You Have OCD and Not the One Where You Clean a Bunch of Stuff

by The Cowl Editor on October 21, 2021

Creative Non-Fiction

cups lined up on a shelf
Photo courtesy of

by Aidan Lerner ’22


“There’s poison in your glass.” 

You want a glass of water. You go get a glass, right? You go to the cabinet and you select a glass. Then, you inspect it carefully. You are looking for poison. You may ask yourself why you are doing that. Well, because your thoughts have given you the idea that there just might be poison in the glass. You might as well give the glass a look!   

You’re very thirsty. You just want a simple glass of water, but the first, second, third, and fourth glasses that you checked had unexplained bumps or suspicious spots of dust. You place them in the “maybe contains deadly toxin” pile. Eventually, you decide to risk it. You will drink from a glass that might contain a poison that will murder you. You drink. The rest of your day is spent wondering when you’ll get sick: when death will arrive. In your mind, you prepare for the last few hours of your life. Stress increases and your behavior gets more erratic as you wonder if death will hurt. Aren’t there any final words you would like to say? Final acts for you to do? All responsibilities go out the window. Fear paralyzes you.

You curse yourself for drinking from a glass. When the sun rises, and you’re still alive, you tell yourself that it is better to go thirsty than go through that again.   

You have OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder. An everyday torture machine that starts with just one ridiculous thought and spirals endlessly. 

OCD is a tunnel. The simple thought that “maybe that glass has poison” is your entry point into the tunnel. You are in the dark, and the light is one step behind you. Why on earth would a random glass be poisoned? That is absurd. Just drink the damn thing and you will be outside the tunnel.  But you can’t. You check the glass, and you’re in the tunnel. By the time you’ve checked once, twice, thrice, you can’t see light behind you. You can’t see light in front of you. All you know is fear, and every second brings you spiraling farther down the tunnel. 

That is a fairly typical sequence of events, spelled out slowly and painfully. The name of the game is irrational fear. And checking. Always checking. Some of the other things you do are relatively harmless. Every time you walk by the carbon monoxide detector you check it five times. Look at it, look away, look at it, look away, etc. Other compulsions are a lot more rigorous. Once upon a time, getting into your bed took one or two hours. There was a drawn-out ritual; you had to check every lock, pray the right way, organize your bed the right way, and do it all without making a mistake and without thinking the wrong thing. If a thought popped into your head such as “boobies” or “fart,” you were starting everything over.

I think that identity is an underrated aspect of the struggle to be alive. On some level, this thing we do is a crazy rat race to be “seen.” We want to be understood, for at least one person to look us in the eyes and know our entire being. You? You’d like to look in the mirror and figure out who the hell is staring back. In your worst moments, you see a monster. You see a slave to the whims of a mental disorder. Everything you do, everything you believe, everything you feel is OCD. Your feelings are obsessions. Your actions are compulsions. You are so deep into the tunnel that there is no way out.  

In my opinion, you are screwed. R.I.P. you. Nah, I’m kidding. Illness is a part of you, but it isn’t you. Everything your brain has put you through has not been for nothing.  

It gets better. The tunnel has an end, and there is light beaming. I can see you.  

…and I can see your room, and it is nasty. Why don’t you put that OCD to work and get obsessed with something helpful, like dusting?