L (OCD) V E
JULY 1, 2019
“Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you.”
I click the pause button on my headphones, cutting the song short, and open the medicine cabinet. The shelves are filled with prescriptions long since expired. Pills for my brother’s migraines, father’s gout, and mother’s menopause fill my view. I consider the idea that there are enough chemicals here to bring my swift demise, but I brush off the thought. Finding my three bottles, I close the cabinet, setting each bottle next to the sink. They aren’t exactly in a straight line, which annoys me, but I let the twinge fizzle before moving on, grabbing a glass and filling it. I promised myself I wouldn’t forget to take my meds, but I did, and I’d felt the searing consequences the entire day.
I stare at the three containers. Two orange, one white, each different sizes. In the first are round, orangish-brown pills, the color of dehydrated urine. SNRIs, designed to give me more serotonin. Side effects include dizziness, drowsiness, and increased sweating. In the second, small, rectangular, light blue pills sit silently. An antipsychotic. Side effects include vomiting, weight gain, and breast enlargement. Last up, a thin, round pill, white as snow, lays in the final bottle. Lithium, a mood stabilizer. Side effects include hand tremors, muscular weakness, and kidney failure. It’s my first time taking it, and I don’t know whether I should prepare myself for a miracle or a disaster.
The bottles stand as sentinels guarding the sink. This cocktail might be a Holy Trinity, or maybe Three Stooges—impossible for me to tell, for now. I unscrew the caps, pouring a single pill from each bottle into my palm. I pop them into my mouth.
AUGUST 4, 2012
I’m sitting at the kitchen counter, and I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
“You mean I can’t go?” I say.
My Mom purses her lips, interlocking her fingers. She’s your typical Mormon mom who devotes herself to every charitable opportunity. Tonight’s no exception.
“We made a commitment, Corey, and we’re going to stick to it.”
She’d promised her friend we’d help sell tickets for a special needs horse-riding event.
“But Mom, all my friends are going to be there. It’s Kendra’s birthday!”
She shakes her head. “You’re going with me to the equestrian park. A promise is a promise.”
“But I don’t want to!”
“Well, we don’t always get to do what we want.”
I give her a glare, and she returns it. I know she’s right. Staring into her green eyes, I’m overtaken by frustration.
I break from her gaze, jaw clenching, heart jumping into overdrive.
I walk away from the counter. Mom asks me if I’m all right, but I hardly hear her. I’m too distressed by what I’m thinking. I don’t want to kill my mom!
Or do I?
Maybe a single thought is enough to start a cascade into madness.
Horrifying snapshots flash through my brain. A gun pressed to her forehead. A knife sunk in her throat. I slip into my room and sit on my bed, grabbing Harry Potter from my nightstand. I hope tales of hippogriffs and spellbooks will distract me, but the sensation of glass shards churning in my chest won’t go away. What is this feeling? My hands are shaking, the letters on the page a blur. No matter how much I try to focus, the image of my mother begging for her life won’t go away.
I throw the book to the side. Tears brimming, I plunge my face into my pillow, gripping the sheets, releasing a scream drowned out by layers of fabric. I don’t know it now, but these disturbing thoughts will haunt me. I’ll spend hours at the equestrian park staring at her, hands clenched in my pockets, terrified that despite my best intentions, I will harm her.
FEBRUARY 15, 2014
Sleep calls to me, but I know what I have to do first. I crack open my Bible, flipping to the New Testament, wondering what wisdom St. Matthew will impart. Apparently, not enough to keep me interested. I read one verse, close the book and set it back on my nightstand. I slip onto my knees, preparing myself for a cookie-cutter prayer.
“Heavenly Father, I’m thankful for this day. Thank you for all the blessings you have given me—”
I seize up, eyes flipping open, holding my breath. The word repeats itself, and guilt settles in my gut. I shouldn’t be thinking that word. Especially now. I’ve been taught time and time again: no good Mormon kid swears, not even in thought.
