OCD Gets a Job at The Shoe Store

I worked at the “alternative” shoe store in the mall for one day in the late 90s.

I had to quit the alternative shoe store because of herpes.

Bubblin’, tubblin’ herpes, which I imagine is probably the same reason Rob Thomas left Matchbox 20, but that’s neither here nor there… nor herpes, nor therpes.

Regardless, nobody likes a gossip.  Except for me.

The day started out like any other first day on the job at a shoe store.  First, the manager showed me the various ways to remove a shoe box from a very tall shelf.  Many boxes hit me in the head, and I was told that I would get used to it.

Then I learned that you always put the smallest size shoe on display, because every shoe looks cute when it’s tiny, which explains why I’m so disappointed every time I try on shoes and the size 9 doesn’t look as cute as the size 5 did on the display.

I learned that if you didn’t sell three pairs of socks for every 1.5 pairs of shoes you sold, you were in some serious trouble at the weekly meeting.  It’s called meeting your “Hosiery Ratio” which was, coincidentally, my nickname that one fateful night years earlier on the Collective Soul tour bus.

I couldn’t help but notice that the manager had a gigantic erupting herpes sore on her mouth.  And by “I couldn’t help but notice,” I mean “I literally could not stop staring at it.”

I realize this is something that was out of her control, and that it totally sucked that she had to deal with having this thing, but as I may have previously mentioned, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder majors in checking and re-checking things and minors in germophobia, with mouth stuff being by far the worst for me.  Up-close photographs of mouths horrify me.  I have a hard time watching people eat and not gagging.  If someone gets food on their face, I probably will gag.  Eating sounds?  NO THANKS.  If I can feel your breath on me, it takes everything I have to not physically recoil and shudder.

In short, I’m a blast at dinner parties.

This thing was waaaaay beyond your average sore.  It was huge.  It was shiny and red and purple and yellow, glowing like a rainbow across a sky of Vaseline.  This thing was so packed with fluid that I swear I heard it make a sloshing sound when she turned her head.  She could have kept goldfish in there.

Every time she moved her head, that thing threatened me like a spring-loaded volcano, where the slightest movement would have caused its magma to explode with a fury that would paint the walls of the entire universe with its viral anger.  You could have seen this thing throbbing and pulsing from the International Space Station, and the only thing that could have rivaled it would have been the Great Wall of China or James Franco’s ego.

At that moment, my OCD saw this thing as the Heartbeat of America.  It was today’s Chevrolet.

Just in case there’s any confusion here, this thing was large and in charge and, as such, from this moment forward I will be referring to it as Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds.

The manager started to train me on the cash register.  It was at this time she felt an overwhelming desire to touch Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds, every three seconds while sucking air between her teeth and saying, “Oooh.  Oww.  It’s just so tingly.  Oooh.  Oww.  It’s so swollen.  Oooh.  Oww.  Ohh.  I WISH THIS THING WOULD JUST BURST!”

And in between tapping, fondling, and groping Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds, she was touching the buttons on the cash register with the same finger, leaving a greasy Vaseline fingerprint on each key that she touched.

Touch herpes sore, oooh, touch register.

Touch herpes sore, oww, touch register.

Touch herpes sore, I WISH THIS THING WOULD JUST BURST, touch register.

I had to find a focal point on the other side of the room so I didn’t pass out in a cold sweat right there on the Doc Martens display.

Then she said, “Now why don’t you try it?” and stepped back from the register.

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I froze.  It was like she had just given birth to my worst nightmare and I had to eat the placenta.  The screaming from inside my brain sounded like a freight train in my ears.  Everything in the room began to move in slow-motion.  From outside my body I saw my hand rise up to the register buttons and press them, and then a siren went off in my head:  DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!

Yes, I feel bad for anyone who has to deal with those sores.  It must be awful.  I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  All the more reason that a person shouldn’t try to spread it around by being unhygienic as fuck.

I finished the register training and made an excuse to go to the bathroom.  I had already decided that if they didn’t have a satisfactory soap in there that I would just have to chop off the ol’ finger.  I mean, really, what’s one little finger sacrificed to Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds?  I’ve got nine others!

I made a cocoon of liquid soap for my finger and let it soak in while I mentally sang the “Happy Birthday” song twice in my head, which I heard somewhere years before, was the perfect amount of time to adequately kill viruses.  Then I did it again.  And again.  And again.

Then my OCD and I grabbed my purse, got the hell out of there, and never looked back.

Diagnosis: Annoying

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD, for short), among a small assortment of other neuroses.  Maybe you have GAD, too, or know someone who does.  Let’s chat about it!  It’ll be like a party, but NO FUN.

So like most parties, then.

