Bamford has a song that she sometimes performs onstage called “My Anxiety Song.” It has no melody. Instead, it sounds more like an incantation, a desperate verbal hum. “If I keep the ice-cube trays filled,” she chants, “no one will diiiiieeee.” She continues, in a monotone, “As long as I clench my fists at odd intervals, then the darkness within me won’t force me to do anything inappropriate or sexual” — here, she drops her voice a couple of notes — “at dinner partieeeees… . “
This, she is saying, is the agony of O.C.D., the skewed sense of cause and effect that first began to plague her when she was about 10. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 2.2 million adult Americans contend with some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s not uncommon for the symptoms to appear during childhood. Bamford is patient when explaining the particulars, aware that when she jokes about having wanted to chop up her family into bits or imagining what it would be like to lick a urinal, it can make her sound weird and also scary. But she makes a distinction: It’s the thoughts that are weird and scary, not the person. And while most of us are prone to having fleeting notions that would qualify as inappropriate, in the mind of someone with O.C.D., they are more likely to lodge themselves and repeat. The thoughts don’t tend to inspire action, only fear. It’s like having a homegrown terrorist in the brain.
The Weird, Scary and Ingenious Brain of Maria Bamford