Brooke Bastie uses poetic form to imaginatively illustrate the uncertainty, repetition, and compulsion that pervades her experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
From uncertainty curdles a certainty often unnoticed. What I mean is that in all of the uncertainties I feel in life, however big, I am actually certain about many aspects of them, principally that I am certainly uncertain. This abstraction does not help me, no matter how much I would like it to, when facing situations that produce this type of paradoxical gymnastics. It is in these unknown spaces of intense uncertainty that many of my obsessive-compulsive patterns live; I find them often crystallising around ordinary tasks and household objects. In modern psychiatry, this phenomenon is clinically termed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is defined by recurring, often anxiety inducing thoughts (obsessions) followed by repetitive behaviours (compulsions) to remedy the anxiety (obsessive-compulsive disorder, 2022). Often misunderstood, OCD manifests differently and complexly for many people.
My poetry does not try to encapsulate OCD at the level of the general, but instead tries to engage with my own experience in its many manifestations: exhausting iterations, stress induced contractions, and sometimes even humorous oddities. In other words, I have taken to writing poems centred around particular objects—a door, an oven, a couch—as a way of externalisation, a practice in sense-making that often appears nonsensical. In its structural components, poetry provides me with forms through which to explore these quotidian interactions where my obsessive compulsive thinking and actions often stem. It also allows me to play with the symptamology, manipulate it, stand it on its head, and even, occasionally, undo it. The poem here relates the process of purchasing a used couch, and the confluence of obsessions and compulsions that emerged from it. I hope to continue to expand this piece, so perhaps consider this version an excerpt from a larger project.
Without providing too much explanation of the poem itself, I might instead offer places where you could focus your attention, questions to spring associations, and ways to approach this piece. How and where does repetition occur? What form does it take? What feelings arise from reading this piece? How do the verbs function? Who is the subject? Where is the subject? When do you disengage?
About the author
Brooke Bastie is a PhD candidate in English at the University at Buffalo studying contemporary Indigenous and Latinx poetry. Her creative poetry is interested in uncertainty, repetition, and compulsivity.
“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” 2022. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder