The Day It Rained on My Mental Health: An OCD Sufferer in Monsoon
I got home, physically exhausted and mentally battered. It was after an hour that my brain considered me ‘clean’.
India has become a hotbed of floods, with 2017 being its worst year yet. Our poor drainage system and the disinterest of the municipal authorities has been glaring for years, but there is a chronic edge to it now – the floods have gotten incessant in every part of the country.
But imagine those who get out of their houses on such days while fighting mental illnesses like OCD that deal with anxiety and ritualistic behaviour over cleanliness, germs, etc.
Dirtiest Day Ever
In Kolkata to study currently, I go to Camac Street from Dum Dum twice a week for my course. I take an auto rickshaw, a local train and the metro to just get to my destination. For a class of two hours, I travel for over four hours. The fact that I share the space with a million others, some sneezing and some spitting, is just the kind of ordeal I, who suffer from OCD, face and overcome on ordinary days.
But the kind of horrors I saw on a Thursday when it poured for hours is another story altogether.
The class was called off at half time, as most of the students hadn’t made it. So without further ado, I ran down the steps, only to find the entire building waiting downstairs. New to the city, I called my father for some sane advice on an insane day.
“Don’t wait, take the metro, the roads will be swamped,” he said.
With two other students, I decided to start the 15-minute walk to the nearest metro. The guards at the gate were discussing how the road looked like the beach at Digha. I asked if it had any open manholes, a little too cheerily. They just asked us to hold hands and walk, in case either of us did fall into one.
With a silent prayer, I put my first foot in the water and realised it was way deeper than I’d thought. The water splashed about, above my heels, as every car that passed me sent some my way. Muddy, littered by cigarette packs and stubs, one by one, all things I consider dirty touched my skin. My classmate stalled us a bit as he removed his socks and contemplated not wearing his sneakers back.
As we took tiny steps to avoid falling into unknown pits, we heard a loud squeak. Horrified, I realised I had stepped on something soft. In quick succession, we heard another squeak. A rat from the nearby sewer had first found my shoes and then my classmate’s sneakers. Of course, we lost the creature or paralysed it at the least.
My head hurt the entire time we walked in the waters, not because I was scared for my life in these unsafe, watery roads – but because my OCD was trying to burst out of every pore in my body.
We reached the Rabindra Sadan metro station and pushed and shoved our way through the millions who had decided to escape the road traffic that evening. Once at the ticket counter, the guy refused to give me one because I ‘was breaking the line’. With a start, I realised that the people I had just passed were all standing in a queue. I sighed as I walked back to where I had come from, this time pushing and getting pushed against the current.
Standing behind exactly 143 people, I became acutely aware of the stench of rain water and sweat on each person around me. I tried implementing Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a kind of therapy I have learned well over the years, where I expose myself to an object or obsession and try to cope with the anxiety it brings. Here, exposure hardly mattered because I was surrounded by every thing I fear. As for coping, it was out of the question because the situation was too overwhelming to manage all at once.
The metro ride was another battle altogether. I found myself standing in the general compartment and feeling as if I was in a liquid state of being – while water takes the shape of the vessel it is in, I was contorted into the shape of the space that was left between four people. If they allowed me to breathe, I breathed. I was losing my inner battle, being in such proximity with all types of strangers; wet, smelly, sweaty and dirty.
The final straw came in the form of the local train station that I had to go to once I was off the metro. Dumdum railway station was at its chaotic worst – people were soaking wet, the platform had inch deep waters and I missed train after train as all were packed to full capacity. As I tried to figure how long a bath would make me feel human again, a vendor came and sat right next to me. The man placed a plastic sheet on the wet floor of the platform, put a basket full of boiled eggs over it and started peeling one after another. Soon, a small crowd gathered around him and people chomped down on the eggs with abandon. He collected the egg shells in a plastic bag right next to the fresh eggs.
If my OCD alarm had been set off by the evening’s ordeal, then this scene simply put a nail to my coffin. I cringed, unable to cope with the idea of food next to people’s shoes and rainy muck. There were tears in my eyes before I could check them. I got home, exhausted physically and battered mentally and it was after another hour that my brain considered me ‘clean’.
Raining on my Health
True, a lot of our country’s people live such sweaty, crowded everyday lives that they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the details that made me go berserk. But, given that OCD is the fourth most common mental disorder in the world with one in every 25 people having it, it is okay to assume that one person in your metro compartment is having a harder day than you.
Floods bring a city to a stop, but to have its repercussions flood on your carefully balanced mental state is debilitating. While I wish I could get up on that bus eating an egg roll or sit on the metro watching Charlie Chaplin on my smartphone like I see so many people do, all I actually get to do is manage to get home.
So, if not for the millions whose lives are effected, I sure do pray for my own sake that our country manages its rains better.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)
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