Stress dreams and endless checking of locks: What a day with obsessive compulsive disorder is like

Anthony Brenton’s writing has frequently dealt with his experiences with mental health. (Mike Moore/CBC)

A hymnary recitation of barking imps stretched out the listless medication night. Barely visible, the twisted horrors chatter before a turkey vulture who holds a tormented man, hung exhausted, in its crumpled, clacking beak.

A 7 a.m. shaking alarm kicks me from this stress-dream, the day breaking out of the loosening jaws of sleep. Symphonic music crackles 100 instruments deep, blaring in my cerebral dawn. A racket cacophony of obsession.

The mad tuning of a hundred instruments demanding perfect pitch by a honed ear, led by a tyrannical conductor measuring out each and every sound and movement in an endless loop.

At this point each day, a prison of forced routine begins leading me about like a wild dog on a chain, to visit the same torments until the end of my time. Anxiety builds by the panic-architect wringing out my lungs. A mock amphetamine belly at terror’s evil dawn.

Then, I wipe away the soft rampage of collected dust from the caves of my face.

True obsessive compulsive disorder is a highly debilitating ordeal that controls the lives and actions of the afflicted.

I have, reluctantly, come to understand that I am somewhat haunted with this disorder. It has been confirmed by a psychiatrist and I have added medication to my already hearty regimen.

With a glass of tap water I take these medications. I take them as one would crumbs or the heel of bread. A sad eucharist to break the night’s fast.

Coffee beans shatter into grounds, a hearty gulp of Pepto-Bismol, then rouse the children. As they dress and eat waffles, I yell at videos of bare-knuckle boxing on mute. Johann Sabastian Bach plays a solo piano.

I check the heaters and rattle the doors. I ensure electrical plugs are undone and the oven is cold.

Look at the birds, touch the windows

Out the window I take a look for birds. Then by news sites I note plague statistics, current crime, and disasters.

I finish dressing, pile the youngsters into my car and join the lineup for school, fishing out coins for a professional coffee.

Home, tenderly sipping from a paper cup, I read for 60 minutes: rapidly through the poets, novelists, journalists. The insane! The very serious! The eaters of drugs!

Anthony Brenton says part of his daily routine with obsessive compulsive disorder is checking windows he has already checked. (Shutterstock)

A tightening apprehension towers within me. Check the locks. Touch the windows for openings. By rapid memory loss I check them again.

The terror of disaster gnaws at me like a dense hunger. I am crippled by the prospect of headlessness … hell is the complacency of the respectable citizen! And premature regret is the preamble to guilt for a hypothetical failure.

Knowing that this does not correspond with reality is inconsequential. I must act as though these notions are law.

Though unhappy about the obsessions, a heavy compulsion is my manacled routine; hands and nerves restrained in the cuffs of my own design. Forged by the stoked fire of my mind. Up with the volume on Chopin, solo piano.

By pacing I inventory with my inherent protection of objects, tearing my useless socks to shreds and tossing them in the corner as my shale feet have eaten holes clear through them.

I have, reluctantly, come to understand that I am somewhat haunted with this disorder. 

Soon the weight of severe depression slimes over me, the way junkies describe being repulsed by water. This soft reflex resets anxiety. This anxiety plucks the strings of my muscles.

I ritualize the useless practice of poetry, scratching out my own modern failures. Between lines an alarm rings for a mouthful of pills. Touch the stovetop. Prod the oven. Open the windows only to shut them tighter.

Onward with the rituals

Read 120 minutes: verse, prose, letters, biography, the daily newspaper. Check the heaters. Rattle the doorknobs. Walk room to room, cursing the daytime moon. The regular channels of thought splintered by psychotic refraction. Jolt to check the locks. Check the windows. Horror at the plague!

My floors shine with the paths of nervous pacing. McCoy Tyner, solo piano. Sporadic writing.

The mocking mirrors laugh at how my body has swelled and deformed by serious Rx and untamed hunger. Spasms in my belly. The sculpture of a shaved ape. Ho ho ho. The accumulative degeneration of my skeletal structure drives my poor posture; this twisted leg, this duckfoot and hunchback. How age creeps up on my body.

Checking locks, and checking them again, is a common symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. (CBC)

I fight the call of lethargic sirens in my bed. Read poetry with a blurry eye upon the clock, a clogged ear upon the turntable.

By an alarm I limp to my car to pick up the kids from school.

Back home, marionette strings yank me against my reason, to a mesmerised repetition. A failure to create sticky memories ensures that my mind cannot rest, or assure itself that a task is complete. By total failure of recall I am bound again and again to repeat the lengthy checklist.

Yell at boxing. Edit text.

I conquer homework with the youngsters alongside a vast palette of music. Check the door locks. Touch the heaters. Rub my fingers upon the oven. Read 30 minutes: autobiography, true crime. Dash to the window for cars rolling down the road.

My calm peaks with the preparation of food … vegetable soup steaming up the windows. Salt! A fog upon the encroaching night. Streaks of time at the table with my comely lass of a wife and burgeoning, bursting children.

Struggling against a terror reaction where no threat exists is total narcissism. Embedded, selfish, hidden and gnawing.

The children dress for bed; stories, songs and chin-high blankets as they call it a day.

Check the doors, touch the heaters

By heavy sheets and Leonard Cohen, I eat a handful of pills that start a countdown. Grains of time before heavy sleep. Fading, despite obsessive stress, sand gathers upon my heavy furrowed brow. Softening mushmouth, unsynchronized blinking.

By shock, I jump up and check the doors and touch the heaters. Tap the batteries in the smoke alarm. Check the car’s lock by remote button. Pull the lint trap. Check the doors. Curse in self-loathing.

Unconvinced but exhausted, I fold myself back into the bed, dumb with the misery of preventable tragedy, and forfeit to the endless possibility of a mistake. I am placated by the weight of inevitable collapse.

Heavy muscles relax and fall soft by the limp face of chemical slumber. A lazy hag lays upon my chest hindering my breathing to a suffocating rhythm.

In the darkness by my slumber, I hear the clacking beak of the turkey vulture, and the crackling ice of the frozen lake of capsule sleep.

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