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From Astrophysics to OCD: The Role of Space in My Life

Because we all take up space

By emPublished 2 months ago 12 min read
Top Story - July 2023
From Astrophysics to OCD: The Role of Space in My Life
Photo by Shot by Cerqueira on Unsplash

Ace, isn’t it? Space. It’s in the name. But it’s no spa.

I’ve got a degree in it. And a mental health issue that tore open wormholes within it. And people I love scattered all throughout and transcending it. But if you ask me what space is, I couldn’t tell you, because it’s not really even a thing.

It’s the absence of a thing, every thing, the same way darkness is the absence of light. It’s not tangible. You can’t grasp it and shove it inside your galaxy print NASA rucksack and yet you can make space inside your bag, right?

If I had to define what space is, I wouldn’t. I’d simply step into the sunlight, arms wide, maybe spin a little if I’ve got my moon-stitched dress on, and gesture at myself. Because the question isn’t: what is space?

It’s: what occupies it.


You, me, everything. We all take up space. It’s pretty easy to do, we just have to exist. But for me, that simply was not enough. To just occupy space? Nuh-uh. I wanted to fill it. I wanted to make it beautiful, I wanted to string fairy-lights around its edges and cram in as much Goodness™ and Galaxy chocolate as possible. I wanted my space to be stellar.

People often say, “give me space,” but as it happens, I went out and took it. I made space for myself. Some good, some bad, some coated in crumbs.

Here’s how.

Room for a little one?

I’m going to do this in chronological order because we’re dealing with space here, not time. That’s a story for another, well, not space.

I’m an only child. My mom’s womb had occupancy for only one, enough room to brew an EW (my initials and levels of hygiene) and here I am. Expansive.

I take up a lot of space, inhabit various corners of the globe and create quite the mess. My hair is pressed deep into the strands of many a carpet, I’ve got dressing gowns in four different cities and chunks of my entire heart live inside of other people in other places in their homes and their spaces.

But more than that: I’ve made a lot of space, my space (no, not that crappy little blogging platform. I was too busy killin’ off kids on Sims 2).

My footprints are in Canada. Fingerprints on a mountainside in France. I’ve left love letters inside bookshops in German train stations. I’ve shared a coach seat with a Swedish eight year old girl in Switzerland, sharing stories, our laughter merging, though neither of us spoke the other’s language. I’ve pooed in Disneyland. I’ve thrown up in New York. I’ve existed far and wide — there are pieces of me occupying coordinates of spacetime scattered all across this planet.

Like I said, I’m expansive. We all are. Much like the universe, we’re evolving and growing and grazing the corners of the cosmos as we go. We are a universe in and of ourselves.

And I’m an only child — one human in one bedroom in one city on one continent in one moment. But I’m also everywhere, all at once.

Except for the times in which I was nowhere but stranded on my own driveway in the middle of the night, frozen in time and locked in space. Sobbing.

All because of a brain space invasion

Obsessive compulsive disaster, you might say. Have you ever had to battle for occupancy inside your own brain? I know James McAvoy has. And the animated girl from Inside Out. And there’s a chef somewhere out there who’s cohabiting space in the inside of his hat with a rat, but what was scurrying around my headspace was anything but cute or culinarily talented.

OCD was living in my mind rent free. And it was destroying the damn place.

But I let it. For a decade (squatters rights and all that). Maybe it’s because I don’t have siblings so I never really knew what was crossing a line, but this wasn’t like sharing a toothbrush with your sister. This was like sleeping in the garbage disposal (whilst it’s on) so that my OCD could have my room — and then set fire to it.

It took a lot from me, you know? Mental space: there’s no room for rational thinking when you’re busy aligning your right foot along the length of a lone brick in your driveway until it’s in just the right position with just the right pressure applied until it feels just right long enough to step away and carry on walking up and into my home (spoiler alert: I stood there on my drive alone, freezing and frantic at 3am for two hours waiting for that feeling. It never came).

