Let me start by saying that I’m confident that I am a good person. I have a big heart and would do almost anything for a person in need. Let me then poison the well by stating that I have OCD. As many of you know, mine manifests itself largely through rituals involving checking and counting. When left unchecked, I also exhibit harm OCD and suicidal ideations. One frustrating aspect of my OCD that’s recently reared its ugly head again is my unnatural fascination with disaster. If you’re up for a read, let me elaborate.
Rewind to my childhood; it’s the cold war. We learned in school about the nuclear threat and it became an ongoing topic in History class for years. We would have disaster drills where we’d either evacuate the school, hide under our desk, or go to the hallway and sit against the wall. The thought of impending doom would replay in my mind on a continuous loop. I would go over in my head the drills, what to do, what not to do. I would worry about my family, but it was a manageable fear.
Fast forward to 9/11. I worked in NYC. I, like everyone else, was evacuated that day. We got out any way we could; I took a Circle Line cruise to nowhere ship from the West Side to Weehawken and then hitched a ride home. The days that followed, I wouldn’t move from the TV, watching the horrific images on the TV, replaying them in my mind. I came up with evacuation plans for my (ex)wife and children. I knew 5 people that died in 9/11. My news fascination deepened. I stayed up at night watching TV all night just in case we needed to evacuate. Then the Anthrax scare happened. I bought probably on the order of 30 books on bioterrorism; the history of it, how it works, ways an attack would play out, how to prepare, how to survive. I watched wind direction on a daily basis and altered my ‘escape route’ based on that since the logical distribution mechanism was an aerosol that would be airborne. I remained completely enthralled with bioterrorism for years and to this day I fight to keep that “interest” in check.
Then Occupy Wall Street happened. I had spent the better part of my career on Wall street. I had always felt as though I was overpaid for what I did, but I was grateful that I was able to feed my family. I felt dirty for being part of a ‘boys club’ where women, minorities and gays were shunned. Then Occupy Wall street gave me an outlet for that. I volunteered, I made contacts, I involved my children in protests, I brought food and clothing to Zuccotti park. Then I discovered Anonymous, the hacktivist group that afforded me the opportunity to leverage my skills with technology with my connections in Wall Street. I won’t divulge my involvement there any further, but it again became all consuming.
And here we are today. Hurricane Sandy was real, it was a threat to many of us; and I prepared…. I watched the news, I was all over the internet. Where would it hit? I had to protect my family. The storm was rough in my area, but not as bad as along the shore and in other areas nearby. I continued to watch the news. Then it happened. I came across the fact that my hometown, Staten Island, was being forgotten by FEMA, The Red Cross and others. I started tracking it, I watched YouTube videos incessantly, I sought alternative news sources to get the latest info on what was really going on. There were not just people without power like me, there were people dying, elderly living in mold ridden houses with no food or drinking water; forgotten. I had to do something. Then, my old friends at Occupy stepped in. Occupy formed the Occupy Sandy NYC effort where they refocused their efforts to focus on Staten Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island. I immediately dove into their effort, I reconnected with contacts, I started sharing information, assisting in organizing volunteer efforts. It wasn’t enough, I HAD to get out there. But the OCD makes it very hard for me to leave the house and go out in public like that… My need to help overrode my desire to remain reclusive. In my mind, over and over again, all I could think was “There are people dying” and the government agencies are sitting idle. This past Saturday, I went out to Staten Island with members of my family, we did a lot of good. We helped people. We busted our butts and cleaned houses, provided supplies, made donations. I worked with Occupy and dispatched volunteers to sites most in need. BUT, the people I met, the scenes I saw….. Now I’m left with them echoing in my mind like a violent movie. I’m left feeling, “I must do more”, “I have to help”. My wife and baby daughter have been cast aside in favor of my burning desire, err NEED to help. I can’t get the image of the woman whom I spoke to Saturday who had no power, no running water, mold in the first floor, no food, not even a bathroom, and nowhere to go. I all but insisted to my wife that we open our home to any random stranger needing a place to stay; and I posted our willingness to do so in multiple groups.
So, the end to my rant is simple. How do I stop this? How do I get the violent images to get out of my head? In this case, my OCD is clear cut… The Obsession is with the horrific events and the compulsion is to help; but I can’t stop. Even when I can rationally sit back and say “Hey, it’s happening again” to myself, I rationalize that away by saying “It’s ok, let it happen. You’re helping a lot of people and doing good”. I had a wonderful conversation with my wife about all this last night, and her and I agreed to set boundaries. i.e. How long each day can I devote to researching and collaborating with my contacts. How frequently I can volunteer, etc etc. Is that going to work? Does anyone have any ideas? What’s worked for you? I can’t outright STOP, because in the part of my mind that works, I can see that I genuinely AM helping. That is a good thing. How do I keep this in check and under control? I can’t get these horrific images to stop and it’s only getting worse.
Thank you so much for reading this, and any advice you guys might have. I’m very thankful to have some truly great friends here.