Ten years, a retrospective
My New York state of mind
My ten-year high school reunion was last month. I didn’t go—it seemed like an event where classmates I wasn’t friends with would try to sell me life insurance I didn’t need.
But it did make me reflect. Was I really this old? Did I always fart this much? Why is there blood on my hands? Is that a dead body in my bathtub? WHY ARE THE POLICE KNOCKING ON MY DOOR?!
But mostly it made me think about my OCD.
When I graduated high school, I left Arizona to go to New York City for college. When I was moving into the dorms, this thought of I have an STD hit me—it didn’t matter that I didn’t have any symptoms, it didn’t matter that I was in a committed, long-term relationship. But whatever. I go and get tested—no harm in that. And the results came back: no STDs.
But the thought didn’t go away. What if the test was wrong? What if they mixed up my urine sample? What if the STD had just entered my body and it wasn’t “present” in my urine yet? What if I had an STD they didn’t test for?
So I start scouring the internet, calling Telehealth lines, obsessively checking my groin, my mouth, my legs… was this red patch here yesterday? What about this bump? Does this look like a wart? A blister? Is that an ingrown hair or something else? I start picking at my skin—if I can pick it off, it can’t be an STD, I think to myself.
Before university classes started, a group of us were playing that two truths and a lie game—where you say two truths and a lie about yourself and the rest of the group has to pick out the lie. Frazzled and disengaged, I accidentally say three lies and have to play two of them off as truths. Maybe I do have my skydiving license, Beth—are you really going to fight me on this?
OCD and I flirted for years, but this was the first time I felt completely detached. I had these thoughts and these compulsions—and everything else going on around me was just noise.
But soon enough, this I have an STD thought had morphed into this gnawing fear that I have HIV. This kicked off a multi-year-long slog to become “certain” that I didn’t have this disease. But this certainty cycle is like a flywheel—the more I obsessed and checked and ruminated, the more momentum I gave my OCD.
My college experience was less about slangin’ brewskis with the bros and more about erasing any doubt that I might have HIV. I would get a blood test and it would come back negative—but I’d think the results were wrong, or they messed up the blood draw, or they accidentally drew my blood with a dirty needle and now I have HIV, or maybe it’s not HIV, it’s a different autoimmune disease… so I was getting blood test after blood test after blood test—and when my doctor had the gall to suggest that “maybe this isn’t about HIV,” I just found a new doctor.
I was spending hours every day checking over my body to look for signs of illness. This sore throat is my first symptom. This rash is my first symptom. Or maybe I’m still asymptomatic—but it’s just a matter of time before I get sick and die. I begged my girlfriend to talk to her ex-boyfriend about his health, I obsessively read WebMD and medical forums and discussion board threads about whether I could get it from a door handle or if I could get it from a cut on my finger. Did I have a cut on my face when my aunt kissed my cheek? Could she have HIV? I started washing my face and my lips and the inside of my mouth with hand sanitizer. I’d wipe my legs and arms down with Lysol wipes. Throughout the day I’d obsessively clean my groin with anti-bacterial hand soap until it felt “clean.” I felt like I was obsessing about this thing that nobody could understand. I felt alone, and I felt like a moron.
But wouldn’t you know it, a few months ago I was having myself a relaxing shit and listening to's podcast: . Sam was interviewing James McMahon—a former editor of the British music paper NME and the British rock magazine, Kerrang!, who now writes the Substack, . James was talking to Sam about what it was like living with OCD:
“When I was 19 and at university… I basically just woke up one day and decided that maybe I was HIV positive—and there was no indication that this was something that I should have been worried about, there was nothing that suggested this was the case… but the fact that I couldn’t prove to myself that I wasn’t, that I couldn’t live with the uncertainty… just kickstarted years and years of turmoil” - James McMahon
I couldn't help but chuckle to myself on the toilet. Getting a bit lazy on the original content, are we, OCD? I showed my wife the podcast episode and she laughed. I also showed my dog. She laughed, too.
Then she got up on her hind legs, walked to the kitchen drawer, and pulled out a knife. Get me an extra scoop of dinner, she said, the mackerel and lamb niblets. She gestured to the bag of food on the counter. I’m not fucking around. She then twirled the knife between her front paws. My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. Let’s talk about this, I said. Just put the knife down. Please. My dog shook her head in contempt, lunged forward, and stabbed my wife in the chest. I started running. I’ve been running ever since. My name is. This dog killed my wife:
by the way—I’m going back to my every-other-Thursday posting schedule—in the off chance you noticed I wasn’t doing that.
Some resources and links that have helped me
And check out that Sam Delaney episode with James McMahon here: