When My Neighbor Caught Me Disinfecting My Body at 3 A.M.

It all came to a head in the hallway. Damn that Priscilla! What was she doing up and about at 3:16 in the morning?

I had been told I had a psychological disorder. That, of course, meant I was mentally ill, which meant, of course, I was a kook! I knew of people who compulsively organized their kitchen cabinets or who had to chew their food seventeen times before swallowing. I was pretty sure they were a tad off beat, but sick?

I hadn’t been diagnosed by a shrink, just my primary care doctor. What did he know, anyway?

I did what I often do — I Googled. Let’s see, I had to arrange my household belongings at right angles and had even considered buying a protractor to double check. My closet was neater than the finest department store clothes racks and if I saw an uneven number written anywhere, it meant my day was going to be full of mishaps. My cat was brushed twice a day and I only ate at exactly 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. (Those even numbers again.)

Oh, that list was just a small portion of all my compulsions. I ventured to guess the list may very well have held over a hundred!

But, was I mentally ill? Isn’t that for folks that think they are George Washington or for people who babble to themselves as they stand in line at the grocery store?

Yes, people threw the term obsessively compulsive disorder (OCD) around haphazardly. “He’s so OCD when he cooks. He has the kitchen totally cleaned before we even eat!” Yes, “OCD” was an adjective that even my 12-year-old niece used to describe anyone who was unusual.

I researched and researched again and found that ol’ doc may be correct. I was superbly anxious, often had insomnia and frightening dreams, felt depressed when I had a lengthy checking session and drank alcohol to settle down those previous angst(s.) I felt my chest tightened as I concluded that, indeed, I had OCD.

Now what? Yes, OCD was ruling my life. I was chronically late for work as the “pre-leaving-my-apartment” checking was lasting longer each morning. My entire body was raw from showering four times daily and my electric bill was enormous as I had to wash and dry each clothing item separately.

I panicked and did what any mentally healthy person would do. I had two glasses of wine, turned on a reality show and fell asleep on the couch.

Now, Priscilla was standing, mouth opened, in front of my underwear clad body in our complex hallway. My finger was on the spray button on the can of disinfectant and the enclosed area was foggy with that familiar smell of Lysol. I coughed uncontrollably and then did what any mentally healthy person would do: I cried. I sobbed. I fell apart. I shook. And, that poor woman, that wonderful woman, reached out and gently guided me into my sterile, neurotically perfect, home.

“Germs,” I managed to choke out. “I have this thing about germs. I stay out late so I can spray down my body before going in. I never thought anyone would see me. I’m nuts, I know. Oh, Priscilla, I don’t know what to do…”

Then, that awesome woman smiled and said, “It will be alright Katie. My father had OCD and over time got much better. He saw a behavioral therapist, was on medication for a year or so and he’s relatively well.”

“Relatively?” I continued to sputter through my tears and hiccups. “Relatively?”

“Oh, he’s still tidy and has a few minor obsessions and compulsion. But, thank the Lord; he’s 80 percent better than he was.” She led me to the couch, got me a bottle of water and sat next to me with her hand on my knee. “You know, I believe we all have our issues, some people just tend to get more than their fair share. You will be OK. I promise.”

I tell that story often. I’m over the intense embarrassment of standing practically naked and soaking myself with disinfectant. I aid a psychologist in a therapy group that meets twice a week. And, I’m off my OCD meds and recently was promoted at my job.

I no longer use derogatory words that stigmatize people with mental illness. Through my experience, I have become patient and tolerant with all others who struggle.

Visiting an eclectic art museum with my grown son, we had a lengthy belly laugh when we saw the OCD cartoon, painting and sculpture area. I particularly liked the drawing of a middle-aged woman calling out to her husband, “I’m coming! Just wait while I turn the lights off and off and off and off and…”

The Mighty is asking the following: What was the moment that made you realize it was time to face your mental illness? What was your next step? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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