That day it was bad. Yet amidst the chaotic hurricane swirling around me, I just stopped. My numbness was like the calm eye of a storm. I don’t know how much actual time I just sat there as profanities, some from my boss, others internal, rained down on me because all I was trying to grasp onto was that this was my reality now – the harsh and soul-draining work environment, the OCD that was isolating me further from society and causing me to fail at work, at friendships, with family, and at life. This failure on a grand scale actually was my life now. The utter sadness of it all kept me very still. I felt silent and empty. I couldn’t believe how low I had fallen. I started reflecting on the person I used to be when I was at my happiest in life. I no longer recognized that person in the man I now had devolved into. That one time happy and opportunistic boy was dead.
Out of desperation I started writing an email to myself. An email of comparison and contrast about the person I used to be and I the one I had become. For about an hour I just worked on this email to myself. I needed to get the comparison on paper, to see it in black and white. I needed to see in words the attributes of my former self. I needed to remember them. I focused on writing the email as a multitude of other thoughts raced through my head. I had to focus as much as possible. I had to get it on paper. After about an hour, I sent the email to my personal email account. It was done and recorded.
**I have to preface the content of that personal email to myself. See when we’re as low as I felt when writing that email, we imagine what we used to be as our ideal self. We imagine that we were so amazing that the fall to the current subterranean station of apathy was a very steep drop. I don’t know if I was really as interesting and promising a person as I made myself out to be in that email, but I do know that immense regret and self-pity as to where I was at the moment I wrote that email made me idealize my past self. I wanted to start over at the place I was when I was happy. I don’t know if I was on a path to acclaim, but I do know I was happy. That alone was a stark contrast to what I felt and thought about myself when composing that email. So it should be read with the understanding that I was boastful of my former self not out of conceit, but out of incredible sadness and desire to be a different person with a different life. The person in the life I thought I had before.**
It’s been about 6 years now since he died. He was amazing. I miss him and think of him often. He was confident. He was smart. He was happy. The word “potential” swirled around him constantly. It was relayed to his parents often. To him even. Consequently, he was almost conceited! Yet, he wasn’t. He had the ability to impart the confidence of his convictions while conveying the sincerity of his interest in others. He was confident, but had all the insecurities that accompany a life being examined. He knew he was being watched and groomed and at times, he embraced that.
He certainly was sure-footed. He was ambitious. He was happy. He had a good life; family, friends, travel, and at times, money. He learned and memorized as much as he could. He used that knowledge like a weapon, defeating the obstacles aimed at other shortcomings. His memory was his gift. Any sensual exposure would be a permanent imprint, accurately filed in his mind and forever accessible if needed. If he heard, or read, or saw something even once, that information would be locked in, forever kept in his head in case it needed to resurface someday. Consequently, his ability to recall information by “seeing” the moment it first entered his mind lent itself to high achievement on school exams with little advance preparation. As he was intrinsically not a hard worker, his memory worked in his favor and more than compensated for the all too often times he slacked off. He didn’t want to do much work. He was too busy having fun.
He loved life. He went to bed excited about waking up and starting a new day. He was so happy. Before I get too far along, I should let it be known – he was me. I mean who I used to be. Now I’m an adult. I’m just a glimmer of the person I used to be. Yes, that’s right – now I’m a cliché. I have been defeated. I’m a corporate drone now. A cog. An animal of routine. My life is like the Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog’s Day” – the same every day. Not fulfilled. Not entirely unhappy as I still have my amazing family and amazing friends and that’s a wealth of riches, I know.
Yet, I’m not happy anymore. Voids are abundant now. I acquiesced. I succumbed. I lost. I’m lost. I still hope. I have to. Did I already state that in my new life I suffer from mental illness? Yes, there’s that too. The one-time gift that enabled my advancement despite my lack of effort has evolved into a very destructive curse that I now have to work very hard to keep at bay. Would that be irony or karma?
I’m not a CIA agent but I lead a double life. Have for about four years now. My “public life” is mostly normal. Most outward appearances are normal. Yes, they are impaired by the “condition” I have, but darn it I do well with fooling people. At least I think I do. My family and friends I can’t fool as much. They know about my condition. They had to know. One can’t behave at home like Howard Hughes in his later years and not get noticed. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The three most perfect words to succinctly describe the ailment. Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder. It really is the perfect label. People bandy about the term, OCD often, and many do indeed have it to a limited degree. However, there are a smaller segment of people who suffer from a severe form. Really suffer. The kind of suffering you read about in psychology text books and see profiled on TV shows like Dateline and 60 Minutes. I’m one of them.
Anyway, my parents and siblings and a small group of close friends, they know. My therapist knows of course too. As does my psychotherapist and all my other doctors. They know. Yes I lie to them to lessen the extent of my condition, but if they knew everything, they would treat me too differently. I can’t stand being looked at like an oddball. I have felt like one before he died and feel like one now. But the oddness in the dead one was because he was separated from others as one who will succeed and achieve richly. The oddness now is because his private behaviors are abnormal. The condition has almost consumed him. Certainly it’s regimented him. I can’t even describe it now because writing it out and seeing it in black and white would be alarming – even to me.
