Hey babe, want to get dinner tonight?
I can pick u up.
Sure! Where do u want to go?
I was thinking chinese?
Sounds good to me. See u soon <3!
Audrey puts her phone down and walks into her room, her feet cushioned by the multitude of clothes strewn across the floor. Audrey moves around the paper dishes piled up in the corners and on the various stacks of books. Nothing since she had moved into this apartment having been thrown away only ever moved around. She pushes through the clothes on her floor looking for the pile she knows is clean. She avoids stepping on leftover pencils from late nights of homework sharpened down to the eraser. Old papers crinkled under her feet from classes long finished as she leaned down to grab her shoes and went to the door.
The whole apartment looked like her bedroom. Stacked to the ceiling against every wall were piles of papers and knick-knacks, the floor coated with napkins and spilled chips and cups, never to be picked up. Audrey knew that other people’s houses did not look the same. She knew that there were not dishes everywhere and empty cans of aerosols gathering in corners, only used to hide the smell.
When Audrey was in her early twenties she was told she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Audrey ignored them, knowing that OCD is when someone is overly clean and everything must be perfect. She was the exact opposite; her place was a mess, to say the least. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to throw anything away, every scrap and object that comes across her path. For her to throw anything away caused her anxiety. Instead, she let it build up in her apartment. A few months after her diagnosis, she did some research about OCD, recognizing that maybe there was something wrong with her. Audrey recognized her actions were not normal, she was unable to make herself stop.
Audrey learned that OCD is more than just being clean, but can also be the opposite. She read stories of people who were overcome by such a strong anxiety when having to pick something off the floor, that instead of picking it up, they would leave it on the floor. She read about people who collected items by number as a part of their obsessive compulsion. It was a relief, yet terrifying to put a name to the way she had been feeling.
Even now the idea though that if someone knew about how she lived and tried to throw away the items, scared her too much.
Im here babe
Okay, Ill be right out
Audrey sprays on some perfume and steps out of her apartment making her way down the stairs and to Jeremy’s car.
“Hi babe,” Jeremy says as he kisses her on the cheek, “You smell nice. New perfume?” Audrey smiles and nods nervously, happy that the perfume has done its job to mask the scent of her apartment often left behind on her clothes.
They drive to their local Chinese restaurant. Audrey makes sure to bring the biggest of her purses, so she can fit in all the small little objects she would normally throw away. Throughout the night her purse becomes stuffed with napkins, straw wrappers, and the after-dinner mint wrapper. Audrey makes sure to do sneak these items into her purse while Jeremy isn’t looking, not wanting him to know her obsession.
“I had a good night,” Jeremy says as they drive back to her apartment.
“Me too.” Audrey replies.
“I was wondering… I know with your OCD that you don’t like people in your apartment. But I was thinking…. Since we have been dating for a few months now… maybe I could come in. Just for a few minutes! I promise I won’t touch anything and will wash my hands and remove my shoes the second I step inside.” His voice was pleading and hopeful all at once. Audrey stilled, not wanting to reject Jeremy’s request, but knowing too much would change if he ever came inside.
Audrey had once tried to talk to Jeremy about her OCD when he first asked if he could come in.
“Do you know what OCD is?”
“Yeah, isn’t that where people are like spotless.”
“So your place is super clean?” Audrey was embarrassed to say no. She struggled enough to explain to herself that she may have this mental illness, never having actually gone to the psychiatrist to confirm. Audrey at this moment realized she didn’t want Jeremy, or anyone for that matter, to see the state of her place.
“Yeah… yeah it is, and it causes me significant anxiety to have things moved around or dirty…” Audrey rubs her hands together, nervous that he will tell she is lying. She tells Jeremy the things she had read about the more stereotypical type of OCD.
“Babe… you know how I feel about it…” she says through the wince of anxiety that comes whenever he mentions her illness.
“Okay honey,” Jeremy responded with a tone of sadness in his voice. “We still on for dinner with your parents next week?”
“Of course… I will talk to you later babe.”
