"I'm so OCD!" Or...maybe you're not.
Sigh...everyone with OCD knows the frustration of that phrase. "I'm so OCD!" No, you're probably not. OCD, of course, stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. And actually having it means just what the name says. People who have OCD have obsessive thoughts that intrude their minds. They often can't get rid of these obsessive thoughts unless they perform some type of a compulsive behavior.
Often, people assume OCD means you're really organized and clean and like things neat and tidy. A large portion of my OCD does revolve around cleaning and sanitizing, but...I'm one of the most disorganized people in the world. I mean, it's really bad. My house is usually a mess. My desk is a mess. I couldn't care less about things being tidy and organized. Nope.
In addition to my obsessive thoughts about germs and compulsion to clean, I also have other intrusive thoughts (worries, I call them) that make it difficult to focus at times. It's not all about cleaning and hand-washing!!!
This manuscript is based on a time in my life when my OCD was debilitating. I've gotten it under control since then, and it no longer consumes my life as it does for the main character, Vera, in this book, but there was a time when it was really, really bad.
I thought I'd share this snippet of my work-in-progress in order to help people realize what it's really like to have OCD, at least for me. THIS IS ONLY REPRESENTATIVE OF MY OWN EXPERIENCES!!! It in no way encompasses everyone's OCD experiences. They're quite varied!
To set the scene for this snippet, the main character, Vera, is at the hospital with her mom and little sister, Natalie. They're about to start the car ride back home to Indianapolis from Cincinnati, and Vera is going to use the hospital bathroom before they leave. She hasn't had anything to drink all day for fear of having to use a public restroom, but, at this point, she'd rather go before they leave than have to use a rest stop, which she considers the epitome of disgusting.
At this point, she was waiting for her mom to come out of the bathroom, and she's about to go in. I hope this helps readers to understand OCD a little bit more!
Excerpt from ONE SINGLE YESTERDAY:
I pass by Mom without a word as she makes her way toward my sister. My chest is stuck in a vise and each of my steps crank it one notch tighter until I can’t breathe at all. I wonder if anyone in this hospital (and they’re everywhere, doctors, nurses, parents, people in suits who look like they’re selling something) has any idea what’s happening to my body. Of course they don’t. How would they know, and why would they care? If they did, they’d think I was some sort of freak.
And they’d be right.
The bathroom’s only a few feet away and my stomach’s flipping like I'm plunging the hill of a roller coaster. Who gets nervous to use the bathroom?
Don’t over-analyze. Don’t look around. Don’t over-analyze. Don’t look around. Don’t over-analyze. Don’t look around.
My therapist, Dr. Charles, would want me to use one of my exercises right now. To visualize being in some relaxing landscape on the beach or some shit. She has no idea I visualize all the time, only not how she told me to. I visualize my life before this happened to me, back when I was normal. That won’t help me now, though. I have to use the bathroom.
Don’t over-analyze. Don’t look around.
I loop the words in my head like some sort of creepy catchphrase as I curl the index finger of my left hand between the handle and door. I’m not left-handed, but this way, I can keep from using this finger until I get the chance to wash on the way out. The door swings open and that bathroom smell wafts over me. It’s mostly tossed toilet water with a mixture of excrement and maybe, on a good day, a light touch of disinfectant. It curdles my stomach.
Every nerve ending in my left index finger ignites into this awareness. My entire body focuses on it. It’s not burning or tingling or anything, it’s just very there. I’m aware of what it’s doing at all times, and right now, it’s sticking straight out from my fisted hand, only to be used for dirty business.
The room’s empty, including all five stalls. I do a check to see if there’s a stall for people with disabilities. They equal more room, which equals less likelihood that I’ll accidentally touch a wall. There’s a bigger stall on the end, so I cross the bathroom with my hands clenched (except for that finger) at my sides until I reach the door.
Damnit. That vise turns a few cranks tighter.
OUT OF ORDER, according to a piece of paper taped on the door. I turn and empty my lungs with an exhale as I stare down the other four stalls. I’d better hurry before someone else comes in and sees me standing here like I’ve lost my mind, trying to figure out how to go to the bathroom.
