Busted Halo
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January 3rd, 2002

OCD: How I deal

 
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I have obsessive-compulsive disorder , which places me in the arms of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). I do not recommend OCD to anyone�it involves, for instance, obsessing, compulsing, and a very great deal of hand-washing�but the ADA awards me bonus points in job consideration with certain federal agencies. Where a civilian job ad with the Air Force was concerned, I wasn’t even eligible for consideration if I couldn’t prove I was partway insane. Somehow, this makes sense.

Here’s a lovely favor that I wasn’t sure I wanted to accept. It’s an odd life an obsessive-compulsive leads: We know, intellectually, that if we fail to enter the grocery store by a certain door that Brett Favre will not die, but a neuro-chemical blip compels us to take the extra cautionary step just in case. And since we’re fully aware of the loony-ness of such thoughts, we take great care to cover our tracks. Nobody knows I have OCD unless I announce it.

I panic in silence, which is very lonely at times. If you’re missing an arm, people get that; they’re not going to ask you to do the hand jive. But try explaining OCD to someone: “I’d love to play tennis with you, Wally, but I can’t serve game point because of my fear of the number three.”

Sticking my baby toe into the pool of ADA aid, therefore, was an instant submersion in humility. The federal bureaucracy, being its usual delightful bureaucratic self, sent me on seven different phone calls and to eleven different employees before I even found the agency I needed to officially certify me as too mentally disabled to hold a job so that I could apply for the job I wanted. And eleven different times, to eleven different strangers who didn’t seem to give a heli-damn, I had to announce that I was currently taking one hundred milligrams of Luvox to curb the insatiable need to sanitize my hands every time I touched a doorknob.

The irony and humiliation was piercing and�I could not stop thinking of Amy.

I just finished working with Amy, who is battling spinal damage. People look at her and they do get that she’s disabled– she moves awkwardly and leans on a walker to travel anywhere over a distance of a couple feet. Like everyone else I hovered nervously whenever she attempted any kind of physical activity: Do I involuntarily insult her by offering her assistance, or involuntarily insult her by failing to do so? The only viable option, it seemed, was to stand back and feel terrible (“How could You allow something like this to happen to such a young person, God?”). We simply radiated discomfort, which in turn made life even more uncomfortable.

I walked alongside Amy one evening, and as she did not ask for my help I watched her walker leave wobbly tracks next to our footprints in the light snowfall. I considered the horror of experiencing a panic attack with a roomful of people watching me, frozen with guilt and timidity.

Sometimes we’re not as helpless as others tell us we are. I’ll keep job-hunting.

 
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The Author : Mary Beth Ellis
Mary Beth Ellis writes from Orlando, Florida.
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