At Busboys and Poets tonight, I sat down when I arrived and asked for some green tea. The waitress brought my tea and I noticed the mug was not clean. So my OCD was triggered. I asked the woman to please provide a new mug. I explained it was really dirty. She was fine with it. She returned with the new mug, it was still too dirty and the anxiety triggered again. It’s always been a problem of mine; my family knows this too well. Of course, I don’t like it, but sometimes when I feel I am at the liberty to request, I make the request.
A young woman sitting across from my couch noticed and asked what was wrong. I remembered it was OCD Awareness Week so I took the opportunity to educate since I hadn’t been able to yet, and told her that I have OCD, the real condition, and this is just a symptom of it, that there is something much more deep attached to that mundane issue. etc. etc. She then told me she completely understood because she too has OCD. I do not meet that many people who openly express their condition, and who have this “real” condition, and not the “mythical” condition, so it was refreshing. We then talked for hours all the way until closing time, actually she talked most of the time, and I just listened.
I could read her quite well, such an intelligent, bright woman, but she was talking to me as if no one has listened to her in ages, and I knew that feeling very very well. I know how it feels to end up blowing up with so much to say, because you have been suppressing it for so long (which is partly why I write so much instead), because no one was listening. OCD is different for everyone, but I felt that familiar pain emerging in her voice and in her eyes and her passion when she spoke. I just listened and answered some questions here and there.
But my empathy and understanding towards her and her pain at that moment made me recognize that my duty that night was not to talk, but to listen. Despite all the work I needed to do, God gave me an opportunity to serve someone who I could tell was hurting the same way I have been, by listening. Sometimes that’s all you need. Someone who is willing to listen to you.
Listening is itself an act of service, and we don’t ever think of it like that. Perhaps if we did, we would have more people listening, and less talking. We don’t have enough good listeners in this world, who are just willing to listen. We crave to be able to meet people at times who will just listen to us, especially us “listeners,” who have naturally been forced into that role not only because we are better at listening than talking (or we just literally suck at talking), but because we know how important it is to have someone who is willing to listen.
But we are still human enough to desire for someone to listen to us, to truly truly truly emphatically listen and take in the meaning of each word that comes out of someone’s mouth.
What I learned was when I placed more importance on listening to this young woman’s story, I had completely forgotten about the dirty mug and was drinking from it throughout the night, despite the voice inside that was telling me it was too dirty, that something bad will happen to me if I drink from that dirty disgusting mug… (the really difficult but doable CBT trick of placing focus on something else to forget about the precise thing that was creating the anxiety at the exact moment)…..
….Nothing bad happened. I just made a new friend.