“Thank you for food, and shelter—”
“—and for the opportunity to have an education.”
I start talking faster, hoping I can outrun the cursing. “Please bless all the missionaries throughout the world—”
“—and please bless all those—"
Here come the tears. “—in our ward who are sick and afflicted—”
Oh, now I know I’m wicked. I’m a sinner. Who else would think these words during a prayer? “—that they may be comforted.”
“In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I remain frozen, my face pressed against the side of the bed. My breath warms up the fabric, drool accumulating. I can’t move. I’m horror-struck by my thoughts. This uneasy feeling permeating my body, this is what people must be talking about when they say God has withdrawn. I’m too evil to feel his presence. I don’t deserve to talk to him.
But I stay there, on my knees, begging him to forgive me.
APRIL 6, 2019
It’s conference weekend. Mom asked me to take the day off of work, but I’d forgotten, so now I’m going to miss the afternoon session. She seems bothered but still gives me an affectionate hug as I slip out the door. I don’t feel particularly guilty—I figure if being gay hasn’t damned me to telestiality, then missing a session of general conference won’t, either. I debate what music to play as I slip into my car, knowing the perfect song can result in the perfect car ride. I choose “Begin Again” from Red, the Taylor Swift album I’ve been addicted to. I turn on the radio, plugging in my FM transmitter, and open the music app, pressing play. Taylor’s sweet voice blares through the speakers. I turn it down. Wouldn’t want the neighbors to judge my music taste.
I pull out onto the street without pausing to think about what I’m doing. Life is good, I think to myself. I have a job I like, my grades are fine, and I might actually try to start dating boys. “And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid. I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny, ‘cause he never did.” I start to hum along.
And then, out of nowhere, my imagination gifts me a horror: spiders begin crawling all over the steering wheel, the dashboard, and my skin. I try to shake off the thought. Disturbing images come from time to time. I’ve had episodes like this before, but they were never this bad.
However, the thought occurs to me: What if I forever equate this song with this image? I love “Begin Again”, but it would never be the same if all I could think about were legions of arachnids crawling across every inch of skin. Stop thinking about it! That’ll only further cement the association in my brain. Has it already been made? Why can’t I shake this stupid, small thought?
The spiders grow larger. They start sinking their fangs deep into me, ripping off chunks of flesh. My hands are blanched on the steering wheel, teeth grit, eyes watering. This is just a simple commute to work. This is a normal day. I’m listening to this song, and I’m not going to think of—
The image only gets more vivid. Blood pours onto the seats as I watch my fingers reduced to bones. Begin Again finishes, and the next song on the album starts. The spiders change to centipedes, wrapping themselves around my neck. I skip to the next one. Hordes of beetles are boring into my eyes. I skip again. Maggots. Skip. Scorpions. Skip. Every song assigned a new horror.
I’ve got to keep driving, but my hands won’t stop trembling, and my heart keeps pounding harder than ever before. I’ve been holding my breath for so long I feel dizzy. Some distant, logical part of my brain knows this is stupid. They’re just songs. They’re just thoughts. No, I already feel my sanity slipping. I’m spiraling out of control.
Please make it stop.
APRIL 17, 2019
From the moment I wake, the thoughts are there. They torture me as I get ready for the day. Don’t put on your glasses, Corey. You’ll picture them shattering. Don’t look at your feet. You’ll see rats chewing on your toes. Don’t eat breakfast. You’ll see blood and guts. Don’t pet your cat. All you’ll think of is strangling him.
I head out the front door and slip into my car, making sure the radio is turned off. I’ve already had dozens of songs ruined. My mental list is getting quite extensive. Begin Again, Taylor Swift. Angela, the Lumineers. No Choir, Florence + the Machine. Each song has a disgusting thought I don’t dare speak aloud. Speaking them aloud will make them real again.