My clinical diagnosis of GAD and OCD came at age 23, after struggling since early childhood with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

I never had a time in my life when I didn’t feel like there was something very exhausting with the way my brain worked.  As a child I felt petrified with worry all the time, 24 hours a day, and I could never shut off my brain.  I lived in a near constant state of anxiety.

I kept my worries and anxiety to myself, so it came out in a myriad of other ways, all of which were SO GROSS, particularly the cuticle chewing.  My fingers were perpetually gnawed up, swollen, and bloody.  It got so bad one time that I stopped chewing on my cuticles in favor of just pulling two fingernails out by the root over the course of a day at school.

I remember when they finally came out that day in Mrs. Leward’s class.  It was near the end of the school day, and I was up in the reading loft alone, since I had finished my work early (and I was a total suck-up for that reading loft).  I climbed up with ten nails to page through “Ramona The Brave” and came down with eight.  Ramona was clearly better at bravery than me, but at least I didn’t throw up in class like she did that time with the blue oatmeal fruit fly experiment.

How much do you miss Ramona books??

I hid my two gross, nail-less fingers from adults until they grew back in, because even when you’re nine years old, you know they lock people away for those kinds of shenanigans.

Sorry, I know that whole thing is a horrifying picture.  One of those nails grew back in totally crooked, too, so I have a daily reminder of it anytime I look at my right hand.  I’ll show it to you sometime so you can be like, “Grrrrross!!!!”

If I didn’t have a distraction in front of my face (I heart you, television), the anxious, racing thoughts that started out being just a little scary would ramp up into some serious god awful bloody horror movie stuff in 10 seconds or less.

My mind could turn the sound of a simple branch brushing against the bedroom window at night into a man standing over my bed holding my mouth shut, kidnapping me and holding me captive in a basement for six months and passing me around to his inbred brothers and cousins, and eventually stabbing me to death in the woods and throwing my body to a pack of dogs. The thoughts came like lightning, and they felt so real I couldn’t catch my breath lying there in bed most nights.

Even at the age of six, my thoughts could get so dark and so frightening, so fast, I felt like they could literally kill me from inside my own mind if I didn’t distract myself from them.

It was like Freddy Krueger lived in my brain, day and night, and if I didn’t keep constant vigilance, he would get me.  I even started watching horror movies – the gorier the better – in the hope that seeing those scenes on a screen would make them leave my thoughts, the way you get a song stuck in your head and the only way to get rid of it is to actually listen to the song.  I even bought Fangoria magazine, and lobbied for a life-size Freddy Krueger cardboard cutout in my room (more on that later this month).

I could soothe my racing thoughts temporarily by counting and touching and blinking at things, but then that just spiraled completely out of control when I hit adulthood, as you may have previously read about here.  It just got so much harder to hide it as I got older.  Finally, I reached out for help.

I was 23, and it was my first visit with a therapist.  Her name was Pamela, and she was short, maybe 50 years old, well-dressed, had a blonde bob haircut, a very soothing therapisty voice, and a very friendly face.  She reminded me of a social studies teacher I had in middle school, so I felt kind of familiar with her, even though we had just met.

We sat down in her office and she said, “So!  How’s your day been going?”

With the disposition of a dog that had just been caught snacking in the cat litter box, I sighed and told her I’d had a rough day because it had started out really badly.

She said, “Okay, what made it start out badly?”

I said, “I was almost late to work this morning.”

She nodded her head and said, “And?”

I repeated myself, with emphasis, “I was almost late.  To WORK?”

She said, “What would happen if you were late to work?”

I took a deep breath.

“If I were to walk in late to work, then my boss would ‘have something’ on me.  From then on, if he ever decides he wants to fire me, he’ll say it was because I was late that one time, and he’ll be right, because I was totally late that one time!  It’ll be undeniable.  Then I’ll be fired!”

She nodded her head and said, “And are you frequently late?”

I looked at her like she was nuts.  “God, no!  I’ve never been late once in the three years I’ve been there!”

She said, “Okay, so what would happen if you were late one time?”

I went on, “Well, after I get fired my boss will never give me a good reference since I was late that time, and then I won’t be able to find another job, I won’t be able to pay my bills, I’ll be homeless, my car will have some huge repair that I won’t be able to afford and I’ll have to sell it for scrap, I’ll end up having to move in with and marry some guy named Earl or Chet who’s really mean to me because he’ll know I’m in dire straits and can’t do any better.”

Pamela nodded, “Go on.”

“And then he’ll knock me up on purpose and I’ll be chained to him forever with some kid who hates me and treats me like crap and is mean to animals and tries to poison my coffee, but I’ll deserve it because the kid will be able to see that deep down I really do resent them because I never wanted to have them to begin with, and then they’ll grow up to be a serial killer and all the news stories will blame me for it because they always blame the mother.”

Pamela nodded again, “Go on.”

