The day started off well: My dad visited me in New York, and the last day of March was uncharacteristically warm. We spent the day in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where I bought a jar of Polish pickles that are hard to come by in this city.
Nothing was out of the ordinary, in fact, I felt better than I had for a few weeks. At the end of the day, I said goodbye to my dad, who needed to head back home. By then it came time to run home to get ready.
Once I got back to my dorm, I noticed something odd. Red blotches covered my chest. I suddenly felt exhausted. I didn’t want to go out—I just wanted to sleep.
My brain convinced me of a single answer: meningitis.
I tentatively poked my chest, not breathing. A vaguely white fingerprint appeared. Unconvinced, I frantically poked my chest, sometimes finding a white mark, and sometimes just the pink that mottled the rest of my chest.
Even though I knew that I shouldn’t, my irrational fear took over. I searched for the symptoms of meningitis online. Obviously, this only persuaded me further. Stomach dropping to my feet, I ran to the bathroom, frantically checking my body for all kinds of symptoms listed. Swollen feet, rash, fever.
My birthday dinner started off with a bang. I ran to the bathroom, frantically texting my dad, hoping he hadn’t boarded his plane yet. When he didn’t immediately answer, I sent a message to my mom, hoping she could reassure that I didn’t have a brain infection. Of course, I would die on my birthday, that’s the kind of cruel irony that would happen to me. Billions of people don’t die on their birthdays so that means I must be the person that does.
Everything first fell apart a few days into January 2018. One day I went to bed feeling fine. The next morning, I woke up and thought my mom was dead. As I left for breakfast at a local diner in my hometown, I saw her bedroom door closed. She could just be sleeping, but something convinced me she was dead. Too scared that I would be the one to find her, I left and tried my hardest to distract myself. I later learned she felt sick and took a nap. But I’d never seen her sleep during the day so I freaked.
The week after that, I got into a car accident. I was leaving a concert with a friend in the passenger seat of my car. On our way to the highway, everything went to shit. I tried to make a left turn at a green light and didn’t notice the car coming from the opposite direction until the second before we collided. The world went silent and I felt nothing. Suddenly two cars were totaled. I sat in a hazy white fog that smelled like chemicals.
Like anyone else, the experience was traumatic, but all I could think about after the accident wasn’t the accident itself. I couldn’t stop thinking about what could’ve happened if I’d gotten in an accident on the highway. For weeks I imagined different hypothetical situations in which I could’ve died on the highway, even though the accident happened on a deserted Chicago street.
For weeks I was terrified of being in a car. I did eventually get over that, and I started driving again. But I haven’t driven on the highway for a year.
Everyone has intrusive thoughts, it’s part of being human. But I don’t realize that those thoughts mean absolutely nothing; they’re just one random thought out of hundreds of thousands that pop into my head each day. I think there must be a reason why I’m thinking of getting into car accidents and getting meningitis or some other horrible disease then dying. And I take “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” seriously.
I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and it’s ugly.
It doesn’t make me organized, clean or good at studying. It makes me think I could and might die at any moment, and it makes me ritualize obsessively. Then it makes me obsessed with hiding my compulsive behaviors so no one notices them. OCD makes me scared of numbers and cracks on the sidewalk.
For months I felt so afraid of losing control of myself that I wouldn’t even consider medication, scared it would change me. And yet for months I slowly lost myself anyway. I spent so much of my time thinking about every single bad thing that could possibly happen to me that I wasn’t able to focus on anything else. I would forget words I’d never forgotten before.
How could I focus on studying when I needed to keep a constant guard against fatal accidents and disease? I finally relented. I never thought would be prescribed antidepressants. But six months after the start of my breakdown, I stood in line at the pharmacy waiting for a vial of Prozac (well, generic fluoxetine, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it).
It ended up becoming the best decision I’ve ever made. When I started therapy and medication, I came to realize that I had been dealing with this my whole life. It never presented as severe my first year of college, but there was something there. Now thanks to therapists and that little green-and-white pill, I’ve never felt better in my life.
That said, at the time of writing this, my 20th birthday is less than two weeks away. Even though I’m stable, I still feel a lingering sense of unease and distrust of the universe. Some little, persuasive voice in my head wants to convince me that I won’t live past my birthday in a cruel twist of fate. I know that’s a feeling I will carry with me for the rest of my life.