OCD Prose

Breathe by Marilyn June Janson

Eight AM. Tuesday September 15, 2020. The Center for Disease Control reports a total of 6,537,627 United States cases and 194,092 deaths.

Phoenix, Arizona. Parked at an outdoor mall, I get out of my car, grab a mask from the backseat, and stuff it in my handbag.

A few cars dot the parking lot. I scan the sidewalks for people. None.

No need to put on the mask.

Standing beside concrete fountain, I take 10 second videos of flowers smoldering in the breeze.

I see him in my lens. He is not wearing a mask.

My hands shake and heart thumps.

Deep, slow, breaths. Exhale. A,b,c,d…

Saying the alphabet is my coping strategy.

I toss the cell phone in my bag, grab my mask, and put it on.  

Does he have COVID? Is he a carrier?

A sneeze in my direction could spread millions of his microorganisms and infect me.


Instead, I turn and walk to my car.

Diagnosed as an adult with Obsessive Compulsive and Anxiety Disorders I learned to manage my symptoms.

I pay attention to the signs: sweating, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. I have retrained myself to breathe.

Relentless worries about health, illness, and dying are my triggers.

Taking prescribed anti-anxiety medication helps to quell these symptoms.

September 5, 2020, Action 6 News Philadelphia reports, “US Surgeon General Dr. Adams advises the states to be ready on November 1, 2020 to distribute a COVID vaccine, just in case.”

Pressure from the White House to vaccinate America before the November 3rd elections terrorizes me. It takes years of patient trials for a vaccine to be safe for the public.

Nightmares of government mandated injections plague my dreams.

My peer led mental health support groups stopped meeting in-person months ago.

I have tried Zoom meetings and stopped. I miss the face–to-face contact.

Masks are mandated in town. My friends are going out to restaurants.

Lonely and sad, I want to go out, too.

Sunday September 6, 2020. I leave home At 7 AM for Wal–Mart. There will not be too many people there.

Deep, slow, breaths. Exhale. A,b,c,d,e…

Masks required, I put on two pairs of gloves, and a mask.

Inside I spend time avoiding others and locating items.

I turn away to avoid facing anyone nearby.

Hearing someone sneeze behind me, I cringe.

The store is out of the cleaning products I want. I grab some hand sanitizers and two boxes of gloves.

I pay with a credit card at a kiosk. No need to use a possibly infected stylus to sign my name.

Grabbing my bag, I leave the store, exhausted.

I stop by a park to destress. I get out to stretch my clenched neck, spine, legs, and arms.

Watching a few horseback riders circle the area and boys playing with a Frisbee, this day seems normal.

It is not. COVID has not, “Gone away like a miracle,” as President Trump said.

I get into my car, go home, and take a nap.


Marilyn June Janson was diagnosed with OCD and Anxiety Disorders at age 21. She manages her symptoms and triggers with prescribed and monitored anti-anxiety and depression medication. Ms. Janson is a small business owner and instructor living in Arizona with her husband Ed and Bella Rose, a cat.