Hello again, Dear Reader! (I think there’s still one of you who frequents this inane and inept blog. Whoever you are, God bless ya!) Today’s post is a personal confession of mine. Obviously, if you read this blog, you know there’s a good chance I suffer from mental illness (Spoiler: I do!) but just how unstable am I? Read on to find out!
I am an advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. Many people in my life have shed blood, sweat, toil, and tears in some sort of dark struggle with bad brain chemistry, and I am certainly no exception. As you know, mental illness takes on many forms, and many more people than you realize suffer some type of cognitive malady. Many people in your daily lives, in fact. Some are just much better at hiding it than others.
My particular mental illness developed into what we call Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), one of the more common mental ailments. It developed when I was thirteen years old, evolved throughout my teenage years, and solidified into the generally manageable and yet painfully life-altering form it exists in today. And sadly, when I say it is painful, I certainly do not mean it is painful to only me. I wish that were true. It is far more painful for those around me, those who truly care about me, and those who have stood by me in my darkest times and despite those times, still stand.
I suspect my mental illness might be more than just your run-of-the-mill OCD. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it is a mild schizophrenia, if such an ailment can ever be “mild.” These days, my life is lived in South Korea, far from my more severe triggers. Those triggers are family-related, and it is because of this that I rarely see my family in person. I was there in 2012 to sit at my mother’s side as she died from Parkinson’s disease, and since then, I have been home only a handful of times. The physical distance I must travel to get home is a big part of my reason for being so scarce, but my OCD shares at least half of the blame. When I am home, I do sincerely enjoy my time with my family, and I love them all very much, but as soon as I am away from their company and alone again, the OCD comes screaming back like an enraged parent furiously scolding me to the point of abuse for the company I had been keeping.
For this reason, my sister still does not know how severe my OCD is. She knows it is very severe, but she still sees me in good spirits, comfortably enjoying my time in her home and sharing in good company and good relations. She does not see me when I return to my hotel room and have to talk myself down from burning everything around me to prevent the “contamination” from spreading to the rest of my life.
When I say “burning everything around me,” I am not suggesting that fire is my cure-all. I’m not a budding arsonist. In fact, my OCD is of the stereotypical hand-washing variety, except that the water I wash in must be as cold as possible. Cold water is the only salve for my infuriated mind. If it is hot, it only makes the OCD worse. Why? Because hot water opens the pores in the skin, allowing the contaminants inside. Have you ever stepped into a cold shower during seriously cold winter months? Now imagine having to stand in that shower, scrubbing yourself down for anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour (depending on the level of perceived contamination), under the blast of frigid ice water, your skin turning lobster red, your head aching from the icy chill, your extremities screaming from frostbite as though they have been slammed in a car door. It is a torture that I have to occasionally endure so that I can walk away from it feeling “clean” again. And when my mind finally relents and allows me to turn the water to hot, ah, that is so fucking satisfying! I begin singing in the shower, and the mental hell I had been suffering before getting into that shower is washed away like so much dust.
Any clothes that I was wearing must also be washed in cold water. Indeed, the washing machine in my home set so that it only has a cold wash cycle. Anything I touched, anywhere I stepped, and and anything I carried with me must also be similarly cleansed. Soap is not necessary, but cold water is a must. You can imagine why I had a difficult time living in Oman, where getting cold water out of a tap is like getting blood from a stone. I kept jugs of water in my refrigerator for emergencies.
I could go on. Here in Korea, far removed from any high-level triggers, my mind still creates aggravations to set off my need to wash in cold, refreshing water. Anything that touches the floor is contaminated. Why? Because when I went home to visit last, my feet tracked “contaminant” from my sister’s house to my hotel, then from the hotel (the hallways, the elevator) to my rental car, car to airport, airport to apartment… and so on. I tell myself that there is a “Rule of 3s” — that anything that is three or more steps removed from the original offending contaminant is no longer contaminated. This eases much of the stress, but no matter how you try, you can’t wash everything. You can’t wash your mind.
Here let me say that my OCD used to be much, much worse. I was well on my way to being incapacitated by this mental illness. I went to see every sort of therapist, psychiatrist, and medical doctor I could find. For a while, I was on medications. They tried antidepressants like Paxil and Zoloft, and a slew of SRIs. Some were even mildly effective for a short while, but soon the benefits wore off and the meds just made me so dizzy I could barely walk a straight line let alone drive a car. There is sadly very little that can be done by the medical profession for such deep-seated delusions. If you read this blog, then it should be apparent that I have a very over-active imagination. Coupled with a chemical imbalance, it’s a perfect storm for a living psychological nightmare.
