Order for an Obsessive Compulsive

when i was 10, i used to knock on the toilet lid 10 times after each time i went to the bathroom because somehow it made sense to me that this would keep me safe. this would keep the world in balance.

in elementary school, a friend told me a secret, one so obscure i can’t even remember it now. she made me swear not to tell anyone. “you can’t break a swear,” she said, “it’s even stronger than a promise.”

so i took refuge in a swear.

for years after i made my parents “swear” to me that everything would be alright, over and over again, until it felt and sounded right. because you can’t break a swear. a swear will keep me safe. the world is scary and unbalanced and i need something to help me feel in control.

it’s amazing what sticks with you.

in 6th grade, i started closing my eyes every time i heard an airplane. shut them so incredibly tight. because surely this would cause the metal machines to stay in the air, and not come crashing down in a massive fireball. years later i even did this when i drove; i couldn’t be the cause of a plane crash, after all.

rituals change and evolve over the years. they go from obscure monsters in the toilet to tangible anxieties about the world and everyday life. there are glaring flaws to all of them. i know this. i know it on a deeply embarrassing level.

but that doesn’t stop the little pangs that knock on the inside of your skull and cause your whole body to ache and vibrate if they aren’t done.

i know none of these things hold power.

just like i know the fact that i didn’t pray just right that one night isn’t what made me get a stomach bug.

and that deleting the above sentence won’t keep it from happening again.

i know stepping on the edge of the carpet just right won’t protect me.

neither will pulling up back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth to park in the exact right stop every day. right by that tuft of grass and that branch.

using my right foot to start up the stairs won’t keep my mom from suddenly dying. and neither will taking exactly four steps in the hallway. all on the carpet. no touching the hardwood floor. 1, 2, 3, 4. such an awkward stride.

knocking on wood isn’t going to reverse any bad thoughts or keep them from happening.

neither is closing my eyes
or holding my breath
or breathing just right;
it won’t keep me safe.

“your hands are so chapped!”
“come on! you’re taking forever”
“that doesn’t even make sense!”
i know i know i know
“is she okay?”
yes. i’m protecting us all from certain death. please let me do this right.

nothing feels right.

i know not watching that one show or that one movie because that one part that one time made me so uncomfortable and set off a chain of “what if’s” and “oh my god’s” in my brain isn’t going to stop that scene from playing out in real life.

just like exactly two pumps of soap aren’t exactly what i need to keep my hands clean.

turn the water off with your right hand.
wash your hair first
use only two squares of paper towels.
chew and even amount on both sides.
multiples of four.
only plastic forks.
only that dish.
“there’s nothing to worry about, right? you swear?”
“i love you, i love you, i love you. i have to say it one more time to make it count.”

“you wasted all that?”
yes. it didn’t feel right.


This poem was inspired by an urge to better understand my own obsessive-compulsive disorder, and try to put a name to my triggers.  With that, I thought writing it out might not only help me but help others. Possibly someone who is struggling without really understanding what is going on.

OCD specifically is a disorder that is very much misunderstood. My goal is to do whatever I can to open up conversation about not only OCD but mental health in general.  For something that so many people struggle with, it is not talked about nearly enough if at all.  I want to connect people and educate. I am interested in being as open and as candid as possible.  I want to be able to help understand themselves and get the help they need in the way that works best for them.

Anya Ugolik


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