“Then, finally, after thirty years of hell, I’ll feel like I’ve got nothing left to lose and I’ll get the courage to leave Earl or Chet, and then he’ll hunt me down and murder me in the street and say, “If I can’t have you, no one can!”, and as I’m gurgling and choking on my own blood, all I’ll be thinking is, “This is my fault for being late to work that one time!”

Pamela starting writing on her clipboard and said, “Okay, so have you previously been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?”

I said, “I mean, doesn’t it seem easier to just make sure I’m always on time to work?”

Building The Perfect Panic Pizza

I’m not particularly skilled at this thing called “cooking”.  I appreciate your attempts at being polite when you pretend to enjoy the frozen pizza I made you that is somehow completely burned on the edges and bottom yet still frozen in the middle.  It’s a magical skill, I know.  How does one even accomplish that in a conventional oven?

That being said, there is one kind of pizza that I’m actually pretty good at making:

The Panic Pizza!

Oh, you don’t know how to make a Panic Pizza?  Well hot damn!  Let’s start the Home Shame Economics cooking class!

The first and most important ingredient in a Panic Pizza is the human-shaped dough glob that is you.  Hopefully, you’ve mixed and mashed yourself with so much alcohol and so many carbs the night before that by morning, you’re ready to be scraped off the couch and rise, get punched a few times in the gut, and then tossed up like so many cookies into the air of daylight.  After all, it’s another day for you to try your best at not being a shit show.  Good luck with that, paisan!

Now your dough is ready for sauce.  Since the jar of sauce is too hard to open and you don’t feel like walking all the way over to the cabinet that’s four feet away to get the jar opener thingy, you decide this Panic Pizza will be sauce-less.

You trailblazer, you.  It takes a lot of guts to have that kind of Lack of Motivation, which brings us to our first topping!  Lack of Motivation!

Hang on.  Now you’re picturing a loved one trying to chew the dry, sauce-less pizza and then they get the hiccups when they try to swallow a particularly large and dry bite, then they start choking, you totally suck at doing the Heimlich Maneuver, and then the morgue comes to take their dead body away because you killed them with your dry pizza because you were too unmotivated to get the jar opener thingy.  The hearse will pull away and you’ll be inconsolable, crying, “Why couldn’t I just get the jar opener thingy?  I should have seen this coming!”

Sorry, Lack of Motivation, but the first topping on this Panic Pizza is Anxiety.  Rookie mistake!

So, first layer on some gloppy Anxiety, then Lack of Motivation.  Our Panic Pizza is starting to really take shape!

Now that you’ve got Anxiety going, you can sit back and put your feet up for a while.  It’s time for Anxiety to take over, which means Anxiety gets to pick the rest of the toppings.  That’s what you get for letting Anxiety into the kitchen.  Once that guy comes into the picture, he takes over EVERYTHING.

Anxiety wants you to feel pretty bad about what a bother you are to everyone when you act like this, so let’s liberally sprinkle some Guilt onto the Panic Pizza.  You want to take it right up to the edges so you don’t get a single bite without at least a little of that zesty Guilt flavor.

Now Anxiety wants you to feel really weak for not being able to control Anxiety, so you slice up some Shame and lay it out on the Panic Pizza in concentric circles.  Those circles better be perfect, because if they’re not perfect, then nobody will like you…

…which is just in time to add Insecurity to the Panic Pizza!

Insecurity gets sprayed onto the pizza from an olive oil mister so that you can be sure it’s evenly coated all over the Panic Pizza.  Oh man, despite all your preparation, it looks like you missed a spot.  It’s probably because of the next topping going on the pizza…

…and that topping is Stupid!

Really, nobody could confuse it for anything else, seeing as you’re a grown adult with adult responsibilities who should be more than capable of handling your own jacked-up and self-destructive thoughts by now, but since you can’t, I guess that means you’re just Stupid!

You know what?  Let’s not render the verdict on that one yet.  Maybe you just haven’t tried therapy, religion, yoga, meditation, herbs, oils, deep breathing, visualization, and grounding techniques yet!  Maybe you just need to try harder to defeat your anxiety disorder!

Oh wait.  You have tried?  Tried and failed, you say?  Then go ahead and toss some Stupid onto that Panic Pizza, then pop open that smoky bin next to it, and LAYER ON THE FAILURE.

The only thing left to add to your Panic Pizza is the cheese of Anxiety’s choice, which means you don’t get any cheese, because Anxiety thinks you don’t deserve any.  Instead, Anxiety will give you the last topping in the form of a little cup of that garlic butter “sauce” from Papa John’s, because if that shit ain’t Self-Loathing, I don’t know what is.

Mamma mia!  Anxiety make-uh you the perfect Panic Pizza pie-uh!

Related, I found this at Wal-Mart this weekend.  Feel free to mark this on your calendar as the day humanity officially gave up.

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This is not okay.