As Jeremy kisses her goodnight, and she leaves the car to go to her apartment, Jeremy is overcome with sadness. As he drives home he thinks of all the research he has done since he learned of her mental illness. He wanted to do everything he could to make her feel comfortable knowing that people are more than their illness. Jeremy knew that her OCD was isolated to her home, yet every time he was turned down from coming inside and being welcomed to something more personal it hurt. It was difficult for Jeremy, to know that he may never get to know that part of her. For a long time Jeremy had been wanting her to move in. He was confident that they could learn how to live together, and coexist. He had read somewhere that there are medicines people with OCD can take to lower their anxiety. He would never ask of her though, knowing it’s not for everyone. As much as Jeremy would like to see her place and have her move in, he knows if she isn’t comfortable he shouldn’t push it.
Sitting down to dinner a week later with Audrey’s parents, Jeremy is tempted to bring up the topic of moving in. Hoping that her parents will support the idea and help her understand it’s alright. He worried though that maybe she will get mad at him for asking despite knowing about her OCD. Jeremy had thought about it long and hard though, and decided he cared about her enough to want to have this conversation. He was willing to work with any challenges that may come with a partner who has OCD.
“So, I was thinking that maybe… if you are okay with it, you would like to move in, Audrey?” Jeremy announced. The table went quiet, forks stopped clicking on the plates, and cups lowered mid sip. Audrey’s face blushed red, as she averted her eyes from her parents and boyfriend. Her parents knew about her problem, often berating her for the state of her apartment when they went to visit and finding her pulling out items they threw in the trash. The mother had talked with her husband about getting help, but he refused to acknowledge what was happening. Her father didn’t want to see the mess she was making, and how it was affecting her life.
“I’m not sure… especially with my OCD and all,” replies Audrey quickly filling her mouth with food.
“I think that is a great idea, Jeremy. Maybe you can finally convince Audrey here to actually throw away all that stuff she has been hoarding,” said the mother.
“Francine, I think you should stop,” the father says holding his utensils in fist on the table.
“I am a little confused. Audrey’s place is super clean… Which I am okay with…” Jeremy looks between Francine and Audrey, not understanding why her mother thinks Audrey’s apartment is dirty.
“Oh, honey, Audrey’s place is a disaster,” Francine exclaims her mouth half filled with food. “Her place hasn’t been cleaned since the day she moved in, I don’t know where you got the idea that she was clean.”
Audrey puts her face in her hands, afraid of how Jeremy is going to react.
Jeremy wasn’t sure what to think; this girl he has been dating for long enough for him to want to live with her despite never having been to her place before. All this time he had been worried about upsetting her, and making her feel like her illness is okay. Yet, all this time she had been lying about having a mental illness.
“Um, thank you for a wonderful dinner, but I think it is time to go home.” Jeremy exclaims feeling uncomfortable about running away from a dinner with Audrey’s parents. Jeremy leans over and whispers in Audrey’s ear, “We should talk…” He walks around the table and kisses Audrey’s mom on the cheek goodnight and shaking her father’s hands. He brings his dishes to the kitchen, still making sure to clean up after himself.
They pull up to her apartment, Jeremy parking the car and shutting it off. He had thought on the whole drive there about why she would lie to him about having OCD. However, he couldn’t understand it. Why would she lie and tell him she has a mental illness, especially when he gave her all this support?
“I think…no, I know….We need to talk.” Jeremy looks over at Audrey who hasn’t looked at him once this whole drive.
“Okay…” the words are barely a whisper out of her mouth.
“And I think… I think we should discuss this inside.”
At this Audrey’s face goes pale, and her eyes wide, “Jeremy…”
“It’s long overdue Audrey.” Jeremy steps out of the car with these words, Audrey following a few steps behind. He waits at the front door for her to unlock it and let him in. She is silent in these actions, her hands shaking a bit and breathing erratic. She pushed the door open, eyes cast down as they stepped in.
The first thing that hit Jeremy was how little space there was to walk, the paths barely uncluttered by years of trash. Jeremy had seen shows where people’s places were uninhabitable due to the amount of junk they had collected.
