I didn’t know whether to call this post “O” Brother or “O” Well. The “O” is the important part of the title. It’s the O in OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve got that one. And not the cute kind as seen on TV. Not the neatnik variety from shows like Monk. My OCD, when active, is messy, distressing.
Compulsions. I’m not sure I’ve really got these. If there’s anything I feel compelled to do, I blame it on Tourette Syndrome. Thigh punching, tooth scraping, eye rolling. These are actions I need to perform, but I see them as tics, not compulsions. I don’t check the locks seven times, I don’t flip the light switch four times before going to bed. Not anymore. Those habits died when I went to college. When I started to drink heavily.
My OCD is all about obsession. Like a scratched record, like an audio-file set to loop, I keep repeating the same thought. If something’s bothering me, it’s bothering me all the time., continually. It can be a simple thought: I’m a loser! I’m a loser! I’m a loser!
Or it can be a complex series, a hierarchy with dependencies and outcomes: My job is affecting my health — I need to quit my job — I’ll be unemployed — I’m too old to land a new position — I won’t be able to find another job, a local job, at the right salary — I’ll disrupt my life — I’ll be destitute — I’m a loser! — Repeat.
Which is worse? Who knows.
Yes, these thoughts are in my head right now, but not a lot, not continually like they once were. I take medicine. The pills I take to suppress my Tourettes tics—and I do need to suppress those—also lessen the OCD.
Since I’ve been out of work, I’ve been getting things done at home. Not just job hunting, although that’s going well, but household chores. Many of the things Susan used to do in her off-time. Her breaks between massages. Dishes, cleaning, appliance repair appointments, running the kids here and there. As a result, Susan has more time as well.
This weekend, she took some of that time and cleaned out her side of the closet. We’ve got a huge closet. One of the odd things about our little, suburban ranch house is that the last owner renovated the master bedroom. They added a bathroom (necessary), and they doubled the size of the bedroom. We’ve got too much space. Our bed is by the entryway to the room. Way on the other side of the room is the closet and the bathroom. In between, nothing. No dressers, these all fit inside the giant closet. We’ve tried various set ups over the years: a yoga studio, a meditation area, office space, a reading nook, household storage. Nothing has stuck. So now it’s just a lot of open space.
But that big closet, we’ve filled that up. The dressers and the shelves are full. By cleaning out, Susan was trying to reclaim some of her space.
If you have something you don’t use, the best thing to do is stick it in the closet. On my side, I have swimming gear I haven’t used for seven years, a memory box, every magazine that contains one of my stories, and Eli’s old BB gun. On Susan’s side: her wedding dress and shoes, various outfits she doesn’t wear, boxes of Eli’s old toys that he wasn’t ready to jettison when they were packed three years ago, and a big box of surgical masks.
Actually, the surgical masks are mine. Back to the OCD. Remember the swine flu? Also known as the Mexican flu or scientifically as H1N1, it was the 2009 pandemic that killed people around the globe. My steady diet of Post-Apocalyptic literature taught me to be prepared for this exact circumstance. I began hoarding food, and I stocked up on bacteria filtering surgical masks—two hundred of them. When the flu took hold in America, when thirty percent of our population succumbed to its deadly grip, my family would survive. That’s what I thought. We would have the food to out-last the societal collapse and rebound, and we’d be respiratorily protected when we went out in public.
As Susan dragged out the surgical masks, my kids had loads of questions. Why did you get those? What are you going to do with them now? How much did they cost? That last question is a good one. Much of that food I bought ultimately expired, and we pitched it. I know there’s a well-documented process to keep your supplies from spoiling. Mormons all over the world do this. They’re instructed to keep a year’s supply of food—for the rapture, not the flu. You eat the old food, replace it with some new. It’s pretty simple, but I didn’t do that. I just bought the food and lined it up on a basement shelf. Three years later it was garbage. And the same goes for those surgical masks.
These purchases were fueled by obsessive thoughts. A late-night mantra keeping me from sleep: the simple one: I don’t want my family to die! I don’t want my family to die! I don’t want my family to die! And the more complex one: Four of us, no marketable skills in a post-technological society, basement sump pumps that rely on electricity will fail, our house will become a swamp, our young children need care we won’t be able to provide, disaster will befall me.
I also had a plan to hoard thousands of dollars in coins. And go solar, off the grid. I never got started on those before my obsessions moved on to the next catastrophe. But at the on-set of the H1N1 pandemic, I made a plan to survive.
I’ve been on my medication for about fifteen months. Without obsessive thoughts, life is so much easier. I worry about real problems for normal amounts of time. I am less concerned about things I can’t control (like a pandemic). I fall asleep and stay asleep all night. The old me is so far distant, it was almost funny when Susan pulled out that box.
Now, anyone know of a market to sell eight-year-old surgical masks? O, wait…nevermind.
A version of this post was previously published on jefftcann and is republished here with permission from the author.
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