OCD Prose

Breathe by Marilyn June Janson

Eight AM. Tuesday September 15, 2020. The Center for Disease Control reports a total of 6,537,627 United States cases and 194,092 deaths.

Phoenix, Arizona. Parked at an outdoor mall, I get out of my car, grab a mask from the backseat, and stuff it in my handbag.

A few cars dot the parking lot. I scan the sidewalks for people. None.

No need to put on the mask.

Standing beside concrete fountain, I take 10 second videos of flowers smoldering in the breeze.

I see him in my lens. He is not wearing a mask.

My hands shake and heart thumps.

Deep, slow, breaths. Exhale. A,b,c,d…

Saying the alphabet is my coping strategy.

I toss the cell phone in my bag, grab my mask, and put it on.  

Does he have COVID? Is he a carrier?

A sneeze in my direction could spread millions of his microorganisms and infect me.


Instead, I turn and walk to my car.

Diagnosed as an adult with Obsessive Compulsive and Anxiety Disorders I learned to manage my symptoms.

I pay attention to the signs: sweating, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. I have retrained myself to breathe.

Relentless worries about health, illness, and dying are my triggers.

Taking prescribed anti-anxiety medication helps to quell these symptoms.

September 5, 2020, Action 6 News Philadelphia reports, “US Surgeon General Dr. Adams advises the states to be ready on November 1, 2020 to distribute a COVID vaccine, just in case.”

Pressure from the White House to vaccinate America before the November 3rd elections terrorizes me. It takes years of patient trials for a vaccine to be safe for the public.

Nightmares of government mandated injections plague my dreams.

My peer led mental health support groups stopped meeting in-person months ago.

I have tried Zoom meetings and stopped. I miss the face–to-face contact.

Masks are mandated in town. My friends are going out to restaurants.

Lonely and sad, I want to go out, too.

Sunday September 6, 2020. I leave home At 7 AM for Wal–Mart. There will not be too many people there.

Deep, slow, breaths. Exhale. A,b,c,d,e…

Masks required, I put on two pairs of gloves, and a mask.

Inside I spend time avoiding others and locating items.

I turn away to avoid facing anyone nearby.

Hearing someone sneeze behind me, I cringe.

The store is out of the cleaning products I want. I grab some hand sanitizers and two boxes of gloves.

I pay with a credit card at a kiosk. No need to use a possibly infected stylus to sign my name.

Grabbing my bag, I leave the store, exhausted.

I stop by a park to destress. I get out to stretch my clenched neck, spine, legs, and arms.

Watching a few horseback riders circle the area and boys playing with a Frisbee, this day seems normal.

It is not. COVID has not, “Gone away like a miracle,” as President Trump said.

I get into my car, go home, and take a nap.


Marilyn June Janson was diagnosed with OCD and Anxiety Disorders at age 21. She manages her symptoms and triggers with prescribed and monitored anti-anxiety and depression medication. Ms. Janson is a small business owner and instructor living in Arizona with her husband Ed and Bella Rose, a cat.

Depression Prose

The Day Bruce Springsteen Saved My Life by Francesca Moroney

On a Tuesday morning in the middle of January, I sob loudly inside my car, parked in the school lot. Frost covers the windows. Behind me, the baby sleeps in her car seat, head slung low on her chest. I am four months postpartum with my fourth child, and my body feels like lead, struggling even to turn the key in the ignition. Around me, busy parents enter their cars, alone, and I envy them—all of their children safe in the care of others. Cars exit the lot, turn signals blinking in the brittle light, but I can’t move. It’s not the crying that keeps me inert, but this pressure below my sternum, a lump that feels like a large, hungry animal flung against my chest, plus a feeling that everything I’ve ever loved is waving goodbye from behind a thick, soundproof pane of glass. There is nothing in my life that does not exhaust me. I do not know how I will get home. I fear I will petrify and my other children will find their sister at the end of the day covered in tears and urine, or that I have forgotten how to drive, how to yield at intersections and pull over for emergency vehicles. I know I must not stop atop the railroad tracks, but I worry I might ignore that knowledge when the time comes. I am still crying and the baby still sleeps when I hear Bruce Springsteen sing, You’ve been hurt and you’re all cried out. Suddenly, I feel somehow less original—relieved by the presence of someone else’s pain and depression inside my head. If the achy, angsty voice from within my speakers can make his own unbearableness sublime, surely it can make mine bearable. The lyric escapes my lips quietly, like a secret, or a prayer—after all, I am not so far gone as to have forgotten how vital it is to not wake a sleeping baby. My hands are cold on my hot cheeks when I wipe away my tears, and I hope I will remember to warm them before lifting my daughter from her seat and carrying her inside. I put the car into gear and check my blind spots before pulling away, trusting in Bruce when he promises a thin white line of love, alive at the edge of the dim highway, a beacon I might follow, a way to survive, at least, the drive home.

Francesca Moroney is a mother, writer, teacher, and reader, living and working with her five teenagers and three large dogs in southwestern Illinois. She has been published in the Journal of Light and DarkAesthetica Magazine, and fws journal of literature and art. Her prose poem, “The Jane Collective,” was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Stories That Need to Be Told Contest of Tulip Tree Publishing. 

Autism Prose

Joyful Noise by Basil Wright

Boredom is standing in a line outside of an event hall. You and your sibling have planned this outing weeks in advance. The actual event itself will be memorable, even though you know every sound after it will feel like pins and needles on your brain, even though when you exit the building, the sun will be too bright for your sensitive eyes, and even though you’ll need to construct a blanket cocoon and nestle yourself into the heart of its warmth, you know it will have been worth it. “No one’s getting in here.” You will mutter happily to yourself, reciting a cartoon as well-worn and loved as the blankets that surround you.

All of those events are tasks set before your future self. Right now, you are bored. And when you are bored, you cluck. You cluck once, low and soft, testing the mood of the crowd around you. No complaints. You cluck again, louder and with more confidence. As you cluck, your brain sets off joyous sparks of light and color, pushing back the boredom and allowing you to focus better on your surroundings. Your sibling looks at you and you smile encouragingly at them. They’re not as much of a fan of making chicken noises as you are, but when you start to clap they join in, keeping you on time to the music you’ve constructed in your mind. Your sibling shimmies as you jerk your limbs into odd contortions, your soul glowing orange as you clap and cluck.

Others in line stare at your strange behavior, but your focus is captured by the notes whirling within your mind, crafting your bird call piece by piece. Life is simply too short to concern yourself with whether or not being a dancing chicken is appropriate behavior while standing in line.

Farther ahead, a woman turns around to see what the noise is about and your eyes meet. You mimic your sibling’s shimmy and continue clapping. You can see the bright glow fill her eyes as she begins clapping as well, bopping her head along to the beat.

To your delight, a few others join you in your clucking: a cacophonous choir of chickens, cheeping and chirping to the same shared song. You take turns clucking back and forth with the man ahead of you, before he succumbs to a fit of giggles. “This is so weird.” He admits, but continues with his bird song.

When at last the doors to the event hall open, an employee pokes their head out to look at the crowd. “Was it just me, or did I hear a bunch of clapping…and clucking?”

Your sibling looks at you with a good-natured smile and gives one last shimmy.

You throw back your head and belt forth a rooster’s cry of affirmation.

Basil Wright is a Black and Indigenous autistic queer writer that lives in Florida with their sibling. Their work has appeared in Perhappened Mag, The Daily Drunk Mag, and Disability Madison’s Black and Disabled Virtual Showcase.

ADHD Anxiety Prose

Leaving the Apartment by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

Leaving the apartment is both a recipe and a spell. Ingredients in a certain order set in threes to unlock the doors that lead to the front stoop. Three cats to find. Three items I need before I go. Three doors to lock and unlock and re-lock in threes to guarantee the cooking incantation of leaving’s labor holds. Half-finished spells are spoiled milk and the number of rideshares that have come and gone while I re-work in threes maps the city in miles lost. Inside. Outside. Inside. A magic wand finger swipe to re-order Uber. Re-find the three cats. Hold my face to their faces and tell them I love them three times. My hand on the doorknobs advancing one twist after the other to complete the cooking spell of loss that comes with leaving. At each door, I say the final words to complete the magic meal of going into the world. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. She is the editor of HOOT Review and Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit, as well as the author of Better Bones and Marrow, both published by Thirty West Publishing House, and The Guessing Game published by BA Press. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it; she believes that the poodle is the reincarnated spirit of the television show Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.

Prose Self-Harm

Self-Inflicted by SM Colgan

You have taken a blade to your skin so many times you do not know the number, just that it will be ten years in August on an uncertain date since the first occasion, and is, as you sit, six months since the last.

(It might be less.)

Maybe you should have started counting back at the start, but it is too late now. Too late, except to know that of all the times and there may be 100 with nicks and scratches over those ten years, of them all only one scarred.

6 January 2016, you think. Razor-blade, driven into your left arm in a fit of rage.

The blood made your hands tremble.

(Maybe that was the rage, too.)

A small ridge of scar tissue, invisible to all except you who knows it is there, where to look.

The mark of what you were, once, and may be again.

(You are too old to think it will never happen again.)


SM Colgan (she/her) is a bi writer living somewhere in Ireland. Her work focuses on emotion, history, sexuality, and relationships, romantic and otherwise. She writes to understand people who are and have been, and to ease the yearning in her heart. Her first prose pieces are forthcoming from Emerge Literary Journal and Stone of Madness Press. Twitter: @burnpyregorse.

Insomnia Prose

insomniac paints a self-portrait in the dark by Leela Raj-Sankar

you know that feeling when you’ve been awake for too long (maybe two days, maybe two hours, maybe you can’t remember) and your limbs are so heavy and the world is pink-tinged at the edges and spinning so fast that the noise in your head recedes for a few seconds/minutes/months (the clock on the wall isn’t working anymore, forgive me) but you still can’t sleep? sure. i think that’s the worst cliche i’ve ever heard–shouldn’t i be able to do this without falling apart? what’s “this?” sleep. eat. concentrate. what you’re feeling is reasonable. it’s hard for everyone. okay. makes sense. i’m young. you are. but say i can’t start this story the rising star and come back a full-grown sun, what do i do with that? that’s what therapy is for. (and drugs.) that too. is the hand tremor normal, then? i think so. side effects can be awful sometimes. yeah. yeah. and if the grades slip? that’s fine. you sure? i couldn’t finish the essay test on time the other day. my mind wouldn’t sit still long enough to read the questions. you really want another diagnosis? yes. no. maybe. what’s that even supposed to mean? medicine won’t solve everything, you know. you should try transcendental meditation. i don’t know what that is. look it up when you get home, okay? no, that’s not what i’m saying. i mean, i don’t know what this is. who i am, if i exist in the first place. you know who you are. not without all this, i don’t. technically i’m ten pounds lighter, did you know that? mom says the meds make me put on weight. don’t worry about it. we’ll switch them. didn’t you just say that wouldn’t solve anything? no. still. you’re shaking. yeah. change the subject, then. how was your day? good, actually. huh. afraid it wouldn’t last, but okay. proof you can function without painkillers. who said anything about painkillers? [a beat.] i don’t know what you’re trying to tell me. neither do i. you’re alright, then? is that a real question? not really. but i want you to love this, someday. this being life? this being me? they’re the same thing. does it matter? it should. do me a favor, would you? go home. get some sleep. is that even possible? sure it is. plant a garden. stop playing dead. i don’t know if i can. maybe you can’t. maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. that doesn’t make sense. that’s the beauty of the thing. it’s ridiculous. absolutely. and if all the noise in my head won’t go away? you don’t need to fight it. (fighting’s all i know how to do.) 

you don’t know this. 

you don’t know any of this, but i dreamt of you last night, on the bridge. (you kept me from jumping.) but that wasn’t the moral of the story, i think. then what was it? 

i don’t want a deathbed scene, not anymore. 

not anymore.

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Leela Raj-Sankar is a teenage poet from Phoenix, AZ. In addition to writing, she loves iced coffee, painting, and singing, in no particular order. You can find more of her on her blog at


Autism Prose

Fragments by Hester Dade

Do not stare. People had been very clear on that, endlessly repeating it. Do not stare. But do make sure to meet people’s eyes. Rude to stare, rude to look away.

Sounds congealed in the air around her; screeching metal, bird song, chatter, footsteps, forming a physical mass. Those footsteps came to her, bringing that din with them. Someone stood near and this decision primed itself to pounce. If eyes were a window, the blinds could be shut, curtains drawn.

Something about this person tugged at her attention, eking her thoughts and holding them taut. There was some peculiarity here that she had not identified, a snag in her subconscious, some hidden information.

What people hadn’t told her was the optimal duration of gaze wandering, tipped it over the brim from herbivorous curiosity to socially-punishable scrutiny, a mythical period of time that strangers experienced together, a blending of minds, each one yielding slightly before the other, look at my eyes, they spoke a language she could never hear.

The shoes. In the past, no one had been offended by shoe examinations. These were scuffed along the left side more than the right, one of the laces had a double knot, the other beginning to falter.

The lights at the end of the platform changed colour, her train heaved itself around the final turning and into the station. Orange LED lights to take her home.

Sitting down now, avoiding the table seat, facing the direction of travel, she noticed the person had not moved. They half-leant against the fence, hands in pockets, double-knotted shoe tapping on the floor. Finally she could examine their face without retribution.

Their eyes locked with hers. That was all she could remember afterwards; intense brown eyes fringed with long black eyelashes. A physical sensation of gazes slotting together, barbed, impossible to disentangle. Do not stare, for they might stare back.


Hester Dade is an autistic writer and illustrator creating work to untangle the knots in their mind. Their works have been published in science-fiction and anthologies and they were a past contributor for Herstory Arc (now F-Bomb). Hester also wrote letters for other people to send, drafted healthcare policy, and made numbers add up. They can be found at @hesterdadewords on twitter and @spellfoxart on instagram.

