In the hallway, my mother held me while I sobbed. “I’m just so tired,” I said. “I can’t sleep, Mom. I’m so tired. You can’t even believe how tired I am.”

My Grandmother leaned over my mom and rubbed my back.

“She’s not feeling well,” my mom said. “I don’t know what it is.” Then she whispered, “Something is really wrong.”

Grammie said she was worried about the insomnia. “She’s up at all hours, typing all night long—I try to make her hot toddies but she won’t drink them.”

“I don’t know if I like the idea of giving her alcohol,” my mom said. “Maybe half a Halcion would help.”

Sleeping pills.

I knew some of the residents of the nursing home took them from all the times I lined up and counted everyone’s medication bottles. I also knew my mother liked them almost as much as M*A*S*H and Jesus Christ. That one time I snuck one from her purse, it did help me. I couldn’t deny that. But now it was being discussed as something that would no longer have to be kept secret. How was I supposed to respond to that?

I rubbed the snot from my nose and said to my mom, “Maybe you’re right.” That felt weird. Secret things were all I knew: the embarrassment I thought I would die from if anyone found out about my obsession with Ethiopian hunger spreading to America and killing everyone in my family; how Gorbachev would let loose his missiles if I didn’t keep writing down song lyrics with the word war in them; my new way of shaving my legs hard and fast so that each bloody scrape along my shinbone represented one person in the world who wouldn’t succumb to famine or war.

Now the 8pm  med round would include me and my sleeping pills. I’d wait like everyone else, ticking off the minutes until peace floated in as pure as a changeling through the window. I would get excited about shows that came on at six o’clock because that meant I only had two hours left—the evening news meant one hour—and so on. I would never again be able to associate the opening music to Punky Brewster with anything other than T-minus thirty minutes to blastoff.

At first it was easy. At first Halcion was gorgeous. All warm eclipses and moon breath. I would lie in my bed and wait for sleep to cover me. These weren’t the Bible flames I was used to, no Devil bombs being cast down to crush the skulls of the non-believers. These were slow blooming candle flowers. This was the word b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l lined up across the sky.

My pills actually gave me three days in a row of good sleep. I took a shower like a regular person, stayed out of the nurses office in school for a full week and completed all of my math homework. I even finished a long division quiz in class (only got a 46 percent but I finished it).

Then, just like that, the pills stopped working. I downed my little 8 o’clock half, laid in my bed with some Edgar Allan Poe or my taped reruns of Bewitched and waited for my fading.

Nothing happened.

“Sometimes they do that” my mom said, but more than half a pill was never offered.

One night, while waiting to see if my half pill—and the whole one I took from the medicine cabinet—would kick in, Marisol caught me coming out of the bathroom with my eyes all puffy and full of my familiar woe-is-me-will-this-ever-end tears. “Joo come here, honey.” She clutched my arm, sat me down on her bed, and told me all I needed was a giant gulp of Nyquil. “I never in my life have good rest with no somesing to help me.” She opened her nightstand drawer and pulled out an econo-size bottle of bright green slush. The light caught the liquid inside and made me think of magic trees and enchanted bugs. I took a long swig. Tinkerbell was all lit up in my mouth. Under my Strawberry Shortcake comforter I was a little flying thing—then a great big flying thing with my own wings and ambitions. A leaf sparkled from the ceiling then dripped into my face. I caught it under my eyelash then blinked it into two leaves, then ten, then a hundred. I did this until I couldn’t count anymore, until I was so smart and glowing you could have made a whole woodland poem out of me. One that you would eventually know by heart and want to hear again and again.

Pretty soon the only thing I wanted was Nyquil. One capful every night. Eight o’clock. I promised myself that this much happiness would have to stay at one capful, and only at bedtime, and even if I could divide fractions better with two capfuls I made myself say it out loud: “Only when it’s bedtime.”

Then I got a lead role in my sophomore class production of The Matchmaker and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking or my stomach from turning or my throat from tightening every time I thought about passing out on stage.

It only took a week for me to change my mind about that one capful.

My only real panic attacks had been limited to a sharing circle in the sixth grade when someone threw a Lando Calrissian action figure at my face while I read a poem about my cat, and once at the Burger Pit with Mom and Grammie after realizing I had already eaten half my cheeseburger before noticing the middle of the meat patty was so uncooked even a zombie wouldn’t be okay with it. Running to the girl’s bathroom with Lando’s body indention bright red on my cheek, scampering under the restaurant table to hyperventilate and throw up in my napkin—it didn’t matter where I was or what circumstances had whipped me up into a panicky spaz, the attacks always began the same way: everything dark and shrinking, shadow gnomes laughing at me through the filthy periscope lens of my brain. Sometimes my whole body would tingle, sometimes only my chest and hands, but each time it was the tightness that would never let go. Like the whole of me had been wrapped in an Ace bandage. I could actually feel the valves in my heart open and close, my pulse spewing out my blood, taking it back.

In and out.

Hiss and growl.