But mental infiltration is a given, what with it being a mental illness and all. What I didn’t expect, however, was the amass of physical space it’d steal out from beneath my four-four-four-four tapping feet.

I slept in a ball on my pillow. My entire teenage frame curled up at the top corner of my bed, no room to stretch out, no room to move, to breathe, to exist, all because Everything I Ever Owned™ was crammed onto my bed beside me. I don’t know why other than it had to be. Nothing was allowed to touch the floor, to graze another surface, or else my nan’s house would set on fire. Or my best friend would dissolve. Or Hitler would resurface and take me away from my mom (she’s a blonde haired, blue-eyed goddess and I look like Russell Brand if he was dressed up as Ozzy Osbourne for Halloween).

I also couldn’t bin anything. Whatever I might have accumulated throughout my day at school — chocolate wrappers, chewing gum, empty pens — they had to live inside my bag for all eternity. It got weightier right alongside that of my stress, my panic, my fear. For years, it contained an old scarf with mushed up banana congealed into it, socks that I had to wear every day (every day) unwashed and stashed inside, scraps of notepads that were barren and bare of any notes because that was something else my OCD stripped from me: and that’s what hurt the most.

Though it took a lot of space from me — it left an abyss in it’s wake. An empty void where all my words once resided, until they didn’t.

My OCD stole my writing from me.

I couldn’t use certain lines of the page. Then I had to write words backwards. Then not at all. My life’s purpose rendered null and void because if I were to print one lone word onto the paper, the world might very well be destroyed. Quite literally at my hand.

OCD and all it’s subsequent irrationality invaded my space and left me empty and alone inside an infinity of it.

But it’s okay. I got my own back.

By qualifying in space

I had OCD. I had a therapist. And now I have a degree. A BSc in Physics with Astrophysics. Which is to say that somebody, somewhere, absent of blackmailing or threats of violence gave me a degree, with intention, qualifying me in the art of space. Ironic, really, considering I never once dreamed of a career in it. Which is pretty fortunate considering I don’t have one.

I’m a writer, not a physicist. I’m a storyteller, not an astronaut. I fuse sentences, not atoms. And yet somehow my degree is relevant to all that I do. All that we do. All that is. Because we are the offspring of space, children of the cosmos, made of starbits and the past and the parallels and the fact that we don’t think about that more often is heart-breaking.

Stars died so that we could live. The universe is expanding so that there’s more room for us to play. Space lives so that it could stumble across it’s old pal, Time. And with time, comes our existence. Our day to day life. Our now’s and our then’s and our onedaymaybe’s. My degree has not only given me an insight into the fabric of space, but also the texture of time.

And how we’re bloody wasting it.

With worry, with doubt, with TikTok. We love fast food and advert skipping and automated emails so that we can save ourselves a little time here and there: just to spend it on crap. To give it to people who don’t value it. To let it slip on by whilst we stand here, debilitated and delirious, desperately trying to make the right choices— never the wrong ones — and inadvertently making none.

But time, unlike space, is not infinite. It ends — and it ends fast. One thing that my official certification in space has taught me is that I need to fill it, packed full, with decisions. Good ones, bad ones, cheap ones, risky ones — it doesn’t matter the breed, just the breadth.

Because choices are stepping stones; even the ones that crumble beneath your feet allow you to turn back and tread elsewhere. They’re the way that we traverse through time, embracing it and exploring it and getting us to where we desire to go. When we don’t make decisions time escapes us, passes us, exists outside of us and we’re left trapped. Our pages blank. Our universe empty. Our space bare.

So, though I don’t work in a field within time and space, I’m learning to let space and time work for me. And this is how.