My commute to school is filled with thoughts of running red lights, swerving into other lanes, and smashing into the backs of cars with “Baby on Board” stickers. I go exactly the speed limit all the way there. I’m terrified that if I go above or below, I’ll let those thoughts manifest themselves, leaving a rampage of broken glass, twisted fenders, and red asphalt on the side of the freeway.
I doodle in the margins of my notes, pressing harder and scribbling faster as the thoughts get more intense. My History professor asks me a question but I don’t hear what she said. She clucks with disapproval when I can’t answer, marking down my participation for the day. The rest of my professors either don’t notice or don’t care that I’m not looking at them. I can only stare at my doodles or at the desk. Don’t look up. If you see someone else, you’ll picture horrible things happening to them.
My last class finishes up, and I run to my car. I’m ready to get the hell off this campus. There’s too many people here, and they inspire too many thoughts. Every street on my way home is assigned an intrusive thought, from a rapist hiding in the backseat of my car to children running, screaming as they’re set on fire. I turn onto new roads, avoiding my usual path, desperate to be home. I pass churches, their sharp, pointed steeples summoning new thoughts. I try to push them away, but that only makes them more vivid.
My dad’s in the living room watching a Jazz game as I walk through the door. I’m surprised, he’s usually still at work at this hour. He pauses the TV and gives me a hug, asking me how my day’s been.
“Fine,” I say, monotone. I typically fake enthusiasm about basketball for his sake, so I ask, “Who’s winning?”
“The Clippers, but I think the Jazz can catch up.”
“Fingers crossed,” I say, but as it leaves my mouth, it falters.
He notices my lack of enthusiasm. “Is something wrong?”
I shake my head. “No,” I promise. “Everything’s fine.”
That seems to be enough to fool him, because he gives me another hug and then presses play on the TV. I retreat to my room, sprawling out onto the bed, hoping sleep will take me. It doesn’t. The worst possible thoughts assault me without relent. The more I try to push them away, though, the stronger they become, acquiring macabre twists. Death, sex, decay, blood, feces, each one worse than the last.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to go insane.
APRIL 19, 2019
Mom holds me as I rack with sobs, terror bleeding out onto the carpet. I don’t know why I took so long to open up, but more concerning is it didn’t make me feel any better. I still can’t stop seeing the horrible things that could be done with every object in the room.
She grabs her keys, and within minutes we’re at Burger King, buying me my favorite hamburger. When she found out I hadn’t eaten anything in the past 24 hours, she insisted. We drive to the park, lie down on the grass, and stare up at the clouds, making small talk. Normally, this would be bliss, this carries the distinct kind of outdoor friday-night dreaminess synonymous with childhood. So why is anxiety biting at me with every heartbeat?
She looks at me with a pained smile, grabbing my hand and squeezing it. “It’s all going to be okay. We’re going to figure this out.” I smile back, mouth full of hamburger, ketchup on my chin.
I wish I believe her.
APRIL 23, 2019
Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Keep breathing. Is this a heart attack? This is a heart attack. I’m having a heart attack, and I’m going to die, and the last thing I ever did was sit through an Anthropology lecture on circumcision. I don’t have the presence of mind to mutter anything profound before I perish, so my last words will probably be asking my professor if I can use the bathroom. I pull out my phone, desperately typing in my symptoms, misspelling almost every word.
Panic Attacks: Common Symptoms and Treatment pulls up on Google. A small part of me heaves a sigh of relief that I am not, in fact, dying, but the remainder is still steeped in fear. I tap on the blue link, scrolling at lightning speed. Skipping past the description of symptoms, I come to the treatment section. A bulleted list stares back at me.
Name five things you can see. The bland walls and the greenish-gray carpet. An overturned trash can. Students walking in front of me. Some lady’s looking out into the hall, she probably heard the deep, shaking breaths I’ve been taking. I hope she doesn’t ask if I’m all right. I don’t want to be an imposition.
