WARNING: THE CONTENT OF THIS WORK MAY BE CONSIDERED SENSITIVE OR TRIGGERING BY SOME READERS.
The scent is strong as we move on and breathe in the pristine crime scene.
—Air Traffic, Owl City.
“Visualize,” the psychologist had said. “Visualize your anxiety, your depression, your mania. Think of it apart from yourself because it is not you. It is not what makes you. It is what you have to fight.” We’d been speaking over Skype because I cannot see one face to face. I’m Nigerian, we’re strong. Thoughts sef no dey kill African man. I cannot “copy” the made-up diseases of the white man. That’s what my older brother, Kennedy told me when I was eleven and dying silently of crippling OCD. Maybe because of that I got better but then I got worse and then I ran to get help. I’m strong in front of everyone else as best as I can so I can be Nigerian too.
“We sometimes tell children to imagine their anxieties, especially OCD as a villain. An evil witch.” She’d continued. “So they can fight it on the offensive, head-on.”
I paid for appointments and still lost money to Skyping but it’s a good spend I think, it’s the cost for strength. Do you think that is sad?
When I visualize the depression that comes after an episode, I visualize a nightmare, a filthy, dark beast.
It’s scraping at my skin, it’s nails are impaling my brain. It’s slow, it’s vicious, it’s brutal. Like the woman said, perhaps the anxiety, when visualized by others, will be a witch, cooking up the panic in a cauldron, green and disgusting. Perhaps it’ll be an armed man, I think armed men are very scary.
“Visualize your anxiety, she’d told me.”
“I don’t know how to,” I told her. I think I lied.
I think I do visualize it but maybe I’m doing it wrong.
When I visualize my Obsessive Compulsion —even though it’s mostly cleaning compulsions— I don’t often see a giant germ, regardless of how terrifying that sounds. I think I sometimes visualize the family member or friend on the line (you’ll know what I mean soon) but ultimately, more often than not, she’s a witch just like the therapist said she should be but my witch owns no cauldron. She owns a pestle that
stands as long as I am tall, for reasons I can’t very much comprehend.
Contrary to popular opinion—at least from my personal experience— OCD does not make a clean freak,
I’m not a clean freak, what I become is a terrified little boy, a slave. I am not just itching to have the plates washed because I want to make them clean. There is always a trigger, a trigger to disaster, once you pull the trigger you really can’t stop the bullet, can you?
What really happens is, I’m washing the plates and I see the spot under the handle of the cup, water hasn’t gotten to it in years because of the angle. That’s the trigger, the point of no return, the moment I
dig the sponge in and realize it won’t come clean.
It will come as just a thought, the strangest assumption; what if you don’t get it clean someone dies, your mother or Kennedy? What if they fall ill and die, choke on food and die, slip, hit their head and die?
Then it’ll come masquerading as fact; If you don’t get it clean, they’ll surely die. It’s ridiculous, it’s stupid that I’ll believe it. . . but I do. I’ll scrub more furiously.
It’ll come as an image next, graphic as can be and my lungs will seize to work. It’ll get more real and I’ll start to cry. I’m twenty and I’ll start to cry. My labored breathing will get louder, my scalp will get itchy, I’ll get more agitated but it can only ever get worse, more complicated, never better.
If I wash it five times then they won’t die, even if it isn’t clean, five is the number of letters in Jesus’ name.
I’ll think because I’m breathless, it won’t work. I’m still scared. Three times, I’ll think because God is spelt with three letters. It won’t work, breathless, aching, weeping, I’ll trudge on because I’m hooked.
I passed out once. When they asked, I said I was probably sick because Nigerians can get malaria but
they can’t get mentally ill.
Remember the woman with the pestle? Know why I visualize her? I do so because I, well, I think she’s always there really but I only notice her after a trigger or just before one. The first thought is a shove on my shoulder, just do it, she’d urge. The image is a more violent shove that gets me on the floor, does it now! Everything afterward is her pestle coming down on me. I don’t blame her, she’s frantic, she just wants to warn me, let me know the severity of the situation. I won’t doubt that she’s quite brutal though but I won’t let anyone know how brutal. I won’t show you, I’m a strong Nigerian youth.
No matter how you visualize it, depression will physically be messy, cut wrists, unwashed bodies, dirty rooms. A regular crime scene. My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder isn’t, you don’t see it because you don’t want to and I don’t want you to. It’s washed, it’s clean, it’s a pristine crime scene.