A worn quilt drips over the side of the bed where I wake up in a panic every morning. The sweat perspired from my pores during the night has drenched my pyjamas, causing the material to stick to my body. This uncomfortable texture taints my skin, and I become obsessed with ridding myself of this sensation. I wish I could crack open the window to allow some of the cool winter air to flow around me, but I just can’t. It’s raining.

After trying to reassure myself that all the doors in the house are locked and the oven is not on, I finally get to my car. When I get onto the road, an unexpected detour sends me into a spiral. The only way is down, into the abyss of obsessive-compulsive disorder. You know, OCD, right? It’s joked about all the time. Just as I’m about to park, I see another car in the spot that I need to park in every day. When I realise the impossibility of me fulfilling this compulsion, I see an empty runaway car collide with a child. Tears flood down my cheeks, blurring my vision. When I eventually park the car in the ‘incorrect’ spot and look around, I realise that there was no accident; the quiet road is void of any other vehicles or people. Even so, I must check the handbrake of my car dozens of times because that vision constantly reappears.

Eventually, I arrive at work and walk over to my desk. My stapler’s in a different spot. Sliding it back into its usual position helps to soothe my anxiety but the calm doesn’t last long. I make some other adjustments because some things just feel ‘off’.

“Hey, can you get this sorted? It needs to be sent by 8:40am.”

I look at the time in the corner of the computer. I’ve only got seven minutes. He says something quickly, but I haven’t finished my morning OCD rituals, so I can’t focus. I hear only murmurs.

What is it? Transfer it where? But he’s already gone, and I have to figure it out. Right now.

And this uncertainty eats me from the inside, escaping through trembling hands, shallow breaths, and a wobbly lower lip. Oh, and more compulsions. Shaking my head erratically to rid my mind of terrifying thoughts is a hard one to resist, and it’s the most visible. I sit down at the desk and shuffle in my chair until it feels ‘right’. But it doesn’t.

Six minutes.

While the program loads, I flick through my notes to work out what I’m meant to do next.
Which button do I press first?

During training, I thought I understood, but my mind is letting me down now; the broom of anxiety has cleared away all my thoughts, leaving only panic behind. If I don’t get this done in time, I’ll probably be fired. It doesn’t matter that they said I was doing a good job last week. They probably didn’t mean it.

Four minutes.

Miraculously, the first step comes to mind now, but what was the product called? I try to type it in to the search box, but spelling has never been a strength of mine. Ah, that doesn’t look right. No item found. The panic builds and I eventually start clicking random buttons. Thankfully, the right setting pops up and my memory of the process returns temporarily. But when I glance at the time, a torturous realisation occurs.

It’s too late. I lift my right hand to hide my face from people at the desks nearby. But the tears still manage to slide around it and land on the keyboard. Twenty minutes later, my manager’s shift begins. Despite my best efforts to hide my emotions, I fail. Then I see her approach my desk from the corner of my eye. She assures me that it’s okay, that the delay can be resolved easily. Everyone makes mistakes, she says. And her eyes convey the same message. But I am consumed in the obsessive thought loop of my unbelievable inadequacy.

I continue wading through the paperwork that has been overwhelming me all week, and I slowly try to break down the towers of unfiled documents that make it hard for me to breathe. It takes a couple of hours for my heart rate to return to normal. I try to seek reassurance from my partner, but text messages are not nearly as comforting as a person’s physical presence. I retreat to the bathroom and stare at the girl in the mirror. She wipes her hands across her face, but I can still see the tears on her cheek, which create tiny rivers in the presence of her foundation. Soon enough, her mascara runs in the newly formed chasms like polluted water. As she reaches for a tissue, she blinks, only increasing the water flow. When I look closer at her hands, I see the damage she’s done to her fingernails. But after a while, I look away; I can’t stand the sight of my own reflection. I head into one of the stalls and an unwrapped roll of toilet paper stares back at me. My OCD pressures me into finding a new one, having ‘informed’ me of the bacterial colonies resting on its exposed surface. When I am ready to wash my hands, I notice an absence of paper towels to dry the drips. So, I wipe my cleansed hands on my trousers and when I reach for the light switch, my finger hesitates.

What if my carelessness means the next person who touches it will be electrocuted?
I return to my desk reluctantly but confidence in my ability increases as the day progresses.

Until it crashes to the lowest point instantly when my manager approaches me, that is. Her face is riddled with concern. “I think it’d be a good idea for us to have a quick chat this afternoon”.