Name four things you can hear. The whir of the vent overhead, footsteps fading down the hall, the closing of the door as the lady recedes back into her study room. Oh, and my breathing. Loud, faltering breathing.
Name three things you can feel. The stabbing pain in my heart. The numb, tingling sensation in my hands. My body feels heavy, too, like gravity’s been doubled.
Name two things you can smell. Paper and coffee.
Name one thing you can taste. My dry tongue.
I’m through the list, but I don’t feel better. I try the exercise again. Nothing. I exit to another article, which only gives me the same advice. I read another. This feels useless. I read article after article, the overwhelming dread refusing to relent. It feels like the world is ending, and I’m drowning, and I’m never going to feel happy again. I stuff my phone in my pocket, closing my eyes, trying again to focus on inhaling and exhaling. After a few seconds I pull it out again, calling my mom for the third time today.
“Yes, honey? What is it?” she asks, worry flavoring every word.
“Mom... I think I need help.”
MAY 6, 2019
Sitting in a therapist’s waiting room, I look down at my feet, trying to comprehend what’s happening. I’m waiting for the diagnosis, an answer, a savior. My thoughts have been agonizingly graphic in the past few days, associating themselves with anything and everything. Music. Movies. My favorite pieces of art. The numbers 22 and 27. Different rooms in my house. My family members. Everything, it seems, has an intrusive thought tied to it, and the harder I try to break the associations, the stronger they get.
Only a month ago, I was fine. I was healthy, happy, and living the best version of my life. It’s taken only a single month to bring me to my lowest, where I can’t look at anything for too long for fear it will be ruined by an intrusive thought. What happened? What happened in this godforsaken month of April to make me this way? I haven’t the faintest idea, but for now all I can do is sit in this waiting room, staring at the suicide helpline plaque, terrified I will someday need that number saved in my phone.
“Are you with me?” Dad asks. I look up at him.
“Yes,” I lie.
MAY 10, 2019
My birthday cake is in the shape of a question mark, the candles flickering and dancing on top of the purple frosting. When I suggested the idea to Mom, she laughed, though the laugh was a few shades darker than usual. We both agree this is a perfect representation of my current state: all questions, few answers.
My first therapist appointment was only Monday. I’m still not sure what to expect from him. After all, therapy didn’t work for your brother, you could be the same.
The new medication I’m taking hasn't settled into my bloodstream, either, so God only knows where it will send me. Supposedly, it works for the majority of people with OCD, but that doesn’t mean I trust it any more than the rest. Outsourcing happiness to a pill is a foreign thought to me. Why can’t my body regulate emotions on its own?
All these worries run through my mind as my family sings Happy Birthday. The song finishes, and I blow out the candles. Mom wants to take a picture, so my brothers and sister crowd together around me, trying to get in frame. I smile weakly as the shutter snaps, and then everybody digs in, talking and laughing for the rest of the night. I do my best to laugh, nod, and pay attention.
Nobody asks me what I wished for, but I think everybody knows.
JUNE 21, 2019
My name, written on the fogged-up glass of the shower door, has dripped into nondescript lines and shapes that are no longer recognizable. I find the image to be a perfect symbol; I no longer feel recognizable either. This day has been full of intrusive thoughts. A nail gun pressed to the roof of my mouth, or a razor blade playing tic-tac-toe on my wrists. Interestingly enough, these thoughts banish all others. Hurting myself, for whatever reason, is the idea that expels all other terrors.
I know my family is worried. Mom sends me encouraging texts daily, and my dad keeps on telling me ganbatte—hang in there. My brother stayed with me the entire morning, letting me play his Xbox to try and get my mind off things. All I could feel was boredom as I played Black Ops. Boredom is my natural state now. I’m bored in this shower, and when I get out, I’ll be bored talking at family dinner, reading my scriptures, and going to bed. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy something.
I try to tell myself this is only a phase and that things will get better.
Be honest with yourself, Corey. It’s been two months of hell and nothing is better.
