Trigger warning: This story contains mention of OCD and mental health issues.
In August 2020, my mother was admitted to a hospital after contracting COVID-19. Although she had minor symptoms, her oxygen saturation began to fall. Within two months of her recovery, it was my father’s turn. Because of certain complications, he had to be moved to the ICU.
Even though both of them were back home within two weeks, a constant fear now lurked inside me – of seeing them hospitalised and on oxygen support again.
I never thought I would have to go through anything like this. I mean, how could this really happen? After all, I had turned the lights on and off 40 times, flushed the toilet 25 times, and walked up and down the stairs 10 times. I did everything I could do to protect my family – or so my anxiety and OCD convinced me.
People will go to great lengths to protect their loved ones. For me, it’s sticking to the rules I’ve built in my head that let me believe that I can protect my family from any accidents or viruses by following through on my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) thoughts.
I’m not sure when it all began, but it’s always been a part of me for as long as I can recall. My parents scolded me several times whenever they saw me do this, but how can I persuade them that I am acting like this to protect them?
Being a single child, I have always been close to my parents. My anxiety went through the roof when they were down with COVID-19. With the second wave, I’m more worried than I was before. I can’t sleep on some nights because of flashbacks from the previous year. Every day, someone is losing a loved one. And, according to my brain, the best way to avoid this from happening to my family is to obey a series of new and irrational thoughts and rules. Fixing the bottle cap 25 times, editing the same sentence 10 times or turning on the TV five times – I will do it all if it helps me protect my parents from the virus.
I tried to get help. Even though, I have been struggling with anxiety for the past eight years, I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, clinical depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder two years ago. Despite my therapist’s best efforts, I have not been ready for the next move. I’ve been afraid that if I stopped listening to my feelings and the rules, I might lose control.
My obsessive-compulsive behaviours have worsened in recent months. I’ve broken a lot of things, including phones, switches and tube lights. But it was the only choice I felt I had as it felt like everything was starting to spiral out of control. It’s a constant battle inside my head. The more news I consume, the more I start to make rules inside my head. Some days, it gets too much. When I read these posts, I have breakdowns and anxiety attacks.
Every day, my dad, who is a chain smoker with many co-morbidities, has to go to work. The thought of him going out makes me so nervous that it feels like my body often stops working. What if anything goes wrong? What will I do? I’m not sure if I would be able to get him a hospital bed this time around.
When you have anxiety, you imagine the worst-case scenarios, and compulsive thoughts make you believe that you can control the situation by following some made-up, irrational rules. Many times, I’ve tried to think rationally about these circumstances and how none of it makes any sense.
However, the fact is that I am too afraid to stop. What if I end up hurting my family? What happens if I break the rules and lose someone? I’ve had so many sleepless nights as a result of imagining these scenarios. My fear levels skyrocket if my father coughs or has a cold. Back in October, when he was in the hospital, my mother and I were scrambling for an oxygen cylinder. The current scenario is only triggering my anxiety further by making me live through the previous year and what we had to go through.
He cannot stop going to office, and my mom also needs to step out once a while. How can I protect them? There are a million such questions inside my head all the time.
You hear stories of suffering but it never occurs to you that similar things can happen to you or to your loved ones. But, that’s not life or the truth. There will come a time when you will have to go through the fear, suffering, heartbreak that others have gone through. Whenever such situations arise, you are always unprepared for it. It comes suddenly and painfully, and transforms your life.
I always thought my loved and I are shielded from the outside world. But 2020 and 2021 have completely shattered my belief.
But at the same time, these circumstances teach you valuable life lessons and make you stronger. And as Haruki Murakami wrote in Kafka on the Shore,
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Anusha Bose is a postgraduate student from Kolkata who is studying at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore.