what it feels like

I just had an OCD dream.  Is that even possible?

In it, my mom was talking about Halloween and beseeching me to guard myself against dark powers on that day (my mom is not generally a nut about these kinds of things, but she was very passionate in my dream), and I was telling her that I was protected because I have Christ … when I began to doubt my salvation.  In my dream. 

Weird.  Never have done that before.

And I woke up to those same old feelings of terror that dominated me for so long.

I was reading OCDTalk blog and read a post about what OCD felt like (the link will take you there).  She wrote:

* You have that feeling you get after swerving to avoid a potentially fatal car accident.

* You have that feeling you get when you take your eyes off of your child in a store for one minute, and then he/she is gone.

With the above examples, your physical and mental distress dissipates once the blackboard scratching stops, you avoid the accident, or you’ve located your child. But try to imagine having those feelings of intense anxiety repeatedly, perhaps hundreds of times a day. That is what some sufferers say life with severe OCD feels like.

Those were the two examples that resonated most with me– I wrote a couple things over the past three years trying to describe what OCD felt like.  Here’s a poem that reminds me of how I just woke up from my dream– the feeling that I’m trying to let drain out of me right now as I blog:

TERROR

 I remember in junior high when for Christmas I received
an old-fashioned alarm clock, two bells like golden mushrooms
and the tiny hammer that trilled between them. 
The alarm was like crashing through four levels of reality
in mere seconds, like being doused with water from the Atlantic,
like defibrillator plates on my chest, shocking me into the morning,
like frozen hands slapping my brain.  These days,
it is as though the golden clock of my childhood has taken up residence
inside my chest, where it is continuously ringing, jolting me back to the
Issue at Hand whenever I forget, for a moment, to be scared.

Here’s another line from my book:

I worked myself into hysterics by that evening, an amusement park ride spinning out of control.  Terror licked at my heart and felt permanent: I just knew that nothing would ever be right again. 

And here’s one last one.  I hope it helps you to understand.

It reminded me of my later years of high school, when Charlotte’s and my friend Terri started to go to parties in our classmates’ cornfields, where she would steal cigarettes from boys’ mouths to take her own drag.  Jeremy Mason’s back forty was the preferred party spot for our small class, although from time to time, the melee would move over to Madison Prewett’s pasture pond.  And sometimes, as if they were begging to be stereotyped, the group would convene for indiscretion at the railroad trestle just outside of the Collins Falls city limits.

At the time, I was stuck in my own paradoxical world—worrying that God wasn’t real, and that because I thought so, He would send me to hell—and so had no time for petty crimes like underaged drinking, which would only muddy my already-soiled “record.” 

            The one time I made it out to the trestle was on a Sunday afternoon, the day after a party where half of my class had gotten minors.  Terri had shirked the police but dropped her cell phone while fleeing the scene, so the next day, she asked me and Charlotte to help her look.  Charlotte, who had just gotten both her license and the Voyager, drove us to the scene in a reckless fashion she’d never outgrow.

            The site had an abandoned, makeshift fire pit and empty cans of Coors Light scattered all around like eggs at an Easter hunt.  The fire pit had a few hay bales around it that someone or another had brought out in his pickup truck, and all this was at the base of the western hill.  From the top of that hill, the trestle bridge ran out straight to the eastern bank, at least 120 feet high in the center of
the bridge and about a quarter of a mile from one end to the other.  It looked rickety and ominous, like the oldest rollercoaster at the amusement park.

            “Call my number,” demanded Terri, as we started to climb the western hill.  “I ran this way, trying to get into the trees.” 

            We were nearly at the top when we heard the old Nokia ring.  Terri located it and wiped it off on her jeans.  “Good as new,” she pronounced.

            The three of us turned around and looked down the hill, then across the long stretch of tracks with the support frames branching out beneath them like Tim Burton’s grotesque version of gothic
giraffe legs or the Imperial walkers on planet Hoth.  “Let’s go across it,” said Terri, her eyes shining.

            “Oh gosh,” said Charlotte.  “Really?”

            “I’ve done it before,” said Terri.  “It’s really not that big of a deal.”

            “What if a train comes?” I asked.

            “That’s the point,” said Terri.  “It’s scary because you don’t know if a train could be coming just around the corner.  I mean, it probably won’t, but you don’t know that.  If a train comes, then you
have to run for it.”

            “Okay,” I said, and the words shocked me as they left my mouth.  I felt as if someone had bumped into me and I’d accidentally burped them out. 

            “Really?” asked Terri.

            “Yeah, really?” asked Charlotte.

            Now my stomach was reeling as I looked down the side of the hill we’d come up.  It was a long way down.  I moved over to the tracks and stood in the middle of them, facing the bridge.  It was so far across, and so terribly narrow.  I wondered briefly if we could somehow climb down the support beams if the worst came to the worst.  “Let’s just do it,” I said.  “Let’s get going.  It’s going to be fine.”

            And so we walked across the trestle then, a quarter mile from safety to safety, and the whole time we marched across those wooden slats, none of us spoke but Terri, who said, “Whoa,” in the
middle of the bridge, when she looked over the edge.  She said, “It’s actually worse in daylight,” and then we continued on, a silent march, ears tuned for any shrieking whistle just around the bend.  I felt bent over with tension, as if my shoulders were knotting up the way water boils in a pot.  My stomach felt hollow and greasy. 

            It’s nothing, I told myself.  Nothing is coming.   But it didn’t calm me. My heart beat like a steady roll on a snare.  It was one of the most terrible and memorable experiences of my young life, and my mind was ravaged with images of three bodies lying still in the rushes below.  Every step felt like sheer panic flowing up from my toes to my chest, rattling my heart then moving like a laser beam to my head, where I manufactured nightmares.

            And now, all these years later, this memory was like putting a finger on the pulse of that evening: absolute terror, only this time, there was no safety in sight.  Just the feel of walking on an endless, narrow railroad trestle, listening, straining for the sound of destruction on its way to meet me.

9 thoughts on “what it feels like

  1. My friend with OCD hates anything considered “thrilling”.

    Roller coasters? Hell no.

    Any other fast ride? No.

    The log ride? Uh, no thank you.

    As she puts it, “I take drugs so I don’t feel that way.”

    I cannot imagine her ever agreeing to walk across a bridge like that.

    Glad I stumbled upon your blog.

  2. Pingback: OCD Q&A from JLS | JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

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