By using the multiverse

There’s a thing called the Drake equation (which weirdly has nothing to do with how pop sensation Drake calculates his net worth) that determines the likelihood of life out there in the universe. A universe containing two trillion galaxies and one billion trillion stars. A universe that might well be part of a multiverse (meaning there’s definitely an existence out there in which we’re all Robert Pattinson’s GP. Just give me the postcode and I’ll be on my way).

And this equation, these theories, they remind us just how meaningless we are.

Which is the most meaningful thing we can be.

Think about it. When something is created with a predetermined meaning, that’s all it exists to serve. Cars were made for transportation. Sofas for sitting. Buffets for raiding. And because they were made with such an intent, they will never be anything else. Cars won’t become lawn ornaments. Sofas will never be theatre stages. Buffets will never be used for psychopaths to attend in order to harvest an array of prechopped organs. When things are given a meaning from the outset — that’s what their existence becomes.

But we weren’t. We are meaningless. Which means it’s up to us to create our own.

We get to define our own purpose on this planet. Whether it’s lifelong or fluctuates daily, that doesn’t matter. As long as we give ourselves something to get up for, to keep going, to keep living — then that’s the best thing we’ll ever do.

I love Rick and Morty. Doctor Who. Doctor Strange. Interstellar. Brian Cox. Anything that reminds me of the multiverse and our insignificance. Because then it reminds me that our brief, fleeting, fart-in-the-cosmic-wind time on this Earth is the most significant thing we’ll ever be a part of.

And I don’t want to waste a half second of this lifetime. Nor do I want to waste an inch of this world.

Because, with space comes distance

Land. Landmarks. Market squares and Bermuda triangles. A planet packed full of beauty within a universe much alike. And I know I’ll never get to graze my crumb-coated fingertips along all of it. Along most of it, actually.

But that’s okay. Space is vast and I will not last and I know that, I accept that, and for two reasons:

  1. I don’t need to see every inch of space. I just need to find my spaces. The places that I belong.
  2. And it’s not just my places I will stumble across — but my people within them, too.

That’s the thing about space — outer, inner, room at the inn — we don’t just love it for it’s complexity, it’s expansiveness, it’s huge ass friggin’ dimensions. We love it for what it contains.

For who it contains

But that’s the other thing about space. It’s bloody large — and with space comes distance. Separation. Seas. Subpar WiFi connections.

A lot of the people I’ve loved in my life don’t exist right up beside me. Some are in America, South Africa, Spain. Some are just up the road and some are inside my home and sometimes even that feels like too far away when you love somebody so damn much you want to crawl up and live inside their skin.

Distance can kiss my ass — if it’s brave enough to come over here and try it.

But, like with time, distance can be transcended. Technology connects us like wormholes, stitching two ends of a universe together. iPhones tether us to people we’ve never met but love wholeheartedly. Letters carry our words when we cannot whisper them into the ears of those we adore. We travel along train tracks like blood through a vein because it’s our heart pumping us on this journey. It’s our heart getting us here.

We can feel somebody even when we can’t touch them. We can see them, even when they’re nowhere in sight. We can love somebody or somewhere or something even when it’s not here, right now, with us. Because space — and time — are linear concepts. They unfold outwards and we can venture along them to an extent, but that’s it.

People, however? We are all dimensions at once. We are 4D and forever. We might never get to know everybody and visit everywhere — but we are all made of the same stuff. We are all made of space.

By rights, we already are everybody and everywhere. We are everything.

So really, I don’t need space: I am it

And that’s why space — the unseen and unknown stuff out there — it doesn’t matter. Not really. The only thing that matters is what’s in here *emphatically taps forehead, heart and journal.* Because this is me. This is where I exist. Forget space and time, I’m alive here and now. Today. That’s all I have, that’s all that matters and it might have taken me a quarter century of living (plus several homes, a mental health issue and a qualification) to realise this but:

Space is ace, because I exist within it. We all do. All at once. All right now.

Sounds pretty cocky but come on, we know how unlikely it is for us to be here and yet here we are anyway. Defying the odds. That’s worth bragging about, don’t you think? That despite the vast and infinite impossibilities that space entails — it also contains us. Unlikely and unreal. Alive. And living.

So yeah. Space means a lot to me, and it might mean f all to you. I know a bit about it but not everything, never everything. But that’s the beauty of it, right? Space, art, people, life; it’s all subjective. And maybe it’s exactly like Matt Haig says in The Comfort Book:

“Maybe the purpose [of living] is the mystery, not beyond it. Maybe we aren’t meant to know everything about our lives. And maybe that’s perfectly okay.”

Maybe it’s just fine if there’s a permanent gap — a space — in our understanding of this existence.

Maybe we should just fill it with joy instead.

It’s a long time before we’re dead.

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About the Creator


I’m a writer, a storyteller, a lunatic. I imagine in a parallel universe I might be a caricaturist or a botanist or somewhere asleep on the moon — but here, I am a writer, turning moments into multiverses and making homes out of them.

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Comments (13)

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  • Mohammed Darasi2 months ago

    That's a great read. One of the hardest things to understand is human emotion and behaviour, so I'm not even going to pretend to understand how it feels to live with OCD, so all I'll say is that it seems like quite a difficult thing to deal with from what you shared. I love your writing about space. I love space and thinking about the universe (the vastness and the emptiness). Some people feel the vastness of space is disheartening, but I find it quite comforting actually.. and like you said we are part of it (like Carl Sagan's famous saying "we are made of star stuff"). I like the rhymes you had here and there.. I don't know if it was intentional, or the poet seeping out of you 😁. Really wonderful to read

  • dryfirewood2 months ago

    What I really appreciate is the enthusiasm and kindness of everyone on the blog . All my questions received prompt and thoughtful help. Not only did it help me solve the problem I was facing, but it also helped me expand my awareness and improve my skills.

  • George Nikola2 months ago

    Can you tell me your opinion on my stories?

  • Poppy2 months ago

    Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable about your OCD. I really appreciated how accurately it was portrayed and hearing about your personal experience with it. Thank you for sharing this

  • I am in awe of how you have prospered despite what can be considered a crippling disorder. I also love how honest you were about your struggle. I am glad you fought to start writing again. Congrats on your Top Story!

  • Emmanuel Ukim 2 months ago

    Very impressive Top story can't stop going through them 👏

  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    Very rare to read a piece with both great opening and closing lines, but you have done it here. And your piece speaks to me when I consider what I am going through right now. I have a lesson plan in rough to prepare for August's return to a college (only one class but still...), no money now after covering rent and consider credit card bill. On top of all of that, I also have a brain that jumps too far ahead and cannot let things rest. You deserve the Top Story, and you are making me consider things in my own life...

  • Awesome 🌟 and Congratulations on your Top Story❗❗❗

  • Dana Crandell2 months ago

    Very happy to see this made Top Story!

  • KJ Aartila2 months ago

    I love this! A vast array of concepts and descriptions - know I must go contemplate Quantum Entanglement again - and the spaces I want to fill. ❤️

  • Jazzy Gonçalves 2 months ago

    To say I love this is an understatement. I loved reading your thoughts and let me tell you, you would love Assassins Creed…so you should go out and play it! Thanks for sharing this, can’t wait for more! Congrats on TS!

  • There is neither enough time nor space for me to tell you how much fun this was to read, Em. It seems our minds trip over a lot of the same things. I always thought growing up that I was simply anal retentive. Nope, as my therapist once said, "Oh, you're definitely OCD."

  • Dana Crandell2 months ago

    Wow. Where to start? This has everything. Wordplay. Sentiment. Emotion. Humor. Philosophy. Reality. Science. Damn, this is GOOD. Thank whatever source you choose to lean toward for your OCD and the tenacity to take back your writing. Thank you for this, Em! I've bookmarked it for reading again, as many times as it takes!

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