They’re going to see you faint. They’ll know what a loser you are. When my dad found me in the bathroom of the condo he was now sharing with his girlfriend, I was breathing into the paper bag I carried around in my purse.

“What’s this all about?”

“I feel so sick,” I answered. “My burrito tasted funny. Did yours taste funny?”

Ask questions. Take the eyes off you. Say something clever.

“I think Mexicans are in some sort of conspiracy to spread diarrhea to everyone in all bordering states.”

He laughed a little, but I could tell he didn’t believe me. When you’re used to falling apart, you start to get really good at that sort of acting.

There are some parts of your book that are downright gross. You brush your teeth with Ajax and peel off your psoriasis scabs. Who wants to read about stuff like this?

There’s nothing wrong with Ajax. It gets the disinfecting job done and smells great! Of course the scab thing, yeah that’s not so pretty. Having to go back in my mind to when my OCD was at an all time high (as a teenager) was a scary place to be (and yes, most of the time–disgusting) for sure, but it wouldn’t have been an honest account if I didn’t go there. I don’t think I could have just told you about the times I had to carry around water in glass jars because I was afraid of spontaneously combusting without taking you through the whole process as it happened. I didn’t particularly enjoy writing about scabs. But it’s out there now. What can I do?

 

One blogger’s review called you Augusten Burroughs with bleach and you can kind of see that in the parts where you write from the point of view of a small child. Is that good? Do you like Augusten Burroughs?

A lot of people don’t know this but Augusten and I are secretly married. It doesn’t matter that he’s gay. We’re married and that’s how it is so it’s not like being compared to my husband who loves me because we’re married? Of course that’s good. As far as what it’s like to write in a child’s voice, I’m pretty immature anyway so thinking like a kid wasn’t exactly a chore. Plus, there’s still so much of that spazzy girl in me who has to do a lot of receptive OCD stuff every day. I still have most of the problems I write about in the book, like it takes me an hour just to get ready for bed because I have to make my “rounds”—you know, checking things, touching things. I’ve got these routines I have to follow to comfort my brain.

 

So you’re cleaning the house at eleven o’clock at night?

Usually, I try to wait until at least midnight until everyone in the house is just about to fall asleep so no one gets in the way of my vacuuming.

 

That’s a little not normal don’t you think?

Sure. But I don’t care anymore. It took me a long time to get to that place. It’s basically a place of, “screw it!”, meaning, I can’t live by a code that’s going to get me approval of what living a “normal” life should be. People who have bad panic attacks or feel nervous all the time—so much of it comes from the constant running dialogue of, “Will they see me mess up? What will they think if I still wear Zips because I’m into Velcro buckles?” Once you can let that go, even if you let it go just a little, I swear, it’s the most freeing feeling in the world. Medication helps that a lot. I try to stay doped up as much as possible.

 

What would you do if didn’t write? Are OCDers better at some things than non-OCDers?

Well, I heard the entire board of directors of the League for Promotion of Even Numbers has all had their share of OCD. As for myself I can’t multi-task anything because organizing pencils according to size and frequency of use can get in the way of answering phones and sending out emails.

 

Do you have any hobbies?

I never excelled at much except for writing. I can act a little, like in the theatre. Which is basically just lying with extra makeup on so of course I’m good at that. Other than looking up symptoms on wrong diagnosis dot com (right now I’ve got a weird pain in my left side which I’m pretty sure is the onset of pleurisy) I don’t have a lot of ways to keep myself busy. In the book I talk about my first real job at a dry cleaners. I couldn’t count back change and I busted a super expensive embroidery machine then just walked off the job because it never occurred to me to do anything else but run away.

 

Interesting you should mention running away. In the book you do a lot of it.

Before you judge let me tell you about the time I was 13 and I was sent to live at a nursing home my grandmother owned. I ran away from there, that’s true, but I had to share a room with an old man who called me Whore all day. That was just his name for me. He said, “Hey Whore, come change my diaper.” And it’s not like when Augusten calls me Whore. This was completely degrading, so yeah, I bailed from that scene in a hurry.

 

But you don’t write like a victim. Nothing in the story gives us the feeling of Woe is Me.

I throw myself onto Facebook and update my status to passively aggressively hint that someone has done me wrong. That usually brings the gratification I’m looking for. But for the book, I guess I just had to get over myself. This starts to happen the more you look at the complete absurdity of OCD. If you can step outside yourself for just a few minutes and really look at yourself doing things like counting all the red cars in the parking lot before you settle on a parking space ‘cause if you don’t something bad will happen to your best friend— I mean even Keasy’s Cheify would call that weird. Besides, I’m not going through anything millions of people aren’t going through right at this very moment.

 

So what keeps you going?

Working on new writing projects. Reading. Feeling cross and jealous of other writers who have what I don’t, then friending those writers on Facebook and spending an embarrassing amount of time looking at pictures and status updates of where I think I should be in my life in order to be happy. That and hand sanitizer. And of course being Augusten’s wife.