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The Trouble

Compulsion

Trouble — we've all been in it. Some more than others. Some worse than others. Award-winning storyteller Shannon Cason has faced a few problems of his own. Now he talks with others about getting in — and out — of trouble of all stripes.

In episode 5 of The Trouble, Shannon talks with Jamie.

Jamie has always been painfully shy, she’s always had severe anxiety, and she’s also always suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. But it was all manageable. She could “keep up with it,” she says. Until last year.

In 2017, everything got worse. A lot worse. And as the year progressed, Jamie began to question her grip on reality as OCD slowly started to take over her life. 

Listen to the entire episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Here are some of the highlights.

On realizing she had OCD as a child

Jamie: My bedtime routine starting when I was 7 years old was at least 30 minutes. I had to be the last person downstairs. I had to check the stove, and the oven, and the doors, and the locks, and the windows, and the lights. I had to make sure everything was off. I had to touch or look at everything in multiple counts of eight. And if I messed up, I had to finish that count of eight and start over. And then I would go upstairs, and do the same thing upstairs. You know, I slept at friends’ houses, and I saw how people got ready for bed. So the comparison was easy for me to make in that I knew my bedtime routine was not a kid’s bedtime routine.   

On OCD’s effect on her everyday life

Jamie: There are days that I wish I just hadn’t left the house. There was a period of weeks where I was 2.5 hours late to work every day because I decided that everything I was wearing was dirty, so I had to throw everything in the washing machine. But once wasn’t enough. So I had to wash it 5 times in a row. And then I had to shower and wash my hands a million times. And while I’m washing my hands, I have to count. And if I miscount, I have to start over.

Or like, I’ll open a box of Cheerios, and there will be a red ink dot that’s obviously ink, but I get it in my head that it’s blood. And then I lose my mind. I have to throw the box away, I have to wash the counter off, I have to wash my hands, I have to change my clothes.

It’s gotten to the point where I know it’s illogical, but I just cannot talk myself out of it anymore.  

On a year of meltdowns

Jamie: I bought a Keurig from Bed Bath & Beyond. And when I got home and opened the box, inside the box was a four-pack of coffee pods and a two-pack of tea pods. But on the box, it said “BONUS: four-pack of coffee,” and there was no mention of the tea anywhere. And I flipped out and was like, Well, it’s poisoned. Someone has put this in here for nefarious reasons and is trying to kill me. Which I recognize is insane. Even as I’m saying it, there’s no way to sugarcoat that I lost my mind over this.

But I put the box back in the hallway, and I changed my clothes, and I washed my hands a million times, and I was crying, and I didn’t sleep all night because all I could think about was returning the Keurig.

So I returned the Keurig the next day, and I washed my hands, and then I went to Target to get a different Keurig. And while I was in Target, I started crying because I had a moment where I started to worry. I’ve always had a good grip on OCD, and I can still see the difference between logic and not-logic, even if I can’t control my compulsions about it — but I started to worry: What if I lose sight of the difference between reality and not-reality?

On OCD’s effect on her relationships

Jamie: I’d never been in a [romantic] relationship until this year. [I’m 32.] I don’t think OCD can take all the blame — I’m very shy — and I’m sure they work in tandem.

The physical stuff — there’s a lot of issues with it. It’s dirty, there’s a lot of moisture that I wasn’t super keen on. I think everyone is filthy, so to be that intimate with someone was overwhelming.

And the older I got, the harder it got to want to do things romantically or sexually because it was like, by this age I should know how to do this stuff. I was just so inexperienced that the anxiety of having to talk to someone about it was embarrassing and it stressed me out, so it just wasn’t worth it.

On deciding to try medication

Jamie: My therapist at some point asked me, “If you had a daughter, would you let her live the way you’ve been living? Because it seems like torture.” And I said, “No.” And she really didn’t say much after that because that was pretty enlightening to me.

On stigmas associated with mental health

Jamie: I wish there was a bigger conversation about mental health and that it wasn’t so stigmatized or taboo. I leave in the middle of the day once a week to go to therapy — and I use this example because it’s extreme, and I know that — but if I were going to chemo once a week in the middle of the week no one would say to me, “Don’t do that. You have a meeting.” But because it’s mental health, there’s always a “cancel it” or “don’t go.”

On what she hopes for her future

Jamie: I want to be married and have babies, and if I can’t be married, then just have the babies. Because that’s more important to me. I want to feel some reprieve, in however I get myself there. Just to feel a little bit of relief.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering what I could have accomplished or where I would be in my life now if I didn’t — I’m going to start crying — if I didn’t spend so much of my time worrying, and cleaning, and focused on non-important things. Literally, the time it takes me to wash my hands in any given day, I could be spending doing anything else.

These interview highlights have been edited for brevity and clarity by Candace Mittel Kahn.

Some of the music used in this episode comes from the album "Jules Lives" by Ari De Niro as found on FreeMusicArchive.org, has been adapted, and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Join the conversation on Twitter at @thetroublepod. Email thetroublepod@gmail.com if you have a trouble story of your own. And subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.


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