It’s mental health awareness month, so I have chosen to share this piece, written last year, at the tail end of my battle with some acute OCD symptoms. I lost some months to this illness, and I am one of the lucky ones. People have lost years, lifetimes caught in it’s grasp.
Don’t Feed the Monster
It arrives out of nowhere, and since I don’t recognize it for what it is, it drags me under. For a while now it’s been all murky darkness down here, but I’m making my way back. I’m beginning now to glimpse where the sun’s rays disperse just below the water’s surface. I can reach out and touch the particles illuminated by their light. The monster is still here of course. Sometimes he tugs at my ankle, makes snarling noises in the dark, but I feel him getting weaker. I’m almost home.
When I wake up The Morning the Monster Arrives I have plans to meet up with my sisters at a local coffee shop. The tea and conversation is nice. There are cookies, laughs. Lizzy skins her knee. And after a few hours we hug goodbye. I get into my car, turn on the radio, and have a thought.
We all have strange thoughts. Thoughts that don’t align with our person. Usually, if we notice them at all it’s to wonder at their weirdness, and then most of us move on. But for the one percent who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder it doesn’t work that way.
OCD thoughts are often violent, sexually inappropriate, or otherwise grossly immoral. Some sufferers are tortured by the idea that everything is contaminated, believing they must take drastic precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones. Some are petrified that they might lose control over their body, and harm themselves or others. Many can’t be convinced that they’ve locked the doors, or turned off the stove no matter how many ways they examine the evidence. These thoughts can be described as images, as an inner voice, or even as urges.
On this particular day mine is a strange, meandering feeling of a thought. A thought that, by the time I reach home, has grown out in all different directions. What if? It whispers. What if it all means nothing? And so begins my struggle with philosophical OCD.
I become consumed with thoughts about nihilism, existentialism, and perhaps most frightening of all, solipsism. Does any of this even exist? I spend whole days feeling depersonalised. I hold my children close for reassurance that I still love them, that they still matter. I listen to music to check that I can still feel. I’m afraid that I can’t love. The irony of course is that my debilitating fear is an intense expression of love in itself. And the feeling is so consuming it’s absurd to believe this is anything more than a manifestation of that fierce, protective love, however broken and lost.
From one moment to the next, nowhere is safe. I am a dust mote in space. The world is no longer a given. I am nobody in infinite nothingness. I’m trapped in my own mind where an endless ping pong game is taking place between the thoughts and their opposition. I sleep more than I should, afraid to be awake. And each morning their is a brief peace while my mind searches for the thing it fears. I seek reassurance from friends and family, and my days are consumed with bizarre google searches that only feed the monster. I do some exposure therapy. Which is shorthand for a medieval therapy technique by which I expose mysef to my fears repeatedly until I become desensitised to them.
Sometimes the existential thoughts grow quiet. That’s when I get a taste of the paralyzing world of harm OCD. The thoughts that find me on these days I can’t bring myself to share just yet.
The answer, as usual, is to live. To put one foot in front of the other. Wash the dishes. Fold the laundry. Make the beds. The solution is to choose not to engage the thoughts, to neither court nor combat them. Just let them be. Wash, fold, make.
Until one day, not too far from the other, I find myself breathless, wondering at the red sky, with the wind whipping about my hair and face. Then dizzy at a concert, the stars just beginning to show their faces, listening to a gorgeous man singing about love. It’s here that I am briefly sure of what I know. So that minutes later, when the monster tugs at my ankle, I am a little less afraid. Wash, fold make.
Your heart says not again
What kind of mess have you got me in
But when the feeling’s there
It can lift you up andtake you anywhereBut the gravel beneathyouand the limbs aboveIf anybody asks youwhere your coming fromSay love, say for me loveSay love, say for me love-The Avett Brothers