I was not a vivacious child. I did not learn all the world’s instruments or play every sport known to man. I dabbled in gymnastics and quit when my best friend wouldn’t stop crying on the balance beam. I then switched to dance, which sucked even more, although I did enjoy the smooth sounds of the tap shoes I was gifted. My short-lived dance career ended quickly when I took up swimming, something I was finally good at. The only other thing I was good at? Having things my way. I was always a bit of a control freak, but that’s what I was good at, controlling.
Following high school, my learned ability to control these obsessions I was beginning to have, disappeared. I was once able to quiet my mind, but now I live in white noise.
I have OCD. Not the worst kind, I don’t need to shut doors three times or check the oven to make sure the light has switched off. I only talk to myself repeating the same vices when I’m drunk, and I’m pretty sure it’s for attention anyway. I do, although, need my bed set up in a specific way or I can’t fall asleep.
Directions (read carefully):
1. Comforter tucked on all edges, especially at the end.
2. Gray blanket splayed over the comforter.
3. Christmas blanket Mom received from wedding
perfectly laid out on top.
4. If cold, stay under comforter but on top of white
blanket that is below.
5. If hot, go between gray blanket and Christmas
blanket. The material is always cool.
6. Pillows must go white then tan on top.
7. Decoration pillow with coordinates must go in
the corner of the wall.
8. Partner’s flannel tucked under cheek.
9. Alarm set.
10. Medicine taken.
11. Turned on right side once, left side once, on
back once, then on stomach facing the right.
12. Fan must be on approximately sixty degrees.
There are only two other things I’m really particular about: my seat in my mother’s van and clutter. The seat is the one directly behind the passengers. I once cried for three and a half hours when my twin sister sat in my seat. I was fourteen. Partly because my father will drive and push back so far that the seat behind him has no feet space. Mostly because that’s where I grew up having my car seat, it was mine.
The other is clutter. I once spent an entire weekend watching and re-watching Marie Kondo’s documentary on Netflix so I could perfectly declutter and refold the clothing in all my drawers. My closet is set up so long sleeves and short sleeves are facing in opposite directions as if I would get confused as to what is what. All my hangers match. I only have one box full of childhood memories. My bedroom at home looks as if I have completely moved out. The one box lays under my bed.
1. A glass light bulb filled with notes.
2. A Christmas card from my first love.
3. A baseball picked up when I first fell in love.
4. My grandmother’s obituary.
5. A felt flag from the school I attended abroad.
6. A small bag from my first boyfriend.
7. And the remains from a bracelet he had given
8. A navy blue notebook filled with painful
That is my only clutter. Everything else I own has a purpose. The only decor sitting on my desk is my first article published at college, framed, a short stack of poetry books, a small sunflower painted woodblock, a rusted gold jewelry box, a picture frame with my partner and I, a speaker, and a cactus. I don’t own a junk drawer. My junk is in a drawer, in a basket, in bags, labeled, and dated.
My roommate has a mountain of notebooks, paper, and desk supplies flowing from her 20×20 personal desk space. Once her water bottle slightly straddled the corner of my desk, I moved it over an inch just so it wouldn’t touch. She wasn’t looking.
I was never very good with roommates. I grew up with a shared wall, but my own space. The little time I spent on the other side of the wall with my twin sister was easily ended with a slam of a door. Her specialty is Bipolar Disorder. Her room going in between HGTV level clean and to the point where no one could see her floor. However, her lack of order did not stress me out for it was contained between the four walls she called her own. I never knew the division of a four-inch mountain of plaster would contain my biggest anxieties.
My first roommate was at college. She was 5’ 2’’ and 102 pounds of pure mess. I used to joke that underneath her bed looked like an entrance to Narnia. I attempted to not let it bother me and placed great focus into decluttering my own space.
I used to throw out perfectly good knick knacks, decorations, or clothing items that simply didn’t fit the “vibe” I wanted to go for. I consistently wanted to replace all that I had bought coming to college. Instead of the bright blues, purples, and pinks I planned on my room illuminating, I wanted earth tones.
I once calculated how much money I spent on compulsively replacing items and it totaled out to $4056.34 in a year and a half. Every job I kept and every paycheck I was given was flitted away at things that shined. Despite every penny I spent, it was a healthier way of dealing with my compulsions than forcing them onto others.
Still, I used to clean my roommate’s side: making her bed and organizing the water bottles scattered underneath her box spring. I even organized her closet by color, something I find quite shameful to this day. I attempted to hide these passive aggressive efforts by buying her chocolate chip cookies from the on-campus convenience store when she came home from her late night class.
My next two roommates were clean, if not cleaner than I. They never left for class unless their comforters were perfectly pulled over their pillows. I watched their routines like someone begging in thirst, thriving off their order.
The routine went a little like this:
1. Alarm goes off.
2. Both roommates turn to side to get five more
minutes of sleep.
3. Alarm goes off again.
4. Slide out of bed.
5. Make bed.
6. Lay out clothing onto bed.
7. Leave room to brush teeth, shower, etc.
8. Pack backpack.
9. Neatly tuck used pajamas behind pillow.
10. Leave for class, two clicks to make sure the
door is locked.
