Monsters live under my bed. Thankfully, my pre-sleep routine prevents me from ever having to see them. I’ll brush my teeth before midnight, dress in my pajamas and open my computer screen as a nightlight. I’ll walk over to the chandelier dimmer, swiftly push the switch, and sprint to my bed. I only run on my carpet, never the hardwood floor. If I do, a monster will grab my ankle and pull me under. I’m only safe once I’m under my covers.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a chronic disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts and behaviors. Given this definition, I sometimes believe appropriate treatment is resting in a white room with no stimuli, or hospitalization, such as Randle McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Still, McMurphy found laughter as a defense against lunacy and a supplement to survival, “Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.”
I’ve had my dose of jaw-dropping obsessive meltdowns, an overdose really, and to desensitize to these paroxysms (spasms or attacks), I laugh. If I don’t, I become an irrational mess in a hazmat suit, only consuming blue M&Ms and touching street lights so I won’t die.
I have this recurring nightmare — a white, horizontal line with no waves, no spikes or no end, pulsing through blackness. This line changes though, enters a twilight zone of my subconscious. It tangles and loops. It coils and wanders. And no longer does this line have a horizontal slope nor can I trace it, but it’s quick. A few beads of sweat drip to my collarbone, and my eyes flutter. A flash of my dream is printed in the space my pupils perceive first and they dilate. This flash is the last shot of my dream — the white line suddenly free from ravel like a heart monitor flatlining. I’m alone in my dark, black room, just a still, white, multi-linear skeleton, smiling.
I’ve had this nightmare once or twice annually since my OCD diagnosis. I was 13, resting on a velvet couch with three Hershey kisses in a straight line on my thigh. They were wrapped in silver aluminum, aluminum with silver and red swirls, and pure red aluminum. I reasoned that mixing silver, which resembles white, with red would result in a hybrid more like red. If red, however, is first swirled with silver, the resulting color will still resemble red. Therefore, the silver wrapped kiss is first, the red and silver swirl wrapped kiss is second, and the pure red wrapping is third, thus satisfying laws of color mixing.
“Do you ever have feelings or thoughts you obsess about?” Dr. X asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“When you have them, do you repeat movements or say things to make yourself feel better?”
“Can you name me an example?”
“Well, I don’t like sharp things because I’m afraid of losing control, so I try not to touch them. And when I’m really nervous, I tell myself ‘everything will be okay.’ My thoughts will go away for a while, but eventually they’ll return. I say this because it’s my way of having control when I’m feeling volatile.”
Dr. X writes a few notes down on a yellow legal pad.
“Is counting things natural?” I wondered.
“What do you mean?” She responded.
“I say, ‘everything will be okay’ because it has four words, and four is an even number. I like even numbers because they can easily be divided into whole numbers, which are simple — unlike odd numbers. That’s also why I run up the stairs two at a time.”
OCD’s various manifestations and shapes feel real, but they’re not. I have real fears, like losing control or feeling undervalued, and I somaticize these fears, yet I’m aware they’re fake, falsified by my own homunculus. I was never able, however, to grasp this easily. Before regular trips to the doctor and a generous dose of Zoloft, an anti-depressant, I would allow my feelings to fester, thus falling deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of my own fabrication.
Once I’d reach the end of my rabbit hole, or experience another obsessive meltdown, I’d have to help myself out. This is essentially impossible when I have insufferable weight on my shoulders from pent-up feelings and thoughts — thoughts I’ve intensified by succumbing to compulsions. I’ve realized these compulsions only deepen my rabbit hole and further dissociate me from reality. So how can I help yourself out?
“You’re afraid of sharp things, right?” Dr. X asked.
“Yes, I dislike touching them.”
“If you were to touch a pair of scissors, how would you feel?”
“Uncomfortable and unsafe.”
She places a pair of scissors in my hands.
“I have a knot in my chest.”
“Good, it’s working.”
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is about exceeding the minimum expectations for survival. To overcome OCD, I can’t just survive. I must thrive. I can’t repeat compulsions all my life to feel a dopamine rush from a temporary fix. I have to desensitize to OCD, lift all gravity from my unrealistic fears, and laugh. I giggle after my creepy dream because it’s silly.
My mind wanders into these strange crevices in my skull and signals a ripple of cartoonishly creepy thoughts. If I run screaming from my room or start rocking in the corner, I’m not surviving; I’m cracking, which also applies to compulsions. They feel remedial, when ultimately they’re artificial.
Furthermore, the more you say, “Everything will be OK,” the less okay you’ll be once you’ve descended from your compulsion high. Thus, I’ve resorted to light-hearted teasing, where I can laugh for being a caricature of myself during waves of obsessiveness. Ultimately McMurphy said it best: “You have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.”
Hannah, 16, is student at Galloway who’s passionate about pediatric neuroscience who says this “is partly why I’m comfortable discussing my disorder from a clinical and subjective perspective. Mental health and neuroscience fascinates me and I want to major in it in college.”
Collage by Claudia Belfiore, 17, North Atlanta High School.
RESOURCES collected by VOX
About one in 200 kids and teens are diagnosed with ODC, according to TeenMentalHealth.org.
“OCD is a common disorder that affects adults, adolescents, and children all over the world. Most people are diagnosed by about age 19,” reports the National Institute for Mental Health.
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