You don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Saying so would be self-diagnosis, and you’re not allowed to do that. Your mom almost forbade you to use the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for research because she was afraid it would cause hypochondria. Don’t prove her right. Everything you’re doing is normal.
Examine your hands. When you make a fist, the crevices turn white. Your knuckles are white and bumpy and the skin around them is patchy red. Your skin is cracking, which shouldn’t surprise you— you’ve been washing your hands repeatedly because you can’t get sick this winter. Sickness would make you miss school and that would make you fail. If you missed school, you wouldn’t know what to do. You’d fall behind and you wouldn’t be able to catch up, so go wash your hands again. You don’t want to fail, do you?
Don’t bother using the Country Apple lotion this time. It won’t heal your hands, only prevent the cracks from bleeding for another day. Besides, it will make your pens and pencils slide out of your hand, so it’s not safe to use until you’re done writing.
Speaking of writing, have you finished your homework? Keep your lined paper out— you have to study for history. Grab two colored pens, a pencil, an eraser, and a white-out pen. Start by writing the chapter heading and the first term on the list in one colored pen. Scrawl everything you know about the term in pencil, and then check your notes. Add everything you forgot in the second colored pen. Repeat for each term; the finished guide will only be five or six pages. Think of this as preparation for the twenty- page guide you’ll make for finals. When you’re done, you’ll know the chapter, but you should still force your father and your friends to quiz you. You were told to get a good GPA freshman year, which means don’t get anything less than perfect. It’ll be impossible to get into college otherwise.
When you’re satisfied, put the guide in your accordion folder and take out your laptop. Open up your novel. Tomorrow is workshop day and you need something for the others to read. They sometimes skip a week, but that’s not a valid excuse for you. You need to write.
Your main character is Julius, and he does have obsessive-compulsive disorder. He’s not like you. You don’t. No one has diagnosed you, so disregard the signs. Ignore the time you yelled at your dad for plating your waffles because you didn’t see him wash his hands. Anyone would have. Ignore all the times you ordered your ice cream in a cup instead of a cone because your hands weren’t clean and you didn’t want to touch your food. When everyone else gets cones, they’re not being safe. Your so-called abnormal habits are the only thing keeping you healthy and passing your classes. Listen to me: you don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Put on some music while you write. You’ve made a playlist for Julius with songs like “Monster” by Imagine Dragons and “Control” by Halsey. You couldn’t relate to him otherwise— you haven’t turned into a monster. There are no demons or awful energy in you. There’s just me.
Write about a test like the one you’re taking tomorrow— a test that could ruin your future. That’s not a rare thing. Every test could ruin your future. Write about checking answers multiple times and still fearing your grades. Write about feeling that something is impossible and having that fear make it impossible. Write about the things I make you do because everyone should do them. They’re normal.
When you don’t know what to write, don’t take a break. Keep writing. You believe in your ability to write in a way that you haven’t believed in your ability to do anything in a long time. If you want that belief to stay, you can’t stop.
Don’t allow making your characters hurt— making them wash their hands a thousand times and have intrusive thoughts and lie in bed just staring at the ceiling because they have too many thoughts to sleep— let you stop hurting. Don’t stop rubbing your hands raw with sanitizer just because you need those hands to write. You also need health to write. Don’t turn your intrusive thoughts into story ideas. What if this campfire burns down the forest shouldn’t become what if the government sends a group of hydromancers to stop wildfires in California? You need to focus on finding the fire extinguisher just in case. Don’t tell yourself you can work out a plotline at night— do it now. You know that when you go to bed you’ll be too busy thinking about everything you’ve done wrong, ever.
Writing for school took your sanity, so don’t think writing for yourself is going to give it back. Not that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, of course.
Greta Starling is a high school sophomore. She enjoys reading and writing; some of her favorite books are by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. She has been writing for most of her life but this is her first time being published. Follow her on Instagram at @greta_writes.