The Dishes and Other Anxieties

by Andrew Schlosser

For most of us, Covid has been one of the most stressful and overwhelming times in our lives. I can speak only for myself, someone who wakes up every morning in a studio apartment, gets out of bed and migrates to my small desk in the corner to work, sits in silence for hours staring at a laptop screen, shuffles to the kitchen to cook dinner for me and my girlfriend (who leaves our apartment to work at least 10 hours a day), hovers over the sink washing dishes while watching some trash on my phone like Love Island or Survivor, and finally meanders back to bed where I fight with myself to stay awake to get the most out of the night before having to repeat the process again the next day. I know that as far as stress goes, my life could be much worse. I watch my girlfriend struggle everyday with working full time in a gynecologist’s office — where Covid restrictions have forced her to work extra hours, which means extra time in a face mask, which in turn causes her to break out. The extra hours worked cause her fatigue, and most days we only get three or four hours together before we fall asleep. And yet both of us are privileged in how the virus has affected us. Neither of us ever contracted the virus and I am going to be fully vaccinated by the time anyone reads this (she already is). Neither of us have lost close family members from Covid. Both of us come from privileged homes and were able to rely on them when we needed to. And yet through all of this, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and anxious and angry and defeated always — and then guilty about feeling this way because I know that so many people have it far worse than me.  The person I have connected with the most during all of this, and please excuse the corniness of this next part, is me. I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but my mother has severe OCD and my father suffers from some unchecked and undiagnosed anxiety disorder. I don’t mean to sound like a hypochondriac, but the older I get the clearer that genetic influence. It wasn’t until Covid, until I was forced to listen to my own thoughts endlessly, that I realized I may be more like my mother than I had previously imagined. OCD is portrayed in popular media as being obsessed with cleanliness, but that’s not the only form it takes. For me, it’s about things being right. My girlfriend and I recently moved in together, and it is only now that I can fully grasp the way my brain works. I cannot stop myself from feeling as though certain things must happen in certain ways. It’s constant, my brain telling me to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be. It is so present that I couldn’t even tell you the first time I noticed it. When she washes the dishes I find myself wanting to move utensils — only forks and spoons go on the left side of the drying rack, knives and other utensils go on the right. When we lay in bed she has a habit of pulling the blanket too far to her side, but the corners of the blanket need to go on either side of us, always. With this new understanding, I can look back and realize I’ve lived with this my entire life. Both light switches in my basement had to be facing the same way. I have to put a paper towel over anything going in the microwave. These are silly examples. The academic article I want to write, the one I need to write to get into a good PhD program will never be good enough because it will never be right. Now that’s something to panic about. And here I see the privilege. I’m upset because instead of doing my work, the work that will presumably get me into a lofty PhD program that strokes my ego, I procrastinate and then try to blame something else for the problem.

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