Prose Trauma

Roaches by Kristin Ryan

Its clawed hands scrape along the inside of my skull until all I can hear is jagged humming. It doesn’t matter that I have a book coming out, a husband who loves me, or that I haven’t purged in eight years. When the humming becomes unbearable, I calmly tell my husband I want to die over breakfast. 


I watch from the ceiling. Two lovers sobbing, one restraining the other on the floor. Dirty, dirty, I’m dirty, the woman howls as she tries to claw at her arms, tries to lunge toward the bathroom to rid herself of what she cannot name. 


In the backyard, he pressed my five-year-old spine up against the fence. I felt cool air for the first time. Dead grass clung to my dress. Wasps hummed in my ears. My bare feet burned when I ran from the house, the lie propelling me forward.


Children often mistake hands for roaches and other bugs when recalling memories, Bree gently tells me in her office. 


I wanted to pretend it / was a dream, but / every morning I choke / on weeds. // Choke on sunlight / and fences, the / hum of wasps / splinters in my back. // The bathroom, / where the nightlight flickered. / The tub full of soap scum and dirt. // A shadow, more cool air, / roach in my underwear. / I start peeing behind bookshelves, / avoid bathrooms, / take short showers. // For a decade, I purge behind dumpsters, / in cars, and fields / until there’s blood, until there’s bone.


 Think of it more as resting. You’re sick, and you need to rest a while, the psychiatrist says.

The nurse passes out used crayons, explains how coloring is a coping skill we can use once we’re released instead of killing ourselves. 


In the den, I change clothes behind the couch, hurry up, hurry up nightgown over leggings; he can’t see me the sound of cartoons crashing in the background. 

While I was crying in her office, Bree said: most predators have cartoons on to distract children. Most likely he was trying to groom you. 

No, no. I should have been smarter. I should have known. 

You were a child. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t. 


I’m given Risperdal, the kind that melts slowly under the tongue. I wrap myself in a thin, white blanket. I stare at my reflection in the glass, fighting sleep. Later, the nurse finds me covered in sweat, thrashing as she stands over my bed. You kept shouting stop. 

By morning, I sit on my bed and weep, too afraid to move. My parents come to visit. They don’t know why I’m crying, or why I’m here. My husband comes to visit. I tell him the thoughts and memories keep getting worse, and I don’t know what to do. He takes my hand and cries.


Kristin Ryan is a poet working towards healing, and full sleeves of tattoos. She is a recipient of the Nancy D. Hargrove Editor’s Prize in Poetry, and her work has been nominated for Best New Poets and Best of the Net. Her poems have been featured in Glass, Jabberwock Review, Milk and Beans, and SWWIM Everyday among others. She holds an MFA from Ashland University and works in the mental health field. Her full length poetry collection, MORNING, WITH BANDAGES is forthcoming from Bone & Ink Press.

Prose Trauma

Translating My Worries Into Something More Palatable by Charlotte Akello

Mother asks if I can go and stay with my uncle,

I know widows swallow responsibilities that their husbands died from and sometimes their eyes hold death/but they know they are the only hope;

I want to tell her no/I want to tell her guys are not being trusted/that sometimes blood becomes the thing that takes life from you

I crawl out of my skin and put my thoughts into words (in my notebook that stays under my bed)

What’s the world without a mother/how not to show a man that you love him/how do we cut blood ties/how to deal with men who come in the night/synonym for uncle/how to kill a man who touches you in places mother warned you about/how to fake my own death or make it real.

I don’t want to go…


Charlotte Akello is a Ugandan poet and writer. She was shortlisted for Babishai Haiku poetry award in 2017, Writivism award for fiction in 2018 and Brigitte Poirson poetry award in April, 2019. She has been published in print in Odokonyero by Writivism, Wondering and wandering of hearts by Femrite, Streetlights at noon eclipse by Lantern meet of poets. Her works have also appeared online in Kalahari Review, Praxis magazine and writer’s space Africa among others. She is currently a student of medicine and surgery at Makerere University, Uganda and blogs at

Prose Self-Harm

Guillotine Blues by Avra Margariti

I read once that Catherine Howard, Queen of England practiced her imminent execution by placing her head on a chopping block. She was just eighteen years old. It reminded me of how I would practice my own death throughout my childhood: stand on the edges of tall buildings, see how many pills I could fit like marshmallows in my mouth, call it an accident when I cut my fingers on sharp objects.

Years later, I learned that King Charles I wore two heavy, layered shirts during his public beheading. He didn’t want to shiver, he said, lest the spectators think he was afraid. I looked down at my arms, the long shirtsleeves hiding all unhealthy practices-turned-habits. I rolled up my sleeves and let the cool air nip at my skin, let myself shiver.

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Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge Literary, Longleaf Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and other venues. Avra won the 2019 Bacopa Literary Review prize for fiction. You can find her on twitter @avramargariti.