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Obsessive Compulsive What?
It’s hard to take the concept of life and put it in one sentence. It’s hard to even try and explain it. Some say that it’s easier for the handicapped, that because God took away something that they get a “view”, I guess you could call it, in return. Kind of ironic isn’t it. I thought so, considering I’m scared to stray away from tradition, scared of my inability not to leave before brushing my teeth, or to wash my hands 3 times or to flush the toilet 4 times. I couldn’t even stare at my face in the mirror for the known fact that I was broken. People call me handicapped and I don’t even know what I’m doing next weekend let alone know anything about the mystery of life. No one knows how life truly is when; everyday things must be done in groups between 2-6 times. I’ve always shut the world out, scared of their reactions to my disease, to my handicap, and all I wanted to do was fit in.
Kaden walked through his kitchen, hands in his front pocket, leaning up against the counter. The microwaves vibrations silently turning his tea in a circle under its soothing light. The beeping sound made him jump as his mind wondered back to the lines and pages of unfinished writing waiting for him at his desk. He grabbed the mug, swirled honey on the top, and strutted back down the hallway. His office door was open; his warn chair pushed across the room from the last time he got up. He retrieved it, placing the tea on the already messy desk. He grabbed the chairs arm rest bringing it over to the space it should have been. Now reflecting the back of the chair was a mirror. Kaden’s eyes searched the reflection starring back. He looked at his frazzled brown hair, the shirt with the stain, and the smile that was spread across his face. He looked away from the mirror and continued writing.
Growing up I was the everyday “devil child”. Before my obsession was known, I had no clue why I was never happy. I cried all the time because I didn’t know how to control urges screaming at me from in my brain and fingers. It was like going through puberty at the age of 7. All the urges rushing through your body, pushing you’re brain to its ends and not knowing what to do about them. It was all new to me. I would wake up and even with my socks, would hate to, wait, more; I would despise stepping on the cold floor. I remember sitting in bed every morning for 26 seconds exactly before turning the right covers edges, just showing my bare knee caps and sliding easily out into slippers that were perfect for catching my falling feet. I would take 7 steps across the floor before starting my bathroom routine, brushing my teeth 3 times, and constantly washing my hands every time I even though about the germs crawling all over my skin. I have some paranoid notion from watching the news, and reading ridiculous books that germs are the reason for most of the world’s disease and death. If I wash my hands with scalding hot water and antibacterial soap, it should get rid of most, if not all, the germs. I don’t’ want to be another statistic in the science of death from a common cold or pneumonia.
His fingers tapped 4 times exactly on the coffee mug in front of him. His desk was lined with sprawled papers, old post-it notes, open books and a ball made with multi-colored rubber bands, his savior. His face scrunched with disgust as he balled up the writing in front of him and threw it over his shoulder, it landing with a soft thump on top the pile on the floor. His eyes darted around the room in search of a new idea, his eyes landing on the bathroom door. He yanked a rubber band from the ball in front of him and anxiously stretched it in between his fingers. His hands were filthy from the germs that were on the rubber band, his pen that had landed on the floor and the dust from the latest open book, but he wasn’t going to wash his hands. Not this time.
Before walking out of the bathroom door, I touch the wooden side panel 5 times, counting slowly and intriquetly with my right hand; fingers open, palm tapping. If my counting gets mixed up, or I get distracted from my tasks I stop what I’m doing and start all over. I’ve been late to work numerous times, sometimes by hours, because the dog would bark or something would fall off the shelf. Mr. Briggs says he’s going to fire me. I understand, but there is nothing I can do. I know I have a problem, that my traditions, routines, everything is in my head, but that doesn’t make me need to do them any less. It’s like blinking for everyone else, or breathing, impossible to stop. In high school I found myself being mocked, ridiculed even causing me even more distress. In class, I would have to walk in the door and back out 4 times, placing my feet directly behind or in front of the other. I was late every day. Students would walk the halls, their bags touching my side, screwing up the perfect line I was making. My mind would race, the blood pulsing against the sides of my temples and flush to the front of my face. I would walk into the classroom but my stomach churned.
On potato day at lunch, I knew all the lunch ladies by name. The ladies would have to scoop my potatoes in three different sections. First one small scoop, replace the spoon, come back for a second small scoop, replace the spoon, and finally come back for the third. If the scoops were too big, the counting would have to start all over again. Sometimes, when under a lot of outside stresses, the tantrums would start. I would feel my mouth opening, and hear the shrieking from my throat. This only happened when the counting stopped, and they refused to start all over. They realized, in a very quick period of time, that I needed special attention, and that refusing to go along with traditions was just denying the inevitable. Because of the extra stress I put on the people at school, I always tried to be extra polite. I always opened the door for the woman, spoke up in class, said please and thank you, and even asked if the lunch ladies needed any help cleaning up the cafeteria after lunch. They all told me that I was a one in a million child, and I always tried to be that. I was hoping that my charm would be positive in their mind, maybe then they would be more willing to go along with some of my rituals, or at least a little bit more understanding.