This is who I am now. A failed prodigy stuck in a dull life. A kid with potential now struggling as an adult just to be ordinary. Every day is a fight with The Mental Prison. A fight against the condition to just succeed and appear to function normally in a dull life.
He died and left a shell. An empty shell that now reverberates with the echo of voices that haunt him. The voices want him to give up. To hide. To stay home. Stay in bed. Stay away. Stay right there. Don’t move! Don’t think! Don’t do anything! They want him to wither. Are they winning? These voices and thoughts? These irrational fears? The shell functions, so he isn’t staying in bed. Yet he is withering. Not in place, but withering nonetheless. It’s a fight. A daily struggle. The condition has had the upper hand for four years, but I hope to win. I hope to win. I have to win. I have to win. I have to hope. It’s all I have.
This is my adult life. A contrast to the happy boy that lived every day fully, heartily with the promise of distinction. My adult life is a struggle to be routine and fit in. It’s a struggle to not have my behaviors and actions noticed. Now I’m not moving toward anything, but constantly running-away. Too many demons. They don’t just haunt you, you know? They run you! If you let them. I have for four years.
I think I have to end it. I want to, but has too much time passed? Do I feel too defeated? I’m an old soul – another cliché. I feel about eighty years old. I’m tired. I’m worn out. Worn down. However, I’m still here. That old self is dead, but not forgot. I want him back. I have yearned for him for years. I daydream. I have always done that. That’s a fault. I’m a dreamer, not a doer. My brother is a doer. My sister is a doer. My mom is a doer. My dad is a doer. I’m not. I philosophize. I dream. I talk. I don’t walk. This dream is still alive. Can it be something that I live? How do I get back to living? I know there’s a lot I have to work out before I can do that. The condition. The sadness. The voids. The motivation. It’s daunting.
The condition has ruined me financially as well. It’s expensive. I have to buy things and throw them out constantly. I have to replace the things I discard and then replace those replacements and so on and on and on. It’s so time consuming. I mean it consumes my thought every waking moment, but behaviors consume so much of my time too. Yes, that has to be changed before any real living can be done. Again, the double life. I want to eliminate the secret, shameful life and make my fake, public persona the actuality. I’m a fraud. There’s the guilt of that too. Man, I’m a mess! I miss him very much. The dead me.
Sometimes I don’t know who the person in the mirror is. I see him staring back at me, but he’s not who I see in my head. The reflection is tired. He looks sad and regretful. His hair has greyed in some places. There’s way too much grey than befitting his age. That’s probably from the stress. He’s almost always stressed. That has to do with the condition as well. Wherever he walks, he has to be cautious. He has to look before making a single step. To avoid coming into contact with “undesirable people” who could “contaminate” him. They certainly already contaminate his thoughts. His mind is a Petri dish where dirty, irrational fears grow and infest his every thought. And because he doesn’t ever forget, those thoughts remain forever. That’s why his every move has to be contemplated and that takes time. That’s why he’s fallen so behind in life. The condition has taken up so much time. Every waking moment of thought, but also actual time. He has to contemplate everything he touches. He uses tissue, paper, leaves, whatever he can find to avoid touching what’s perceived to be contaminated. He also has to be careful what he reads because the news, or a story could remind him of what he fears and contaminate his thoughts even more. His eyes constantly betray him. He sees something and an irrational thought enters his mind. Then like a parasite, it resides in it and feeds off the other fears already living there. It grows and expands. The dirty thought repeats itself over and over. It drives him nuts! Why can’t he control his own thoughts? How is it that his thoughts control him?
He states to his doctors, his family, and his friends who know that his mind is split into two. One half is the rational half – the remnant of the dead him. The other half is the diseased half that invokes fear through irrational thoughts. It’s currently more powerful than the rational half and is doing everything it can to squash the rational half. To take over it and make him completely consumed with fear. The condition is fighting to win. Fortunately, the rational half has been resilient. It’s fighting. Consequently, I’m fighting, fighting to save my life. What’s left of it.
Most days, I feel like I’m drowning. Another cliché. Yet it’s true. The pressure is overwhelming me. Falling behind in life, being so disorganized, being massively in debt, being fined for parking tickets, being served warrants for possible arrest if I don’t pay the mounting balance, being pushed further down, having my driver’s license suspended because of missed court dates for parking fines, having my life suspended because of this condition. I CAN’T BREATHE! Yet I have to. I take a breath. I take a pill. Those are what will calm me. Momentary calm is better than perpetual anxiety after all. Yes, it’s just a band-aid. There has to be real healing if I’m to survive this. I have to be ready to encounter the steps toward healing. I’m ready. Heavens I’m ready! However, the condition is strong. It’s holding me back. More clothes to throw out. More parking tickets. More missed court dates. More warrants. More debt. More questions. More slippage. Yes it’s a slippery grasp I have, but my grip is as tight as I can muster. My fingers are tired and aching. As is my mind, body and soul. I’m so tired. Lord, I’m so tired.