All I know are intrusive thoughts, their claws burrowing deep into my brain. All I know are numb, unfeeling days, weeks and months. All I know is this unforgiving floor, hot water splashing onto my back, bags under my eyes, thinking: I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to live anymore.
JUNE 25, 2019
I picture my funeral. I don’t know if my casket will be open or closed, that depends on how I die. If it’s overdose, the funeral home can easily hide signs of suicide. If I crash my car, though, it’ll be difficult to put all the pieces back together. I hope my family knows to order a purple casket. I’ve always wanted one, even when I was a child and death seemed like a distant dream.
I try to imagine what everyone is wearing. I’m not one for the all-black aesthetic, but bright neon doesn’t feel appropriate, either. Probably unassuming church clothes. I’m not sure who would open the proceedings. Probably the bishop of my ward, who would start with a prayer.
I walk the aisles of the chapel. I don’t recognize anyone on the back row. Probably friends of my parents, or distant relatives who felt the need to support my family. Not a single tear is found. Long lost acquaintances and old elementary school teachers are in front of them, somber, but not heartbroken. As I move forward past the pews, the faces become more familiar. My coworkers, looking around to find each other as they come in late. My old middle school friends, one playing Fruit Ninja on his phone. It gets more painful to stare at the faces. Close friends from high school and college, unsure of whether to let themselves openly grieve or put up a façade of indifference. My grandparents’ hands are interlocked, shaking, probably thinking our roles should be reversed. My cousins all staring forward, jaws locked. When someone dies, what is there to say? Two of them hold each other as tears water their cheeks, their blonde hair intertwining as it cascades down their shoulders, becoming one.
My sister sits in the second pew with her husband, face in her hands as he rubs her back. My two-year-old nephew Hyrum sits restlessly next to them, not understanding why everyone is so sad or why nobody brought his toy dinosaurs. He whines and moans, and nobody has the heart to silence him. Two of my brothers are present, the third is missing. He’s probably still in Peru. I don’t know whether he’s out proselyting today or if he’s in his apartment, staring out the window, trying to come to grips with what’s happened in his absence.
Then the first row. My parents.
The image sears itself onto my eyes. Dad’s typical stoicism has been destroyed. Unable to contain his misery, he hunches over, staring at the ground. He’s probably wondering what he could’ve done differently. Were there words he could’ve said, a soft hug he could’ve given, a comic from the Far Side he could’ve slipped into my lunch, something that could have shifted my course ever so slightly so this wouldn’t have been the end?
Mom silently weeps, holding his hands, eyes closed, humming a hymn through gritted teeth. She tries to remind herself of life after death. Families are forever, she tells herself, and she will see me again. These thoughts are merely bandages over a deep wound. They cannot fully heal her, even when they’re the only thing keeping her from coming undone.
I open my eyes, unable to bear the sight any longer. The church and its patchwork congregation disappear and I sit up in my bed. Sunlight is sailing down from the blinds onto the comforter, leaving golden streaks on the red fabric.
Dad whistles to summon me. I saunter upstairs and find my family gathered around the dinner table. My brothers laugh from an inside joke, and my sister is trying to get Hyrum to sit still. Mom and my brother-in-law talk about the new shopping center being built downtown. I slide into my seat, staring at the table cluttered with spaghetti and breadsticks. My favorite.
“Are we gonna pray?” Dad asks, raising his eyebrows. My family doesn’t stop their chatter, so he unceremoniously begins. Everyone’s voice catches, and we go silent, our heads locking into a bowed position, not daring to say a word. It’s one of Dad’s well-known behaviors. He never waits for us to quiet down.
As he continues his supplication, I glance around the table, taking in my family, one by one. My brothers are still smirking, trying not to laugh as their joke still hangs in the air. My sister keeps one eye open to make sure her two-year-old is folding his arms. Mom’s interlocked fingers are pressed to her forehead. The more I look at each face, the more I am certain.