“Audrey, what is this?” He turns to her, having barely made it into the apartment, afraid that if he moves too far into the apartment he will knock down everything that’s precariously balanced. “You told me you have OCD. This… This is NOT OCD!.”
“BUT IT IS!.” The tears finally break free from her eyes, her voice cracking as she speaks, “This is… OCD. I was scared you would judge me for it. There is more to OCD than just being clean; it can be this too.”
“I don’t understand, why hide this from me?” Jeremy felt like he had been betrayed. He didn’t understand why she would think he would judge her. He gave her support every step of the way and gave up so much to make her happy. “I have been so supportive. I never judged you before; why would you think I would have then?”
“That’s the thing though Jeremy, you judged me the first time you wanted to come in and I tried to tell you about my OCD.”
“But you didn’t tell me about your OCD, you let me believe I knew about your OCD.”
“Exactly! You didn’t bother to ask me anything more about it, didn’t ask me about my OCD. You assumed you knew everything, and I felt safe not saying anything. I felt safe not approaching the topic and not admitting to you that… I live like this…” Audrey waved her arms around the room, comfortable in the space, not afraid to knock anything over.
“Well…” Jeremy rubs the back of his neck, nervous and embarrassed about having been wrong and that they did the same thing to each other. “I thought the same thing. I was worried you would get upset if I asked about your OCD…”
They fall into a moment of silence considering how similarly they had been feeling all this time too scared to talk about it due to a simple combination of three letters: OCD. Jeremy for once takes his eyes off of Audrey and looks around the small area he is in. Audrey catches him looking and watches him intently for any reaction.
“Would…would you like to look around?” Her voice shys away from the words as they come out of her mouth. Jeremy’s face lights up with shock and hopefulness in this act of trust.
“Um…sure…” Audrey steps deeper into the apartment, not caring what she is stepping on, but also moving gracefully among the stacks of random items. “So…when did this all start?” Jeremy was nervous about knocking anything down or over while moving deeper into the apartment.
“Um… I guess I started when I moved in, just couldn’t bring myself to throw anything away and the idea of throwing it away… I just can’t… I can’t think about it. It causes me anxiety.” Audrey leads Jeremy to the kitchen, filled with items to cover up the smell of trash and rotting food. “When someone told me I had OCD, I was skeptical, too. I thought they couldn’t be right, but after looking into it I learned …OCD is not just being cleaning, but it can be this too.”
“I’m sorry I never asked about it.” Jeremy tried his hardest to keep from making a face about the barely masked scent of the food that surrounded him, and not unintentionally show judgment in his reaction.
“It’s okay, I understand why you did it I guess…” She takes a seat at the table, hands clasped tightly in her lap, not wanting to look at Jeremy’s face out of fear for how he is reacting and trying to hide his emotions about her apartment.
“Have you talked to anyone else about this…? I mean, Audrey…there are people you can talk to.” Jeremy was uncomfortable about these words, not sure how Audrey would feel about them. When their eyes lock he can see the judgment she feels. All the support he had given her didn’t feel like enough in this moment, and he just wanted her to be happy, so they could continue together.
“I haven’t, and I do not want or plan to. If you don’t want to be with me now that you know about this, I will understand.” The tears started again down her face, and onto a pile of mail covering the overflowing table.
“Audrey,” Jeremy walks around the table, and squats down next to her, not sure what he would be putting his knees in if he was to kneel. “I want to be with you, but this…this is not a healthy way to live. And I know you can see that, too.” He takes her hands in his, trying his best to comfort her, despite also wanting to leave the apartment for a breath of fresh air.
“Okay…can we talk about this more tomorrow, please…? I just need time to think for myself.” Audrey wipes a few tears away, aware that she doesn’t have room on her bed for Jeremy to spend the night and that the idea of throwing anything away right now is scary.
“Of course, honey.” Jeremy stands up and leans over to kiss Audrey on the forehead. They walk out of the apartment and say their good nights with a promise to talk in the morning. Jeremy starts his car and hopes Audrey will choose to get help, but worries as much as he can support her, this may be too much to handle. That is tomorrow’s problem though and tonight he needs to rest.