Cosmic OCD

Those of us with OCD cling to the illusion of control over our environment.

Perhaps this is why, since I had a peek at Revelation 6:12, I have feared cosmic doom. How freakish would it be if the sky turned black as sackcloth at noon?

From then on, any phenomena that bore a resemblance to the catastrophes reserved for the time of reckoning developed into phobic material. The phobias hampered any ability I had to live like other kids. For instance, I couldn’t leave the house if severe weather threatened. Thunderstorms seemed apocalyptic, and I did not wish to reap the whirlwind.

If the midday sky became as midnight, what the cause? Divine Judgment, an asteroid, or both? What if a  mile-high tsunami crested and broke over the roof of my home, a suburban refuge only two miles from the murky Atlantic deep? Would the coziness of my home deflect the unreal made real?

I feared an unavoidable threat to my cherished separateness. Gargantuan forces might disperse my unique self into an undifferentiated whole. Through years of practice, I overcame the worst of my compulsion to self-contain. Ironically, it seems as if the only way keep the self is to lose the self. But despite my immersion in “the oceanic” I fell off the “OCD wagon” when I learned an asteroid was set to skim past earth on the afternoon of Halloween, 2015.

I first found out about our blue marble’s appointment with 2015 TB145 (affectionately dubbed “Spooky”) on October 21. The object itself was only discovered on October 10, which raised questions on the scale and efficacy of asteroid detection. NASA, of course, assured the public that Spooky posed no threat to our only home.

As a tinfoil hat type and peruser of conspiracy websites, I immediately checked my online hangouts for an alternative take on our celestial visitor. When some bloggers suggested that NASA was being less than forthcoming on the flight plan of our “trick-or-treater,” I flew into a tizzy worse than the one provoked by the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider in 2008. When they flipped the CERN switch, I gulped whiskey and found the Dutch courage to curse black holes! (Am I revealing my scientific illiteracy?)

Ignorance aside, when it comes to the behavior of heavenly bodies, the rational side of me casts my lot with the PhDs. But my obversely skeptical side also gives cranks a fair hearing. The “just maybe” of their doomsday predictions churns enough grist for my neurotic mill.

This time I felt too vulnerable to tolerate pseudoscientists. In the strength of my fear, I turned my back on independent scholars and found my only comfort in stalking the Twitter account of Neil Degrasse Tyson. He would let me know if the inbound asteroid had our name on it!

He is an approachable celebrity scientist, a maven of our New York. I imagined knocking back brews with him at the Standard Biergarten as he explained to me the force of gravity and how Spooky’s particular trajectory precluded any possibility of collision.

So I daily scanned his Twitter feed for the slightest betrayal of concern. If he told me to run for the hills of Colorado, I would make haste even if I had to walk. But if I saw him in his costume on Halloween morning, I would at least assume an impact for Hawaii rather than Harlem. I checked his Twitter account every half hour. This annoyed my wife, to say the least.

Spooky passed us without incident, of course, and I felt both relieved and ashamed. The Lovecraftian monster of impersonal horror was reduced to little more than an object of fun, an orbital ham preening for snapshots taken by astronomy nerds.

Two days after Halloween a school bus barreled into a left turn that put it in a head-on collision course with my puny Kia. To avoid near-certain death, I plowed my front end into a curb, totaling the vehicle in the process. Fortunately, my wife, my son and I did not suffer any injuries. We were obviously lucky. People all over the world die in automobile accidents every hour of every day.

In some way, that is the sad truth of this entire piece. Probably no one reading this will die a grandiose Biblical death. Nothing as poetic and, yes, as beautiful as that! Each of us is more likely to die a death much more mundane. We accept our fate as the potential victims of drab school bus drivers who fail to stop or signal because they are too busy texting their parents/landlords. For many, the end will come through the carelessness of a mediocre idiot.

I am also an idiot. I wasted ten days worrying about an asteroid only to almost die at the hands of a cretin. The words of my friends have never rung so true: “You are more likely to be killed by a speeding bus!”

About Will Johnsonwill-johnson

Will Johnson is a freelance writer and former weekly columnist for Metro U.S. He has struggled with OCD, anxiety and depression for most of his life.

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