Content note: OCD, in some detail.
Internet, we have to talk.
A preference, even a strong preference, for tidiness and organization is not “a bit OCD.”
Always running late because I have to check if I’ve turned off the stove, or locked the door, or closed my window is “a bit OCD,” especially on days when I haven’t either used the stove or opened my window, but I have to go back anyway, just in case. What if I opened the window and forgot about it? What if I opened the window last night and didn’t close it before bed? What if…
Sometimes the thought strikes before I’m even out the door. Those are the best, because they’re easiest to fix. I walk through the house, saying, “off, closed, locked” and pointing to the stove, the window, the door as I go. “Check, check, check.”
Usually, it hits me at the intersection near the barber shop. “Oh, shit. Did I…?” and then I have to turn around on blisteringly hot summer days and trudge back, or run, shivering in the icy winter, back to my apartment to check. “Check, check, check.”
On really bad days, it occurs to me a stop or two away from my station, and then I’m really late. I have to wait for the next train back home, walk from station to apartment, “check, check, check.”
I’ve never left the stove on, the window open, or the door unlocked, but some days, I’m afraid that this is the day. This is the day my apartment building will burn down, or my papers will all blow away, or bandits will come in through my unlocked door like an invitation and take my laptop, my compass, my mom’s silk teacher scarf.
I have to go back and check. If I don’t, something bad will happen. So I go back, and I check, and I send apologetic text messages about forgotten train passes. It sounds better than the truth.
The truth is, I’m “a bit OCD.”
It’s only a bit OCD. My mental health problems aren’t debilitating, but they aren’t a picnic, either. The need to “check” fluctuates, as does what needs “checking.”
Lately, it’s my stove, windows, door, or how recently my mother posted to Facebook or emailed me back, and I have to end every conversation with some sort of promise or plan we’ll talk again soon. “Let me know what you want for Christmas” will do, because it’s implying that I’ll hear back from her. This is a major step in the right direction from when I was more than “a bit OCD.”
Back then, in high school, I had to end every parting with, “Goodbye, I love you, I’ll see you __________.” I’ll see you after school, at the library, when you get home from the grocery store, when I get home from the mall. I’ll see you.
This was not just “a bit OCD.” This was me hyperventilating and sobbing at school, calling my mom’s workplace from the secretary’s phone in the main office while curious onlookers, kids I didn’t know, watched out of the corner of their eyes, confused. We fought that morning, I hadn’t said it. Or maybe I had, but then I forgot? I couldn’t remember. I had to call and say it, just in case.
We heard a siren on our way to school. An ambulance passed by the bus. I didn’t think it was heading in the direction of my mom’s workplace, but I had to “check.”
If I didn’t, something bad would happen.
It wasn’t just “a bit OCD.”
It wasn’t just “a bit OCD” when, during undergrad, I had to keep saying the Lord’s Prayer or God would kill my cat. I said it over and over again to myself, all day and all night. I wasn’t allowed to think certain thoughts, say anything unkind, fail to hold open a door or pick up a stray napkin and chuck it in the bin, because if I racked up enough strikes against me, enough bad karma, God would kill my cat.
I don’t even believe in God.
My cat passed away that summer.
It wasn’t because I thought something mean about a stranger on the train. It wasn’t because I only said the Lord’s Prayer because I don’t know the whole Rosary, the Hail Mary. God didn’t kill my cat. She passed away because she was old, and sick, and that’s what happens to pets when they get old, and sick, and even all the Hail Marys in the world couldn’t have saved her.
When I held her in my lap on the day the vet came, I knew that was the last time, and I knew I hadn’t killed her with my bad deeds, because that doesn’t even make sense. I knew that then, and I knew it in the months leading up to that moment. I knew that it didn’t make sense, but how could I live with myself if I slipped up and put my recycleables in the trash bin and God killed my cat to teach me a lesson about sustainability? I had to be careful, just in case, even if it didn’t make sense.
But OCD doesn’t make sense. OCD tries to make sense out of a senseless universe. Even knowing that it doesn’t make sense, you have to “check.”
This is what it’s like to be “a bit OCD.” No matter how senseless, embarrassing or strange, there are some things I have to “check.” I know I locked the door, but I have to “check.” There’s nothing I can do about the exchange rate, but I have to “check.” Mom hasn’t posted on Facebook for a few days, so I have to “check.” In my last email, did I say or imply that I wanted to hear from her?
If not, time to think up an excuse that doesn’t sound crazy, doesn’t make her worry, so I can sign off with, “Talk to you soon!”
That’s “a bit OCD.”