This is hell, but I won’t leave them. I can’t.
JULY 4, 2019
Fireworks sound like gunfire when my eyes are closed, so I keep them open. I watch the bursting colors streak across the sky, illuminating the trampoline where I sit. The rest of my family sits together in the front yard, but I’ve always preferred seclusion during this part of Independence Day. It’s a surreal feeling, watching the rest of the world celebrate from a distance, hearing the parties and music without being immersed in it. It’s solitary without being lonely.
I consider today a miracle. I woke up, put on my glasses, and imagined them shattering like always. The Lucky Charms I ate for breakfast turned into various disembodied organs. Every wall in my home was covered in blood and fecal matter. The spiders were there too, crawling over every object they could find, hissing and foaming at their fangs. The thoughts were just as vivid and strong as ever.
But strangely, as the pictures assaulted me throughout the day, I didn’t fear them. Yes, they were distracting and unpleasant, but they didn’t knock the wind out of me. They didn’t cause shaking legs or quaking fingers. Mom noticed, too. She hugged me and said, “You look better.”
Maybe we’ve found the right meds. Or maybe the therapy is finally kicking in.
Meds. Therapy. Luck. It’s hard to tell what made today tolerable, but I welcome this break from misery. And who knows, maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe I’ll sink back into depression and fear at any moment. For now I’m satisfied as I stare at the fracturing sky, the distant booms coming from every direction. For now, I’ll wait until my family calls me back inside. For now, I’ll let the thoughts come, stay awhile, and then leave. Like they always do.
For now, I feel hope.
SEPTEMBER 13, 2019
The hospital room is filled with beeps and coos of machines, each softly reminding me of the trauma and joy that happened only hours earlier. My sister sits up as we enter, grinning. She’s holding a small, wrinkled infant against her chest. She offers the baby to her husband, and gives each of us a warm embrace.
“Hyrum was hard, but oh, this time was so nice,” she sighs with relief, staring adoringly at the child she’d just given birth to. “It wasn’t nearly as painful. I guess it’s true that the first baby paves the way.”
“Want to hold Jacob?” My brother-in-law asks. I feel a brief rush of panic but stifle it. I nod, excited to be properly introduced to my nephew. Sitting down, my brother-in-law lays him in my arms, giving me instructions about properly supporting his head and where to put my hands. I stare at the little face, transfixed by his cobalt eyes darting around the room, perplexed by the unfamiliar surroundings. Within seconds, he’s exhausted from the effort, and his eyes droop shut. I hold my breath. Someday, this little baby is going to be my size. Someday, he’ll be a firefighter, an artist, or maybe a janitor. He’ll fall in love and he’ll have heartbreaks. He’ll see things I’ll never live to see. He has a whole life to live. I refuse to break my eyes away from this pure, beautiful being. A hallowed bond pulls me in, and I’m stunned at how innocent and full of potential he is.
I grit my teeth, but my arms are steady. I should’ve expected the thoughts to visit, considering they always come in the holiest of times. To my OCD, nothing is sacred.
I consider offering him back to my sister, but I don’t. I’m determined not to give in.
Drop him. Let him fall.
I start to hum softly, my arms resolute. Jacob stirs slightly, almost waking up, but the effort is too much and he returns to his peaceful state. For once, the thoughts don’t
seem so bad. I’m completely enamored with the idea of this little person. My OCD has no power over this. The images are here—my hands slipping, Jacob’s fragile body colliding against the hospital floor. But they aren’t getting to me. All I’m feeling is peace, and an incredible love for somebody I haven’t gotten to know yet.
My arms start to get tired, so I finally let Mom take him, my arms sore from the effort of keeping completely still. I feel a sense of victory.
I’m stronger than the thoughts.
OCTOBER 7, 2019
The blank page taunts me, reminding me how much I have to get finished. My typically flourishing garden of potential poems and primordial short stories has withered in the past few months. I’ve been left with a general lack of creativity. When pondering all the possible topics I could explore for my creative writing assignment, only one story comes to mind.