Oh. I’ve heard this before. When I was fired from my first job. But it was hard to work effectively when I second guessed every single decision I made. And unfortunately, I still do.

We agree to meet at 12:30pm in the room at the front of the building. I try to inhale enough oxygen to fill my lungs, and I succeed unexpectedly. This courage sends a wave of adrenaline through my veins, but unfortunately, it erupts into another wave of crippling anxiety. The sun has now climbed into the middle of the sky, showering the earth in its gentle winter rays.

I get there a couple minutes early and when the manager arrives, she sets down two hot drinks which she must’ve bought from the café around the corner. “I just thought you could use a bit of a pick-me-up”.

The scent of chocolate swirls upwards and the warmth of the cup is a suitable substitute for hugs in this new workplace setting. I brace myself for the upcoming conversation, and the anticipation means that I become teary again.

“I want to help you. What can I do to make you feel more confident?” The unexpected question means that the barriers of my eyelids, which held the queue of tears in place, are so intensely pressured; the water suddenly breaks through. They slide down the fragile skin of my face, before dropping onto my uniform and melting into its cotton fabric.

“You are so, so capable” she says. But it’s hard to believe something that my mind has convinced me of otherwise for so long.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t want to waste your time”, I whisper through sobs.

I divert my eyes to the table; I don’t want to make eye contact and see her disappointment. But then I say something that I’ve never said before to a person in authority. I’m probably going to lose this job anyway.

“I have clinical OCD.”

She moves something on the table but says nothing until I look up at her. Her hand holds a tissue to her eyes. She’s teary too now. “It’s my job to help you. I’m going to spend as much time as needed to help you succeed. You’ve only been here, what… three weeks, right? You are doing so well”.

Her facial expression fills me with ease, and I tell her how much I’m struggling. Up until recently, I’ve been attending therapy on a fortnightly basis, but the appointments have changed, and I can no longer make the times. She asks about the possibility of attending weekend therapy but when I explain the costs of seeing a private psychologist, she retracts her suggestion.

“I’ve already been accepted into a free program, but the latest appointment I could get is on Tuesdays at 3:30pm. And my shift finishes at 5pm each day”, I say as my voice trails off. She looks at me, is about to speak but then pauses.

“What if…hmm…what if we moved your shift times?”

“Like I could leave early on Tuesdays?”

“Would that help? I’m sure we could accommodate that.”

I tell her how difficult I find one of the job’s responsibilities and she says she can see how stressed I become. So, she alters my role. Instantly. No one’s ever done this for me before.

“Would you find it helpful if we talked through some of the concepts you’re unsure about? I can spend the rest of the day with you if you like.” I’m in awe. Tears reappear on my face, and I thank her profusely. “I’d love that”.

I glance over to the analogue clock. She’s spent a whole hour of her time with me and although I don’t say it, I am filled with relentless guilt. I assume she’ll be behind on her work now and will be eager to vacate the room. But I’m wrong. “Is there anything else bothering you?”

My mind flashes back to this morning’s car collision. “Anything at all?”

I hesitate again but she knows I’m thinking about something. Then, words flow from my mouth before my brain has a chance to approve. “I panic if I can’t park in the same place every day.”

Ugh, that sounds so stupid. But without a second of hesitation, she says she’ll organise a parking pass for me. “Let me know if you think of anything else. It’s my job as your manager to help you succeed”.

I return to work after our meeting and feel the immediate effects of her support and confidence in my ability. The flurry of panic clears from my mind; I can breathe.

Three months later, after I have attended weekly therapy appointments consistently on Tuesdays, my OCD symptoms soften from the ‘extreme’ to a manageable ‘mild’ severity. I still find day-to-day life challenging, and I’ll have to fight OCD for the rest of my life. But as I resist urges to quadruple check power points or wash my hands constantly, I’m now successful in a way I never thought I could be. The symptoms of OCD will always be nearby, ready to pounce at my vulnerability, but now I am in control. This is my life. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

So now, on days when I feel like I’m drowning in the rain, I know the storm will end eventually. And I relish the soothing warmth of the sun’s bright rays which continue to shine from the support of those around me. And it’s well known that sunlight is crucial for life.

About the Author

Georgie Waters is an award-winning writer and recently completed a Graduate Certificate of Creative and Professional Writing at Griffith University. Within the next 12 months, she aims to complete her novel manuscript while still working full time. Through her writing, Georgie advocates to reduce the stigma of mental illness, including clinical obsessive compulsive disorder with which she is diagnosed.

To contact Georgie, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgie-waters-writer/