Truthfully, I felt anxious to not have my bed made in front of them, worried about impressing them with my equality of efforts. Although tasks like washing dishes or doing laundry never satisfied my compulsions, I would constantly complete them just to keep my place within their daily routines. My therapist later told me this was feeding my OC tendencies. I learned to enjoy my pruned fingers after drying their massive collection of mugs.
It took me quite a while to talk about having repetitive and consistent tendencies with anyone, especially my therapist. I truly found enjoyment in how I felt after completing a task. In high school, it was fulfilled by my best friend Alicia. Her room had labeled boxes, shoes organized by color and category, and her consistent aesthetic was something I could only dream of. I occasionally wondered if I loved her as a best friend or my largest instigator.
In college, it is my best friend Becca. She rolls all her clothes like me and follows the unspoken laws of minimalism with ease. I will even catch her making her brightness and volume levels equal on her phone, just for satisfaction. She carries around a clipboard with a whiteboard taped on top, an extraordinarily long to-do list written on it. Her notes are color- coded, re-typed, and organized by subject. I sit in her bedroom in awe, taking mental notes on how I can up my own game.
No one talks about how good it feels to have OCD. How satisfying it feels to have everything in your corner match. To have your calendar perfectly in order. One on your computer the other on your desk. To feel at peace following a wave of compulsions is bliss. Maybe it is not the OCD that makes me feel good but the lack of. The single moment when you feel your brain quiet. When all the tasks, stressors, and problems weighing on your mind dissipate.
These moments don’t last long.
Weed helps, alcohol usually just promotes the problem. I used to really abuse Ativan, and can even admit to snooping through my roommates’ drawers when she mentioned having Percocet.
No one talks about what quiets OCD either. SSRIs are a blanket, your mother’s calming voice is a momentary hush. OCD doesn’t just quiet, you learn to be comfortable with it. The white silence becomes your normal. And I’m aware of how defeating, depressing, and at a loss that sounds. Somewhere I find comfort in my consistent passenger.
Consistent passenger was my nickname for what I was feeling for quite a long time. I wasn’t actually diagnosed with OCD until my sophomore year of college. I jumped between quite a few therapists in high school and early college, most saying I had PTSD from past trauma, and panic disorder just like my father. But I would only have panic attacks when things weren’t going my way. When the ideal plan or execution in my head became someone else’s. To feel out of control is my form of panic.
It was when I told my current psychiatrist my process before going to bed, she pulled off her glasses asking if I had ever had compulsions or recurring actions that calmed my anxiety and I. I knew what she was getting at right away. I am a psychology minor, received a five on my high school AP psychology exam, and have helped numerous friends with similar problems. But OCD was something lonely women with shut blinds on a poorly made documentary had. A college student with a bouncing leg issue and an organized life could never.
I’m not sure if I ever had a full understanding as to what OCD is until recently. Of course, my therapist described it as best she could in attempts to help me understand my circumstances, but what it was in general, it was an alien to my own body. Unlike generalized anxiety and even personality disorders that are ego-syntonic, OCD is a foreign invader. A rarity at only 1.2% of individuals carrying it throughout adulthood — mental compulsions can be aggressive, sexual, and overall contaminants. OCD is not fear of germs, of clutter, or of forgetting to turn off the oven. OCD is fear of your own thoughts, to feel guilt, and attempt to suppress thoughts to prevent action. But when the attempts to suppress backfire that is when compulsions develop. Instead of panic, a fear of recurrence appears.
OCD can be broken down into two primary sections: the obsessions and the compulsions. While the obsessions are the intrusive thoughts and impulses, compulsions are the behaviors that come from the thoughts. Compulsions are our way of coping with negative and horrific thinking: they are distractions, and as efficient as SSRIs. That is what makes coping so difficult, to make one stop the compulsions is to take away all forms of coping. Therapists can use rational emotive and psychoanalytic therapy to focus on perfection and control but that can only go so far. An individual’s real capabilities of getting better are more often seen in cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, in exposure and ritual prevention. But unlike most anxiety disorders, all exposure therapy is done with flooding of information, for you cannot control how much one thinks about something. That is why people often feel worse before any chance of feeling better.
Before I was prescribed my first SSRI in my senior year of high school I formed a compulsion, even today I still have not been able to get rid of. My abnormal psychology professor calls it excoriation: the constant and repetitive picking at the skin.
I detest lotion, the feeling of it on my body makes me cringe and want to shower until I’m raw. Because of this rejection, my feet are constantly cracking and dry, this makes it easy for me to pick at them. It’s a merry-go-round of actions.
The summer before my junior year of college, following several traumatic events and a mental health leave from college, I tore off 3⁄4 of the first layer of my skin on the bottom of my foot. To explain the excruciatingly painful yet satisfying emotions I felt in those months would be nearly impossible. I had to wrap and rewrap the broken skin with medical tape that was often bled through. I eventually started taping my socks to my ankles so I wouldn’t scratch at the skin. I simply moved to pick scabs off my thighs and butt. They would bleed constantly, staining my sheets, as a consistent reminder of my greatest flaw.
The days aren’t all so bad. Usually, the compulsions manifest themselves in my social media, making sure my Instagram feed matches. If one photograph is darker than the one next to it, I will spend numerous hours debating on its deletion.
When the days are bad, they’re bad. I, myself, have had a year where I didn’t kill myself, but I tried. And I know I’m not the only one.