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I have OCD.

May 16, 2021

This is a story of a superhero battling a monster. The monster is invisible. It’s in the superhero’s head.

Most days, the superhero would be getting ready to leave her apartment. The monster would get in her way, forcing her to check that the stove was off, fridge was closed, faucets were turned off. Satisfied that she beat the monster, the superhero would start to leave.

Then the monster would ask: But what about the lights? The superhero would look up. She’d see the lights were off, but doubt still tightened in her chest; she couldn’t convince herself they were really off. The monster would pile on: What about the stove? The oven? The toaster? The fridge? What if you didn’t turn the appliance off and it catches on fire and your apartment burns down and it’s all your fault?


That superhero is me, even though I never feel super or heroic in those moments. The monster is my OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I’ve had officially since 2017. OCD is not just the hand-washing issue (and please do not use it as an adjective for when you’re feeling particularly anxious about cleanliness)!

OCD is different for everybody. In my case, OCD makes me doubt everything, especially when perfection is demanded. Tasks like locking the door, turning off the oven, filing taxes, reporting journalism and writing plays are especially difficult for me. The underlying anxiety that pulses through me: I’ll do something wrong. The consequence will be devastating. It’ll be all my fault. I wrote about this experience in my play “Meera’s Kitchen,” because OCD also plagues Meera, the heroine of my play.

The best way to manage OCD? Experts point to exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy. For me, that means sitting in the moment of craving checks, without checking, until the wave passes.

But ERP is my hell. It’s when the voice in my head tortures me until I can’t take it anymore and have to succumb to a check, or until I’m swallowed, small and alone, resisting a check but made a prisoner of my own mind.

I complete my bedtime checking routine every night, just so I can get peaceful sleep. I’ll stand at the door and jiggle the handle. Clank clank. I can’t convince myself it’s locked. Clank clank. I’ll check it 10, 20, 50 times. In hindsight, when I’m less anxious, I’ll think, Fifty checks? That was way too extreme. But in the moment at the door, each check feels necessary, with steep consequences. My partner, Jack, is patient when this happens. He’s learning the fine line of helping me without reassurance (which tends to fuel my OCD fire).

In therapy, I berate myself. I’m not a superhero. The checking takes over. I’m not strong enough to resist it.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself about OCD. I can’t stop my checking cold turkey. Maybe I’m doing another kind of exposure therapy: Writing these newsletters, sharing memories I can’t fact-check, producing a play that bottles up all these experiences even though I haven’t been on stage solo in years. Maybe for me, it’s more important than mastering the door right now. Every word I write, every line I memorize, it gets easier. This time a couple years ago, sharing personal stories publicly would sometimes send me in long doubt spirals: heart racing, I’d wonder if I’d told the truth, if I’d said the right thing. So sometimes, I’d opt to stay quiet.

My heart still races. But today, I can write a play about myself, about my OCD, and perform it. It’s a process. One day, I hope I can make it to bed and only check that I locked the door once. We’re not there yet. But it’s just because the superhero has been away from the door, battling another version of the monster. She’ll get back to the door in good time.

Next week’s newsletter

Even on the days when my OCD monster was at its worst, a stream of people and creative work inspired me to keep going, to keep writing, to keep performing. Next week’s newsletter is a list of thank yous to these muses.

About the guest editor

Because life doesn’t happen in a silo, every issue of Inside the Kitchen is edited by a special guest editor — a person in Beena’s life who’s also intimately familiar with the subject at hand.

Kajsa Jones is a theater director, development professional, and fellow superhero battling OCD (even though she rarely feels like one). Kajsa met Beena in the Twin Cities theater community in 2017 and has admired Beena’s curiosity, vulnerability, and passion for her work ever since. As a fellow artist with OCD, Kajsa is always grateful to have more conversations about how these parts of her life intersect. Big thanks to Beena for sharing this creative exploration and creating more space to talk about mental health with “Meera’s Kitchen,” Kajsa is so looking forward to watching with you all in June.