As far as my blog entries on some of the weirder things that I claim in regard to UFOs/UAPs and the paranormal phenomenon related to these topics: These I do believe. I don’t think I hallucinated the things that I have seen. It hasn’t always been just me that has seen them; I have been with others at times. However, some of these interactions may have contributed to the breaking of my brain. And while they may have been partially a cause for the mental illness from which I suffer, they also provide a cure in the comfort I feel in knowing that there is more to this world than meets the eye. This “magical thinking” as some have dubbed it allows me to believe in miracles, and it seems it will take a miracle to end my suffering from this damned OCD once and for all. I am considering trying ayahuasca in the near future to see if that will finally kill the snakes in my head. I have read that some people have found such experimental DMT treatments to be very effective. There are several articles available online that discuss this option.
As I said, I could write volumes on my own struggle with mental illness. What causes it? I have no fucking idea. I suffered a solid conk on the noggin as a child at play, a hit so hard that I saw stars but was not knocked unconscious. That could have been it. Maybe it was the trauma of losing a parent at a young age? Perhaps. Maybe it is something I have suppressed entirely, or some lingering trauma from a past-life experience, or any combination of these or a myriad of other things. Some may suggest that it was my use of hallucinogens or other drugs, but to me, these have actually provided relief rather than aggravation. And I never even drank alcohol until I was seventeen years old, well after my OCD first appeared. But yes, they may also be part of the problem. What do I know? I have gone over it all again and again with psychiatric professionals my whole life. Once I was able to get my OCD to a level at which I could live an outwardly-normal, day-to-day, independent existence without the need of medication, I just accepted my lot. I’m middle-aged now, and I feel that what I have at this point I just have to live with (barring any aforementioned miracles).
Now to the reason I am bringing all of this up: I recently ended a years-long friendship with someone because they could not handle my mental illness. And I am hurt that such thinking still exists. It’s not as though mental illness is contagious. That, to me, is the worst kind of ignorance, right up there with homophobia, transphobia, racism, or any other need to feel hatred for someone simply because you do not understand what they are. Perhaps these are poor analogies, but I am rattled. Let me tell you what happened (Lucky you!):
A year ago, I had a couple of friends over to my apartment for drinks to celebrate the end of a hard-fought semester and a much-needed break from classes. We are all university professors here in Korea. Now, suffering from OCD, I am always nervous to have guests over, especially here in Korea as the apartments here are very small. I live alone, and so I am very comfortable in a studio apartment within walking distance to campus. However, this does not provide me with the “inner sanctum” of a separate bedroom that I can block off from the intrusion of insensitive guests. Nonetheless, after our dinner at a local galbi restaurant, when we all needed a place to continue drinking, I cautiously invited my two companions to my place. I first explained to them that I am a “neat freak,” and that I do suffer from OCD, and would they please mind making sure that nothing that touches the floor be placed on any furniture? Especially the bed, as I needed to be able to sleep comfortably when everyone went home.
One friend was more than okay with obliging, admitting that he, too, was a bit of a neat freak. My other friend, who was also my closest friend at this university (he and I became friends nearly ten years ago before we were even co-workers), was not so obliging. I have seen his apartment, he lives in squalor. It’s disgusting. But live how you want to live in your own home. Now, in my home, this fellow decides to test my claim of OCD and proceeded to put his shoed feet on chairs, saying, “How about this? Does this bug you?” To which I replied, “That’s it, everyone out!” I was serious, but he calmed down, so I played it off as a joke, and we had a relatively pleasant evening after that initial encroachment. However, I did not invite that guy back to my apartment again after that.
That is until a year later, that which was just a few nights ago. Again, we had been out at a restaurant, and again we wanted to continue hanging out afterwards, but it is the cold winter months here, and so sitting outside a minimart (as is a common custom here in Korea) was not an option. So I said, “Look, we can go to my place, but you know how I am with my OCD. But I will be moving again soon anyway, so I may as well get used to the stress.” This is true. My university recently had to tell a bunch of us that they would not be renewing our contracts for the coming school year due to budget cuts. The lockdowns over COVID-19 and Omicron requiring online classes have only increased the number of student withdrawals, and low enrollment means low funds, and we were on the chopping block. I was one that got cut. My mental illness-ignorant friend was not in such dire straits as he has seniority at this university, second only to the head of our department.
So let’s look at the backdrop for the impending blow-up: I am under a lot of stress as I have to find a new job here in Korea within the next month or move back to the USA, a fate I dread with my very soul. No matter what happens, I will have to move out of this apartment, possibly even reducing my life to two suitcases and a backpack yet again to fly halfway across the world to unemployment and an uncertain future. That alone is stressful enough, but when you live with OCD, such an upheaval is literally hell.
Nonetheless, we picked up some drinks and came back to my place to watch some episodes from the Golden Age of The Simpsons (seasons 3-15, of which we are both great fans). I told him before we walked into my apartment, “Make yourself at home, be comfortable, but just make sure nothing touches my bed.” I could wash everything else the next day after he had left. I just wanted to be sure I would have a comfortable place to sleep that night as I was already tired, stressed from a week of job-hunting (two interviews — one of which was a 3-hour journey — and two rejections), and I could not face an all-night session of the decontamination ritual.
I poured drinks while he found some early episodes online to watch. Then, after I sat down, he got up, and twice he walked straight over to my bed, looking like he was about to flop down on it despite my requests. I again reminded him, “Please, man, stay on the couch. I’m gonna need that bed come three a.m.!” He obliged, and I relaxed. Then he decided to get really comfortable on the couch and stretch out. I figured he was getting tired, too, and was hoping to nap there before heading home. That was perfectly fine. I’m happy to abide a guest crashing. However, at the end of the couch where he wanted to put his feet was a bike lock that I used on my bike when I kept it outside in the warmer months. I bring the bike inside in the winter to prevent rust, so the lock had been sitting where I had idly tossed it last. Being on the couch, and being below his feet, it was contaminated. He picked it up, looking for a place to move it. Knowing I had already warned him multiple times about anything touching the bed, I said, “Just toss it on the floor, it’s fine.” He gave me a look, and tossed it on the bed.
Well, I lost my shit. I admit, I over-reacted, but for fuck’s sake, how many times had I explained my OCD issue, and how many times had I told him, please, do not let anything touch the bed? I shouted, “Asshole, what the fuck?! What have I told you?!” He met my anger with anger. I told him to get the fuck out, and he, being a bit drunk and very irritated, seemed to refuse, wanting to remain where he was to get some sleep. But I wasn’t having it. I now had laundry to do. And I was offended to the point of seeing red. I told him if he didn’t get the fuck out, I would break his nose. That got him moving. He stopped at the door, turned to me and snarled, “Do not ever threaten me with physical violence ever again!” I replied, “You’ll never see me again!” which is true — as I said, I will probably be leaving Korea in a few weeks. He slammed the door shut, and that was that. I began the decontamination ritual.
Now some of you may ask, “Why not just sleep on the contaminated bed, get the rest you need, and then do the decontamination process the next day?” And that is a reasonable question. My answer is that my over-active brain wouldn’t have allowed me to sleep. My OCD is so strong, my skin physically itches to the point that I feel like I have bedbugs. And the longer I try to endure it, the more it feels as though my skin is rotting like an aging apple and I will end up looking like Benjamin Button after a spin in the microwave. So, the ritual begins.
I stripped the blankets and sheets from the bed and stuffed them into the washing machine. Then I removed my now-contaminated clothes and set them aside for the next load into the washer (the bedsheets and blankets filled the drum). Then I showered in water so cold I thought my nose would start bleeding. When I felt sufficiently comfortable in my own skin again, I got out, dried off, put on clean clothes, and started the wash. By the time it was finished and everything was dry, it was past 7:00 a.m. and I was exhausted. I redressed the bed and crashed hard, putting off the remainder of the cleaning until after I had gotten some sleep.
The next day, as I was doing the last load of contaminated wash, I got a text from the guy demanding an apology. “Your behavior last night was unacceptable. You owe me an apology.” That was the precise text. I replied with a lengthy note explaining what it’s like to live with a mental illness like OCD, what his actions had put me through, and what OCD has done to my life and to my family. I also asked if it was not customary in his country (the U.K.) to abide by the host’s house rules when one is a guest? And in the end, I did apologize for over-reacting, but suggested he do some reading about mental illness and living with OCD.
He replied, “Forget it. I’m done with you and your weirdness. Stay away from me.” I texted back, “Okay, that’s fine with me, too.” And then blocked him on all fronts. I know there is a Reddit sub entitled “Am I the A**hole?” and this makes me think of that. Would I have actually resorted to physical violence against him? Of course not, but he didn’t seem to be sufficiently motivated to leave my apartment so that I could clean it without a threat. I would never resort to violence were it not in self-defense. Still, I feel bad I had to make a threat at all. And yet, hadn’t he asked for it? He seemed to treat my OCD as an opportunity to conduct psychological experiments on me, as though he doesn’t believe OCD is a real thing. The first time he was here, he put his feet on the chairs after I specifically explained to him why that was not allowed. And then a year later, after several requests to not put anything on the bed, he seemed to be looking for a reason to do just that. I have never been so offended by anyone in my home. I have explained to countless guests over the years why I am the way that I am about such things. At the very worst, my guests have rolled their eyes, said, “Yeah, whatever!” and yet they respected my wishes.
To me, here is a person that does not understand mental illness, who does not seem to believe it is anything more than someone seeking attention, going out of his way to make me feel uncomfortable in my own home. And if he can’t see that, then you’re damn right I don’t want him anywhere near me. So at least we can end our friendship with an agreement: Stay away from me!
Thanks for letting me vent. You see how this blog is therapeutic for me, and hopefully a source of amusement for you. And so, I end this as Frasier would end his radio show: This is Pookabazooka, wishing you good afternoon, and good mental health.