I miss him so much. Why did he die? Who is this person in the mirror? A captive living in a mental prison that there’s no escaping from. Wherever I run to, I’m still in prison. That’s the authority of the mind. I can’t rip out my brain! No, as my doctors all state, I have to “retrain” my mind. It’s short-circuited because of the “chemical imbalance” and the medication addresses that, but the behavior has to come from me. Medication isn’t sufficient.
I trudge through the motions at work. Structure is important. Work occupies my thoughts enabling me to concentrate on “tasks at hand.” The other thoughts are ever present, but they have to share my mind space with work thoughts for now, which lessens their strength. That’s a misnomer in a way because their strength is immense, so any weakening still leaves a massive monster to contend with. Still, routine and work and structure are good for now. Being a corporate drone actually has some benefit. It’s killing my soul and suppressing my dream, but it’s also keeping the condition in check. Give and take, right? It’s taking so much. I have to give myself something back. My freedom. Freedom to live a life where I can think clearly. Where I’m not always locked up in a mental prison. I have to give that to myself. Do I think I’m worthy of it? Do I deserve happiness? I think I do, but I have been suppressed and depressed so long that my sense of worth has been weakened. Not lost altogether, but lessened nonetheless.
When he was alive he knew he deserved to be happy. He demanded it. He made it that way. Man that kid was happy!
There has to be a way back to that place of happiness. I have my family and I have my friends and they make me happy, not as often as they used to but still without them there wouldn’t be anything, no reason to continue. They afford a reason, but there’s still such emptiness now. Does that have to do more with my condition, or my vocation? Do I feel unfulfilled because I’m that way at work? So many questions and doubts. Doubts and fears. Fears and stagnancy. Suffering. I want to feel happy again. Always happy as he used to be. I know it’s incumbent upon myself to get to that place. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I will endeavor to that end and strive to attain that goal. The goal is well defined and it’s called happiness. The path is what stays uncertain. Yeah I know all the inspirational quotes and clichés – it’s the travels that count in life and such.
However, I’m not really traveling. I’m standing still and moving backward. I’m wasting away. I’m wasting time. Time is moving, but I’m standing still. Very still in FEAR. The world moves forward and I fall behind. Even as I write this I can sense the redundancy of my words. Even in this written testimonial, I run in circles. I’m running in circles. I’m in a hole. I need to climb out. There it is again. Redundancy. Should I end this tirade against the new me now? I mean writing about it? I want to end it, yes, but I’m asking about writing about it. Talking about it. Talking not doing, but I already covered that. Again redundancy.
He was glowing. People would comment on how happy he looked all the time. He looked happy because he was happy. He was beaming. Some people thought him handsome and fed his vanity with compliments. The compliments have lessened since his death. He’s still vain, but now bitter as a result. He wants to know why he doesn’t look like he used to. The wear is evident in his face. People can see it. They sense it. Sadness. He does his best to perpetuate the facade of public normalcy and complacency, but the despair emanates through the cracks. The double life. The double work to live it. Too much. Enough.
I paused after writing this email to myself. I looked up. The office was quieter. My boss wasn’t around. She had probably left for her dinner meeting. As I glanced around some more, I noticed that there was barely a soul left. There were the usual one or two assistants who worked for ridiculously demanding agents that their “employment” essentially constituted slave labor. Other than those usual whipping boys, there was just the night janitor making the rounds emptying individual trash bins and replacing their plastic bag liners.
How did I not notice the passing time? I look back at my computer screen. I click on the search icon. I Google “OCD” and “treatment” and a multitude of links come up. I come across many support groups and information on medications. I have tried those. Didn’t work. I look at treatment facilities. I need residential facilities. I have tried out-patient treatment at UCLA and other clinics. They didn’t work. I come across a place in Wisconsin that is located on a lake. It sounds nice but doesn’t feel entirely right for me. I come across Meningers Clinic in Texas. It looks like something out of late seventies or early eighties. I’m not happy about that. I read about it and it sounds to be more targeted toward adolescents. I continue my search. I come across McLean Hospital in Boston. I read more. The literature immediately comforts me. I read and re-read it over and over. Every time it feels right. I research McLean Hospital. It’s consistently ranked as the best mental health facility in the country by reputable sources, which further assures me. I need the assurance. I feel good about this.
I find a contact name for the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute at McLean. I write it down on a post-it and then walk into my boss’s empty office. I close the glass door so no one can hear me. I call. It’s ringing. I hang up. I call again and this time let it connect.
“Hello. This is Debra Morton at the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute at McLean Hospital. Please leave your message after the tone. Thank you.”