In My Head

Stop Being OCD
Image Source: The Bad Chemicals

We moved to Florida a few months before I turned ten in 1982. Before that I was enrolled at Jordan Acres Elementary, Brunswick, ME, and inundated with tiny niggling fears.

Just across from the school playground was a street with a few low-slung brick buildings and an overpass. We walked under the overpass to get to the corner variety store for Slush Puppies, Reggie Bars and candy cigarettes. The buildings were nondescript, and could have been either residential or commercial at one point. Now they were abandoned, with the windows on the upper floors boarded up. I was convinced that this was a hideout for robbers, and I was sure that there was a hostage inside trussed up on a meat hook. And I was convinced that if the robbers ever walked out of one of the buildings while I was passing, I would be grabbed and trussed up, never to see my mom and dad again. It was certainly a frightening way to get a Slush Puppy.

On my road I had to watch out for the hippies. I have no idea who called them the hippies or why, nor how many there were. But I knew they had to be dangerous. I only ran afoul of them once, but it was terrifying. I remember there were two of them on one motorcycle, and they rode after me for a little bit. Probably just revved their engine, really, but that was enough. I remember hearing the engine gunning, seeing red and black plaid flannel and long hair and hearing a laugh which, over the years, has turned into a maniacal cackle. I remember screaming and running like hell for the house, and the sickening feeling that I might…not…make…it… My mom was probably home, and she probably hugged it all better. And I don’t remember ever seeing the hippies again. But they have remained in my brain ever since.

One time we returned from a vacation at Disney World to discover that our lock had been picked. Nothing was missing from the house, and no arrests were ever made. Who knows what that was about? But I remember the sense of violation from a robber (one from the building with the meat hooks?) being in the house, and the fear that they could come back. That they would come back, while we were home, and my dad would have to fight them all off…

On the bus to Jordan Acers we drove by the end of the runway of the Brunswick Naval Air Station. At the time BNAS was home to several squadrons of sub hunters, who flew P3 Orions over the North Atlantic searching for enemy submarines. We lived about two miles away from the base, and the sound of the propellers and the sight of the planes flying low and turning in graceful arcs toward or away from the runway was a perpetual background loop. On the bus, as we passed the runway, or parked at the Dairy Joy or Fat Boy Drive-in, I often had an image in my head of a P3 careening nose-first into the ground and exploding into a fireball. I could see the pilot frantically pulling the stick back through the cockpit window as the plane plummeted, to no avail. It never happened, but the image was frequent and extremely vivid.

Fire was a constant fear. I saw the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Albert accidentally burns down the church by leaving a lit pipe in the basement at too young an age, and the trauma settled in. Every clap of thunder, I was sure, brought with it the bolt of lightning that would hit the house and destroy my teddy bear and burn our cats alive. I remember my dad counting the seconds between thunderclaps to prove that a storm was moving away, and just reassuring me in general when a storm approached.

But the fear was real, and it came from experience.

I remember walking through the woods one winter afternoon and seeing The Thompsons house burn to the ground. I don’t remember The Thompsons, but I’ll never forget the sight and sounds, and especially the feel, of seeing their house burning down, and the charred smoldering wreckage after the fact. I remember this was the first time I ever heard of anyone having a “Saltbox House”: we had a Ranch, and most of my friends had Ranches or Split-Levels or Trailers. To this day, whenever I drive by or see or hear mentioned a Saltbox, I immediately see The Thompsons Saltbox house fully engulfed in the cold woods of my youth.

It happened to The Thompsons, I remember thinking. It’s going to happen to us too!

Retrospect, I can see that this is where the narrative thread of my life started to emerge. This was not just the slightly overactive imagination of a kid who may have watched a bit too much TV. This is where my OCD really started to present itself. The obsession, the rumination and the spirals…it all makes total sense to me now.

I don’t recall any rituals or number obsessions or any other coping mechanisims I may have used back then, but I find it very comforting somehow to see that my OCD clearly goes back this far. It explains a lot. And it makes me feel a lot (okay, a bit) more normal. One of the most dominant traits of my internal wiring was right there all along, screaming for attention and being unintentionally ignored.



  1. metan said:

    All those things we coped with as children, it amazes me that we just soldiered on!

  2. the howler and me said:

    I grew up in the middle of the woods on 11 acres of land, and my internal dialog always told me there were kidnappers in the woods just WATCHING, WAITING for the right time.

    Oh and that the big tree in the back yard was going to fall right down and crush me in the bed where I slept…. When it was windy, I didn’t sleep much.

    • Oh, man. Kidnappers and weather: you’re hitting all my fears! Gulp…

  3. Having an active imagination is both a blessing and a curse. You can clearly envision wonderful things — funny or fanciful — but also vivid horrific images as well. As a kid, I definitely had to work hard at night to keep the bad images in check, which usually manifested themselves in nightmares. I rarely have them anymore, but when I do, it’s usually the same ones I had as a kid. You’d think after all these years they would have been replaced by something scarier, like being married into Honey Boo Bo’s family or something. Thanks for sharing with us, Brian.

    • Seriously, the same dreams since you were a kid? I’ve never heard of that happening. Innnnerestin’…

      • I was a strange kid; hell, I’m a strange man…

  4. Ahh… the magic years. As children/teens we don’t have the same ability to process those traumas or scary moments the way adults do – we just don’t have all the pieces that would give us the proper perspective. They become larger than life and so very frightening. Most of us with anxiety issues can trace the fears right back to our childhoods.

    I think it gives a lot of comfort, like you said, to find the source of those fears, see how they connect and continue to play out in our adult lives. No worries, Brian, you are VERY normal. When you combine those experiences with your particular rich imagination and keen power of observation – is it any wonder that your “OCD” is in technicolor? An average Joe might not give life to those fears in the same way you do. In that way, Brian Westbye’s gift is a blessing and maybe a slight curse. 🙂

  5. Fascinating what you remember and how you see things through the lens of looking back.

  6. It sounds like a very stressing childhood Brian…A saltbox…something new learned today, thanks to you 😉

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