pummels us. Our tranquility shattered, we compulsively scratch the latest itch. As family and friends can attest, we crave reassurance like a fiendish addict.

Reassurance, however, is a temporary balm; it soothes without solving. There is always a lingering question — a vexing “what if?” clouding your logical mind. But reassurance is more than a futile quest for certitude; it results in delayed decision-making and, sadly, a life riddled with  agonizing self-doubt.  

Afflicted with the doubting disorder, we speak in hypotheticals — specializing in “yes but” answers. Distrusting our mind (how can it simultaneously deconstruct obtuse arguments and spew such vitriol?), we surmise that it is safer to delay under the guise of analyzing. In reality, inaction becomes our action. And in our quest for the perfect decision, we forget that pretty good can be perfection.

As 2016 becomes a blurry haze of Times Square confetti, I am slowly training myself to accept life’s uncertainty. There will always be doubts and dubieties. I can continuously chase reassurance — or instead chase life’s spontaneous bursts of joy. Yes, we have a choice — to stumble in the morass of self-doubt or acknowledge the doubt for what it is: a doubt. Nothing more; nothing less.

For those OCD sufferers gnashing their teeth in agony, I understand the unquenchable thirst for certitude. But some questions are unanswerable. And that, my friend, is the best answer for the vexing 21st and 33rd and 58th question.

Life’s Longest Ride

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Life’s Longest Ride. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.