Posted in A Cartography of Sin, Nonfiction, writing contests

On Constant Discomfort

This was my entry for the first round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge #3. My group was tasked with writing a personal essay based on the prompt “Discomfort”. This piece got me into the second round.

I can’t swallow. I’m a cornered animal: all quick heartbeat and panting. Most of my consciousness is screaming, “Calm down!” This part of me knows that it’s just a bad dream. That none of what the other part of me is saying is true. But that other part is good at convincing me otherwise.

I wake Kris gently with a soft shake and softer apologies.


“I know I’m being crazy but I need to have this conversation so I can calm down.”

We calmly discuss that no, we definitely didn’t kill someone and carry them around in a garbage bag looking for a place to hide the body. No one has found the body because there isn’t a body. No one is going to find the body because again, there is no body.

No one found it.

No one will find it.

We didn’t kill anyone.

“There’s no way we forgot about killing someone.” It’s almost all statement. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” He nods the way he does when I ask if we need milk.

“Okay, me too.” I pretend to fall back asleep.


At some point during my development a box labeled, “Everything will make you uncomfortable” was checked. Sounds. Words. Habits. The way people drive. Competing noises. Being touched. Everything sets me off. And for most of my life I thought it was for no good reason. It was in full bloom from my early adolescence until my early twenties, the physical and mental discomfort exhausting. Sometimes I could keep it under control. Usually I would get to a point where I had to walk away. For a long time I just didn’t interact with other people.

It’s part nature: several branches in my family tree ended in suicide. It’s part nurture: when I told my father not to touch me he would answer with “I’ll remember that when you want something.” But I never asked him for anything. Especially not that.

It has a name: OCD. It manifests in ways people would find shocking if I let them see. Because my OCD looks like OCD. It doesn’t look the way it does in listicles and on television. It’s not freaking out if my pens aren’t lined up neatly.

My OCD is avoiding washing myself because I can’t without crying.

It’s an urge to keep used sanitary napkins.

It’s saying, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to be dead a year from now.” And believing it.

But OCD isn’t just obsessions and compulsions. It’s those and at the same time an awareness, and embarrassment, of how crazy the obsessions and compulsions are. OCD is a tiresome, unending battle between the part of my brain that is crazy and the part that is not.

It’s forcing my soap slicked hand between my legs, after the tears, laughing and asking myself, “Dude. Do you really want to walk around with a stinky vag?”

It’s feeling panicky at the idea of throwing away a used pad while realizing that I’m this close to becoming a hoarder. That shame is unbearable.

It’s thinking I’ve murdered someone while being mortified that I could believe I have the capacity to kill. And it’s having to remind myself that even if I am dead this time next year there’s no way of knowing it right now.



When I was nearing my mid-thirties I had to get a physical. A male nurse took my vitals. The two parts of my brain fought between being completely distressed and recognizing that I was safe. That my overreaction to someone not even touching me was ridiculous. By the time the female doctor came in I was climbing the walls. She looked at me, signed the forms, and left the room. She came back, handed me a card, and said, “You’re in crisis. I’ve made you an appointment. They’re waiting now.”

At the mental health facility I spilled secrets like marbles. I experienced every emotion: a dizzying cyclone of disclosure. A psychiatrist took notes, had me answer unending questions, and gave her initial diagnosis: OCD. PTSD. GAD.

The acronyms made me laugh. I didn’t wash my hands twenty times a day and had never fought in a war. I was just nervous. And for some reason I was having lots of really bad panic attacks lately. Also, could she chill with all the D’s? I didn’t have any disorders. And I was not going to take meds. There was nothing wrong with me.

She scrawled a prescription onto a pad and handed me a set of instructions. “It will get worse now that you’ve disclosed. You’ve opened up a part of your brain that you’ve been using a lot of energy to keep closed. You’re going to need help dealing with this.”

I noticed she was careful not to touch me. That was what allowed me to trust her.


2 thoughts on “On Constant Discomfort

  1. Fabulous. Some things in there that were just waaaay too relatable (Enough so that I was like, “How did she know? I’ve only told one person that!”) I also like the structure and the frankness of the narrator. You kicked this essay’s ass, gf. :)

    Liked by 1 person

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