The video above is that of Neil Hilborn at the Individual Finals of the 2013 Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam. His poem is about a specific instance of him falling in love with a woman who helps take away his debilitating obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Even if you typically cannot stand poetry, it’s hard to deny that this poem is just so good — especially if you are somebody with OCD.
I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 16, but there were behaviors I’ve exhibited since as long as I can remember. It’s similar to the symptoms of others I’ve met: I chronically feel unbalanced so I have to “even out” by body by, say, tapping on one side if I’ve accidentally tapped on the other or repeating a word until it makes sense to stop. It sounds simple, but it actually gets really frustrating when my thoughts get overly focused on the evenness; I wind up not sleeping, just tapping and touching and squeezing until finally, things feel even. I am like this about words, about sensations, about typing, about people.
The problem with getting close to someone, for me, is that the longer and better I know you, the more likely your behaviors are to upset me when I notice they’re not balanced. For example, if a new coworker were to pat my shoulder while walking away, I would just pat my other shoulder and be done with it. If it’s a significant other who does that, however, I will likely ask them to do so for me. Without getting into to much crass detail, this affects sex in a few unpleasant ways, many of which wind up taking away quite a bit of the happiness for me because I’m too busy obsessing over irrelevant details but go undetected by the other person.
In fact, most of my OCD symptoms go unnoticed by those around me. I will joke about it from time-to-time but until somebody really gets to know me, they don’t think it’s genuine. They don’t notice how often I touch my ears or my face or how often I repeat specific words until they “sound right” or the way I quietly stress about the cracks in the sidewalk. Sometimes I’ll go back and pretend I dropped something just so I can re-walk my steps until they “feel right.” This whole sense of balance and “right” make dating frustrating.
Rather than being able to focus on my time with somebody and the romance of being with that person, my thoughts are occupied by anxieties. From being sure the window is shut to counting how many times their fingers have grazed mine to double checking the room for bugs (literal ones, not CIA-stuff; I’m entirely too boring for that), it’s hard to “be in the moment.” But there have been a couple of people who help soothe my symptoms; yes, the OCD will still be there, it will just be less invasive. Rather than being in the limelight, it will just sit passively in the room.
So, when I heard this poem, I couldn’t help but be shocked by how incredible it is in its accurate depiction of falling in love while experiencing obsessive-compulsive symptoms. While I’m not doctor, I presume Hilborn’s diagnosis is more severe than mine just judging by how he discusses it. Nevertheless, I still feel like I can relate to it better than I have related to almost any love poem, and I am so, so glad it’s gotten a lot of the recognition it deserves. So, thanks Neil Hilborn. I appreciate your articulation.