No. Anything but that.
But the idea, once planted in my mind, won’t unroot. It remains as I stare at my MacBook, desperately trying to find anything else to write. Despite my hesitation, I already know what the answer is going to be. I have to write this. The story needs to be told, if only for my sake.
My fingers gently hover on the keys, feeling their cold, plastic sheen. All at once, I begin typing furiously, falling into the groove of the clicking sounds and the pace of my own breathing. One by one, words appear on the page, sentences turn into paragraphs, and then into pages. I don’t shake in fear as I revisit the past, nor do I cry at how far I’ve come. I merely release everything, the whole truth, emptying myself of every emotion I’ve felt during this harrowing year. With every page the pain, anger, and fear is washed away.
Eventually my back begins to ache and my eyes beg for mercy, so I decide to stop. The story’s not quite finished, but I feel calm. I turn in the assignment online and let out a deep breath. It’s a few days late, but I’m sure my professor will understand. I shut my computer and place it on my nightstand. Picking up my phone, I plug my headphones in and shuffle my “Chill” playlist. Lying down, I drift to sleep as the music plays.
“The rain came pouring down, when I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe. And by morning, gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean.”
NOVEMBER 17, 2019
I can tell from the moment I conclude that she’s going to talk to me. I noticed her, a girl I didn’t know, crying a few minutes into my talk when I brought up my struggles with OCD. My bishop, known for his passion for acronyms and mental health, had asked me to share about my “2019 experience.” I’d readily agreed, shocked at my own enthusiasm. Given an abundant 20 minutes to myself, I detailed my entire journey up until this point. I described the small quirks in childhood, the breakdown in April, and the misery of May and June. I told them about the slow recovery through therapy, medications, and plenty of praying to God.
As soon as I sit back down, her eyes follow me, intense in their gaze. Sacrament meeting wraps up, and she gets in line to shake my hand. I exchange pleasantries with everyone before her, grateful for their praise and unsure how to take their compliments. Her stare tells me everything.
“Thank you,” she says, her voice cracking, tears still streaming down her face. “I thought I was the only one.”
“You’re not alone,” I tell her. “There are people out there cheering you on. And you’re strong. Much stronger than you believe.” She looks doubtful, but I nod encouragingly. “Just keep the faith, okay? Every day is going to be a battle, but you’re going to get through this.”
She smiles weakly, and suddenly, I understand. I wasn’t just talking to her. I was talking to me.
JANUARY 14, 2020
I return my pill bottles to the cabinet, poring over the memories they summon. It’s hard to pinpoint when it all started. Maybe it was the evening at the equestrian park. Or that night of prayer. Or that one day I drove to work, and things really started getting bad. It’s hard to tell where little quirks end and mental illness began. I try to remind myself that, like most things in life, there’s not a simple answer. It probably doesn’t matter. What matters is right now. That I’m doing better. There’s not many who can say they’ve had such a speedy recovery. Thank God for SNRIs, I suppose.
As I lean against the counter, staring at the medicine cabinet, an idea crosses my mind. I dash to my laptop, flipping it open, pulling up Google Docs. I type “OCD” in the search bar. Immediately, the document pulls up. Click. The words are there, the painful, heart-dissecting words. But the story’s not finished. There’s more to be said. It’s not easy to return to, but I feel strong enough to do it now.
I slip the earbuds into my ears. I open the music app, scrolling through albums to see what best fits my mood. I stumble upon Red and smile. Opening it, I scroll to “Begin Again”, pressing play. I hum along to the guitar. The thoughts come, as they always do when I listen to music, but the only thing I can focus on is the words. I sing along, my grin refusing to fade.
“I’ve been spending the last eight months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end. But on a Wednesday, in a café, I watched it begin again.”
All poetry and prose © 2023 by Corey J. Boren