Love in the time of OCD
On Oct. 14, 2019, while I was walking inside the UP Diliman campus, my right leg scraped a bush. No big deal, right? Just a hedge of plants found everywhere in the campus. But for me it was more than just a bush. My brain started thinking, what if there was an animal hidden in that bush that scratched or bit me and gave me rabies? I checked my leg; it seemed fine. I even placed alcohol on it to see if it would sting. There was nothing.
To an ordinary person, this should have been the end of the ordeal. Your right leg is fine, it is time to go on with your day. But for me who is clinically diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), this was just the beginning. In the next weeks, I would keep thinking about this. I’d become paranoid, scared and even suicidal.
I kept checking my leg and applying alcohol. Whenever I walked around the mall, I was worried that there were dogs spitting their saliva on me or my food, dogs somehow licking or biting my hands without me noticing, and many more intrusive thoughts. It was completely irrational, but it bothered me anyway. One time, I was somehow convinced the utensils we were using in a restaurant had dog saliva on them.
Having OCD can be a terrifying life. I become terrified every time I go out of the house, thinking that one wrong move and I’d be dead. I would feel trapped; what if the thoughts were true? Am I just going to die? Should I just forget about it? If it wasn’t rabies, then perhaps the next time I rode a taxi or a jeep I’d get killed in a horrific car accident.
But I wasn’t alone. Looking around the anxiety support groups on social media, I discovered that there were many others who are suffering the same way. This gave me some relief. I am not alone, all of this is just a symptom of my anxiety disorder, of OCD.
But as usual with OCD, the relief is short-lived. You are constantly in doubt. What if my memories were wrong, what if this time what I’m fearing about is true? What if there was a dog? What if? What if? What if?
And the worst part about it is that many of these questions can never truly be answered. The people around you will never truly understand. It is a terribly lonely experience. I’ve had thoughts of committing suicide. This is the reality of obsessive-compulsive disorder — the relentless search for certainty and clarity in a world that contains neither.
All of these are nothing new to me. Since June, I have been suffering from anxiety attack after anxiety attack, for different reasons. My productivity has been crushed because my mind is completely consumed by such anxious thoughts. Looking back, I’ve had OCD symptoms since I was a child, but it got really bad last June.
Talking with my therapist gave me some comfort, like a healthy dose of sanity in an insane world. She made me realize what it is I truly fear. I fear death for many reasons, but most importantly I fear death because I know it is eternal separation from those I truly love. There will be no more video games with my brother, no more talking with my sister about movies and literature, no more travels with my mom and dad.
With this, hopefully I’ve found a good coping mechanism to my predicament: love. If I could show love to somebody every day, then life is worth living. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It could be just a smile, a hello or a how are you. It could be treating my brother to some dessert, talking to a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, giving the taxi driver a big tip or writing a song for my mother.
The sting of death is weakened. In a time when people feel powerless in the face of complex despotic systems, I can feel that I have power, that my small actions are changing the world somehow.
I’m still scared about the possibility of waking up with sundry symptoms and dying. In reality, death can come at any moment; it’s way outside of our control. In the meantime, I will try my best
every day to keep my head up and practice the second great commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself.
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Luis Enrico R. Tolentino, 21, lives in Quezon City and is a physics graduate. He is currently an archaeology student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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