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THE HUMAN CONDITION / THAT NAGGING FEELING : OK, What Did You Forget This Time?

October 27, 1992|SUSAN JAQUES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Relaxation is just a runway away . . . .

Yet rather than bask in vacation fantasies of windsurfing and pineapple-filled pina coladas, your thoughts turn to . . .

The coffee maker . Did you remember to turn it off or will it melt and torch the house?

If the house does burn down, did you mail the fire insurance premium? And while you're thinking of mail, what are the chances the post office will really stop delivery? Or will burglars notice a brimming mailbox, break in and help themselves to a cup of coffee?

We all wonder if we've left things right--especially on the home front, where more is at stake than, say, leaving a sweater at a restaurant, experts say. For some, such worrying is tied to a need to have things under control. For others, worrying is a result of distraction and disorganization.

"That nagging feeling is like a nagging child pulling at you," says West Los Angeles psychiatrist Mark Goulston. "It's a voice saying, 'You forgot something.' "

That voice pays regular visits to nursery-school teacher Tammy Haylock. "Every time I leave the house, I know I've forgotten something," she admits. "I say to myself, 'There's something not here. There's something I forgot.' "

On nursery-school graduation day, that something was a pink makeup case. "I realized I (had forgotten) the bag when we stopped for refreshments an hour into our trip," recalls Haylock. "I had to buy a new toothbrush and deodorant."

Others forget things--thereby bringing on that nagging feeling--because they are interrupted, overwhelmed or disorganized. And having kids can make things worse.

"Children are always interrupting, and their unending neediness makes it very difficult to complete a thought," Goulston says. "Some couples who may nostalgically remember a four-week trip to Europe can't make it through a three-day weekend with the kids."

According to Paula Stoessel of UCLA's Anxiety Disorders clinic, constant checking--which is a way to head off that nagging feeling at the pass--manifests itself in different ways.

The person who doesn't like to waste anything triple-checks to make sure the lights and water are off; the person concerned about safety constantly checks the oven.

But sometimes all the retracing steps in the world can't stop the feeling that something is not right.

*

Former navy flight surgeon and Persian Gulf War veteran James Hazlehurst was recently sent on a search and destroy mission shortly after the family vacation started.

His target? A quart of skim milk.

"We were gone a total of 10 minutes when I started to feel really guilty about the milk in the garbage," explains Hazlehurst's wife, Janice.

"I tried to give the carton to our neighbors, but no one was home. I started envisioning the smell and the garbage men being offended, and I knew it was going to bother me all week. So I sent Jim back to pour out the milk and rinse the carton."

This isn't just a case of crying over spilled milk. Last summer vacation, raccoons entered a hole in the Hazlehurst's garage in Chico and pulled all the food from the freezer.

"It looked like a Hitchcock movie," shudders the mother of three. "It was about 100 degrees outside, and there were maggots and rancid food everywhere."

But Janice Hazlehurst admits that even before the raccoon run-in, she always imagined the worst-case scenario: "Before I go to bed at night, I go through the kitchen and check the ovens. I'm the compulsive, neurotic one."

*

In his 4 1/2 years shuttling travelers to LAX, Airport Flyer driver Ron Behrman has made his share of U-turns. Recently, Behrman picked up a Canoga Park woman and her children for an early morning flight.

Five miles from their home, the mother asked if the son had turned off the pool water and if the daughter had switched off the dishwasher.

"The woman was afraid the new dishwasher would flood the kitchen floor, so she asked me to turn around. She went inside, shut off the machine and then came back and raised heck with her daughter," says Behrman. "They always yell at the kids."

*

As hard as we try to be organized, we can never remember everything. Just ask Dan and Linda Friedman of Orinda. Last July, they took off for the Sierra with four kids, a grandmother and two cars. In all the commotion, their beloved Labrador retriever was marooned in the dining room.

"The neighbor from across the street was to come over to our back yard daily to feed and walk Blackie and give her fresh water," explains Dan Friedman, an accountant. "Well, he comes and looks for her, and she's inside the locked house."

Fortunately, the youngster averted a canine version of "Home Alone" by climbing through a bedroom window. "This year, we gave him our phone number and keys to the house," says Friedman. "We also checked to see that Blackie was outside."

The family has also finally learned how to deal with that doggone nagging feeling.

"We've solved the problem," boasts Friedman. "We just go back in the house five times before leaving the driveway."

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