When I was in sixth grade I was captivated by USA Network’s hit show “Monk.” The show chronicles the antics of a former detective whose life is run by his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Many of his symptoms, such as photographic memory, various phobias, social deficiencies, hypersensitivity, routines, and, of course, obsessions and compulsions, served as keys to solving difficult cases. Monk’s logical thinking provided him with a different viewpoint than any other policemen on the force.
The more I watched the show the more I began to identify with many of Monk’s symptoms. Just like Monk I had trouble in social situations, I was very sensitive to touch and sound and lights, I had phobias, and a few routines and rituals of my own. I felt a strong connection with the character “Adrian Monk,” and it was that which kept me engaged in the show. At this point I had not been professionally evaluated for any diagnosis–I was just thought to be “weird.” I started to think that maybe I too had OCD.
My thoughts did not come up into conversation, though, until ninth grade when I started to suffer from high anxiety and debilitating panic attacks. I finally brought up my self-diagnosis, and my parents brought me to a psychiatrist who agreed and diagnosed me with OCD. I was content with that diagnosis and began treatment until mid-way through tenth grade when a new series premiered on A&E called “Obsessed,” which followed the treatment of several real-life OCD patients. I thought it would be interesting to see how other OCD-sufferers dealt with their disorders, so I Tivo-ed a few episodes. Oddly enough I did not feel the same connection that I felt with “Monk.” The people on “Obsessed” were nothing like me.
I began to question my original hypothesis. The people on “Obsessed” did not have the same social awkwardness as me. I did not share hypersensitivity or logical thinking with them either. In fact, I felt distant from the people on the show. I could not identify with them at all. I eventually came up with the Asperger’s diagnosis and brought that up to my psychologist and psychiatrist and they both agreed that that would make more sense.
For a long time I could not figure out how I could have made such a mistake in suspecting OCD. I’m just like Monk, Monk has OCD, therefore OCD must have been the answer. However, after I watched the episodes a little more closely, I realized that the faulty variable of the equation must be that Monk does not have OCD at all. I realized that the list of symptoms that I made at the beginning of this post: photographic memory, various phobias, social deficiencies, hypersensitivity, routines, obsessions, and compulsions, are more consistent with Asperger’s than they are with OCD.
Other evidence of Asperger’s Syndrome on “Monk:”
- Adrian Monk’s brother, Ambrose, also displays Asperger’s symptoms such as phobias, hypersensitivity, and social deficiencies. Asperger’s is known to run in families and occurs more often in males than females.
- Asperger’s typically revolves around a single obsession and the patient will do anything to learn more about the obsession (For example, a boy whose obsession is trains will constantly read books about trains) while OCD has many preoccupations (obsessions and compulsions) which are performed because of an obsession (For example, a woman may brush her teeth in stroke intervals of five for fear that if she does not her child may die). Asperger’s has a logical root while OCD is based upon irrational thoughts. Throughout the series, Monk is constantly searching for clues to his wife’s murderer and will not feel fulfilled until he has solved her murder. This is a logical process typical of Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Asperger’s Syndrome is often accompanied by other mental disorders, most commonly ADHD or OCD. Even if Monk has Asperger’s it is very plausible he could have OCD symptoms.
- Monk is very reluctant to change anything in his life–he gets upset if furniture is moved, he will not move his apartment, and he is very preoccupied with things “staying where they belong.” Although these may seem like obsessive compulsive rituals they would be better explained by Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Monk has a photographic memory and an encyclopedic memory, which are savant skills in some people with Asperger’s Syndrome. They are not often associated with OCD.
- We discover in many episodes of the series that Monk has many different sensitivities: He feels uncomfortable if he is not wearing the right suit, he became intoxicated after a single sip of wine, bright lights hurt his eyes, he has an acute sense of hearing, and he will not drink water unless it is his favorite brand–Sierra Springs. Hypersensitivity is a symptom of Asperger’s.
- Change in routine upsets Monk and brings out his symptoms–when his wife died his symptoms were thrown into overdrive, and when his therapist died his hypersensitivity became very acute. While these could be symptoms of OCD, they are definitely symptoms of Asperger’s.
- Monk tends to notice small details and often overlooks the “big picture” because he is so focused on small details. This is consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I guess the Obsessive Compulsive Detective isn’t really Obsessive-Compulsive after all.