The Exploding Toilet

by Bill Brenner on August 23, 2010

Back when my OCD was running out of control, one of my many fixations was cleanliness. If a toilet or sink backed up and spilled all over the place or one of the kids threw up, my brain would spin until it detached from its stem. With that in mind, this was a weekend of real progress.

Mood music:


Saturday, the kitchen sink backed up with dirty, putrid-green water and an entire bottle of drain opener failed to work. It sat there for 24 hours until I finally managed to plunge it open. Sunday, the bliss of a peaceful morning was shattered when an upstairs toilet spilled over, causing a flood that leaked out of the kitchen and living room ceilings below.

Had this stuff happened five years ago, I would have been a basket case. Every OCD quirk in the book would have come out: the windmill hands, the compulsive checking of door locks and light switches, and a near-panic over a living room floor littered with toys.

One Christmas Eve about five years ago, Duncan threw up in a basket of clean, folded laundry. The house was already in chaos because we were getting ready for company that evening. Let’s just say that wasn’t one of my better Christmases. By that evening, after all the guests had gone and we were getting the Christmas-morning presents ready, I was having a full-blown anxiety attack.

As sucky as it is to have a kid throw up on clean laundry, in the big picture it’s a small thing. You clean up and move on. But at that point early in my attempt to deal with the OCD, there was no moving on. Exaggerated responses are normal for someone with out-of-control mental illness.

With all that in mind, this past weekend was rather special in the progress department.

Despite the mess in the bathroom and the damage on the floor below (we lost a fair amount of paint and plaster), I was the cool-headed one. Erin was understandably rattled, as were the children, who were convinced their home was splintering around them.

I calmly cleaned the water from the bathroom floor and set about helping Erin contain the leak downstairs. During the chaos, I got the sink unclogged and we rejoiced over not having to call in a plumber we wouldn’t be able to afford. The ceiling damage will cost us, but once dry, it didn’t look as bad as it did at first. It’s still pretty bad, but I can live with it until it’s fixed.

Despite it all, I’d say yesterday was a pretty good day. It was a good weekend full of friends and family.

In the old days, I would have let the curve balls destroy a perfectly good weekend. I’d walk around in a stupor, totally closed off from the rest of the planet. My brain would throb with all kinds of worry about bad things that COULD happen.

Not this time.

This was a weekend where I told my OCD to fuck off. Then I moved on. It’s quite a feeling.

I turn 40 in three days, and I know life will essentially hum along the same way it has. There will be ups and downs. But it’s nice knowing that I’m more prepared for that than I was at the start of my 30s.

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