My mom’s probably wondering what the hell’s taking so long. I use that trusty, dirty left index finger to push open the door of the next stall and step in, angling my body to the side so I’ll fit between the door and the toilet paper dispenser and not touch a thing. This is when being skinnier would really come in handy. Once I’m in, I close the door using that left finger and slide the lock into place
I pull a small bit of toilet paper from the dispenser and crumple it in my right hand as I start to pee. I’ve done a good job: haven’t used my left index finger, haven’t unnecessarily touched anything…so far so good.
Don’t over-analyze. Don’t look around.
I’m about ten seconds into hovering over the seat and peeing, when it happens. I break from my catchphrase and make the mistake of allowing my eyes to drift to the floor. And there it is.
What is that? Poop? Blood? Puke?
A few dark-colored spots litter the tile right between my feet. Exactly where I would have stepped when I walked into the stall.
It’s like my body stops when this happens. When I notice something really bad. There are these few seconds of numbness, no feeling at all. Then it switches to overdrive. Nausea controls my stomach as I hover there, finished peeing but unable to move, gaze still fixed on whatever the stuff is below me.
Then the burning starts. First in my chest, my heart, like it’s pumping fire. The heat spreads until it’s into my fingers and toes. The vise couldn’t get any tighter, squeezing me, squeezing me. Killing me.
I drop the toilet paper and pull up my pants, then stand and cover my face with my hands.
Why did this have to happen? Why does this always have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I have picked another stall? It had to be this one. Why? Why?
You shouldn’t have looked. If you’d kept your eyes off the floor, you never would have noticed anything. You always find something to worry about, like you seek it out!
And that’d be better? To step on whatever kind of disgusting nastiness is all over the floor and NOT notice? Track that crap into Mom’s car and her house and my apartment and
NOT know it?
You can’t worry about what you don’t know. Yes. It would be better.
No, it wouldn’t.
Yes, it would.
No, it wouldn’t.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
I grind my teeth and shove my face further into my hands until the joints of my fingers push into my eye sockets and all I can see is darkness with those weird spurts of whiteness that splatter all over the insides of my eyelids.
What now? What do I do now?
Get out of here, and take care of this when you get home. Clean these shoes off. Disinfect them. And disinfect everywhere they’ve been.
How the hell and I’m going to disinfect the floor of Mom’s car?
Tell her the truth. She’ll understand, right? Besides, she might not want these germs in her car anyway.
I pull my hands from my face, and I no longer have to search for which hand I’ll use to open the door. I’m going to wash my hands anyway, so it doesn’t matter. But, shit!
You put the index finger of your left hand on your face! You were freaking out about the crap on the floor so much, you completely forgot that you touched all these surfaces in here and then touched your face!
By the time I make it to the sink, I’m practically hyperventilating. A woman walks in and smiles at me before she goes into an empty stall. She doesn’t think twice. She doesn’t stand and try to figure out where to go. She doesn’t touch the door with only one finger.
I envy her.
I wash my hands, making sure to dig beneath my fingernails. I don’t wash them once. I wash them once, twice, three times. Hurrying as much as I can so that I finish before the lady in the stall reemerges and sees what I’m doing.
That awareness resurfaces, only this time it’s the left side of my face. It’s there. It’s so very, very there.
Without another thought, I lather one more pump of soap between my palms and rub it all over my closed left eye, left nostril, left side of my mouth, all the way to my jawline. Then I hold my hands beneath the water sensor again and splash my face until the soap’s off.
The mirror above the sink shows my reflection. I’ve become Two-Face from Batman. One half of me drips, black eyeliner smudged beneath my left eye, the hair rimming my face moist. The other half is normal. No. Not normal. No part of this is normal.
I used to be normal. But I’m not anymore.
I stumble my way out of the bathroom, and my mind amplifies with each step.
You’re not done. This isn’t over. You’re going to have to clean Mom’s floor mat, your floor mat, and Lysol the gas pedal and brake, the entryway of the apartment, the bottoms of your shoes, oh! and if you go into Mom’s house to help get Nat in, you’ll have to see if she’ll clean…
Into my own personal Hell.