Talking Clocks

In the beginning of May 2018, my life reached an apex I hadn’t experienced before. It was my last semester of community college. I maintained a 3.9 GPA, had several leadership positions, and was looking countless academics opportunities straight in the eye. I was stressed and overworked, but I finally felt like I had full control over my life. It felt good to know that even though my OCD eventually lead to dropping out of high school, I was able to pick myself up and keep going.

However, you never realize the fragility of your status quo until you have a panic attack at a gas station and call 911 in an act of desperation. Earlier that day, I took a Chemistry final and spent time with my boyfriend. He was filling up the tank and I was lazily scrolling through my texts when all of a sudden, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Alejandro insisted I hold off on calling the paramedics, but they showed up and told me my oxygen saturation levels were at 98%. As much as that reassurance helped in the moment, that night ended with a lot of attempts to soothe and distract. This one panic attack, the strongest I’d had in years, set off one of the worst periods in my life. The following week, I was continuously convinced my lungs would just stop working at any given moment. My stepmother and boyfriend were by my side constantly, and I felt a distinct sense of shame. I was so used to driving myself all over South Florida until midnight approached, taking care of everyone’s needs, and being available no matter what. I was angry that I had to depend on others for basic functioning.

Pictured: My two best friends when Alejandro was at work.

My boyfriend drove me to school for one of my last final exams, and I struggled to stay calm. I shook and hyperventilated as quietly as possible in that classroom, hoping I could get through the problems quickly. When Alejandro picked me up, I got in the car and took note of the time. I had a mild compulsion. Look at the time, then swallow six times while thinking about it. But then the next minute came. And the next minute. I learned, as any normal person does, that it’s very hard to swallow 6 times in one minute. I was stuck in a game of catch up, and I’d had enough. In a rare moment where frustration and anger fear, I stopped swallowing and ignored the time. However, I paid for it later that night. I was fluxuating in and out of panic for hours, fearing that I’d have to catch up for the compulsions I deliberately missed. I was convinced I’d lose control eventually, and give into this arbitrary source of comfort forever. The rest of my life spent swallowing until a descent into suicide.

For the next month or so, my family and I engaged in extreme avoidance. No one was to mention the time, use their phones, or wear their watches around me. I stopped using my phone and computer, becoming increasingly isolated from the friends I valued most in the world. You never realize how far OCD’s tendrils can reach until you’re accustomed to backwards digital clocks and post it notes covering car radios. Between these macabre scenes were beautiful displays of love. Friends arranging to come over through my boyfriend, everyone putting their phones away for a birthday gathering, and my best friend sending postcards through the mail signaling that the outside world was just fine. I even found new hobbies due to a lack of schoolwork and technology taking up my days. I picked up my guitar again, wrote more than ever, and started learning piano. It was a side of myself struggling to break out under the weight of club meetings and school projects and college applications.

Regardless of finding little workarounds, I still wanted my life back. I started intensive therapy around mid-May, and to the relief of my dad and stepmom, showed small improvements. There were plenty of nights of doubt and taking two steps back, but there was an overarching pattern of improvement. Slowly but surely, I could go into the kitchen with the incorrect oven clock and not bat an eye. I let myself look up in restaurants and stare those clocks on the ceiling down.

I still lament the loss of independence and the fact that I missed celebrating my end of semester achievements. With my newfound ability to use my phone again, I took to social media and talked about graduating, getting published, admission into the University of Florida, receiving an award, and facing therapy head on. At the very least, I could tell my friends that things are turning out alright. Messages of support poured in from close friends, peers, and even my old English teacher. The best message was one I opened a few mornings ago. A total stranger told me my posts ended up on their feed. They were also struggling with OCD and wanted to go back to school. They asked for my advice on finding treatment and I enthusiastically messaged them back with all the advice I could give. I spent a lot of May and June asking myself why this was happening to me. I’m not one for believing in signs, but I do believe in meaning. The worst period of my life brought me the realization that my friends, helping people, and indulging in my creative side were astronomically more important than the perfect academic career. OCD forced me to learn that I am worth taking care of.

For a full gallery of my summer documented, click here.