Kaden’s hand traced the outline of a medical journal in front of him. He tapped the end of the pen 5 times in exactly the center of the middle hole in his 3 holed papers, and then cracked the knuckle on his third finger. He sat there, unable to even remember what to write next. The bathroom door was closed; the mirror was at his back, reflecting the hole in his sweater on his upper right shoulder. He tapped his right foot once before finally giving up the urge, and squeezed a little hand sanitizer into the palm of his hand. He took a deep breath and swiveled once around in his chair, his slipper sliding to in front of the office door. He froze. He looked around the room, desperate for anything he could use as his temporary slipper so he wouldn’t have to cross the floor with only his sock. He signed, his palms sweating a little as he realized what he had to do. He placed his slippered foot on the floor, standing up only on that one until he had to move. Slowly he placed his unslippered foot on the ground, for the first time his foot was touching the floor. He carefully crossed the floor, sometimes wincing with the awkward touch of new, finally stepping back into his slipper and casually walked back to his desk to begin writing.
The kids at school, they always said that I was faking it, but put it this way. Most 18 year old boys have had a girlfriend; most have had sleepovers and stayed up till 3 playing video games or watched a rated R movie. Most have drank or done some type of drugs and enjoyed looking at the large stacks of Playboy under their bed, but I have never done any of that; none of it.
I remember being invited to the party of the year. No parents, all my friends, and the girl I saw in between the counting of my rituals, and freedom. Even my mom said yes. I remember being so excited that I was finally going to a party that traditions were finally not getting in the way of my friends, or me being a teenager. I dressed my best, my black dress up shirt that buttoned down to a white shirt underneath. I spiked my hair, even put on some cologne. I brushed my teeth twice, flushed the toilet 4 times and didn’t look at the mirror once, trying not to ruin my night before it started. I did my usual routines, touching the side panel of the door, walking the last 2 steps of the stairs twice, and washed my hands before I left. I pulled the car out of the garage, screeching down the street. I remember parking my car on the curb next to the park, getting out, locking the car door and walking to the front door of the house. The door was open, music streaming, people dancing, beer bottles lined the floor. I remember my mind racing, nervousness coming back. I wasn’t ready for THIS. I stood in the door for what seemed like forever. Song after song played and the drinking and dancing continued. I tried walking through the door but my stomach gave the usual churn of disagreement. I couldn’t do it. I spent the night standing outside an open doorway to a party that I should have been able to go to.
I was diagnosed when I was 17; a fairly simple process involving a doctor, simple tasks that took me over an hour to finally finish and a few ear splitting tantrums. I was escorted to the small room that day with some kind of hope. I expected the doctor to have the magical cure, the fix that would make me like every other person I knew. Frankly, I was disappointed. I remember her asking me questions about my rituals, why I feel the need to do them; the usual bologna that everybody asks and I gave her the answer I gave everybody else. “I don’t know, I just can’t help it”. One question came to a great surprise to me though. “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself or others?” Ironically, this question calmed me. Right then and there I knew that I wasn’t alone. Just the idea that she knew anything about this, intrigued me. As weird as it sounds, I felt reborn in a way. I answered that the answer was yes, that almost every day I get the picture or images racing through my brain of the relief of pushing someone in front of a moving train, or feel the air against my face as I jumped off a 100 story building. I would never actually do these things’, they were just like my rituals in that I couldn’t help it. I just came to the conclusion that my rituals and violent urges came hand in hand. She sat down on her little swivel chair and flipped through the papers on her clip board, even though she already knew what she was going to say.
“Your son” she said “Has something called OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s a mental disorder that makes him repeat actions or thoughts a bunch of times. His body is driving him towards these urges and most of the time is directly linked with the mind thinking that by doing these rituals, it can prevent some imagined drastic event.”
This was the time she paused and waited for some kind of reaction from my mother. So when nothing came it was just a big awkward silence. My mother knew something was wrong and I think was just exceptionally happy that the thing that was wrong wasn’t some kind of brain tumor. On the other hand, at the time I would have preferred a brain tumor. I would rather wrap my head around the idea of cancer, which seemed fixable. Radiation, chemo, they were all cures for me that I would have been willing to take, but a mental disease? What’s the cure for that? Some pills that slow down my symptoms? For me, a brain tumor would have been the best news of my life. She continued talking before I had another chance to think about the happiness of a brain tumor.
“There are options though. I can put him on a medication like Seroxat that can help limit or control his symptoms or Anafranil, the best antidepressant out there. Also therapy has been shown to decrease the paranoia. None of these options are cures however.”
I remember her glance first at me, and then at my mother, hoping for some type of reaction.
“What would you recommend?” my mother finally spoke
“I would start off with the medication, and once a week therapy. They seem to help out the kids the most”.
“What happens if these options don’t work? Is there anything else?
“Well there is but I don’t recommend it. It’s something called pshyco-sugery. Surgeons would make a lesion in a section of your sons brain; the part that controls these obsessions. It’s a very risky procedure and only about 30% of severe cases see results.”
“Ok, so medications and therapy are pretty much our only options”
“Mrs. Joel, I don’t think you have to worry. I have seen many cases of OCD and this is not severe. I think he will be perfectly fine, and be able to live a normal life with the things I have recommended.”
I was started on Seroxat the following week; 2 white pills the width of my fingernail every morning before breakfast. Apparently the same drug that is used for antidepressants is also the same set of hormones that controls my routines. I was warned that, ironically, I may start to feel the symptoms of depression, the feeling of tiredness, irritability, and concentration issues. Concentration issues, the thing I really needed most.
Therapy started that week too. Dr. Chapel was a chubby man that wore shirts that were much too small for him, and glasses that were much too large. Nothing about him was small, only maybe the chair he sat in during our sessions. Dr. Chapel was one of those T.V therapists. The type of guy that asked you how you felt and tried to explain certain situations only using long doctor words like hemoglobin instead of blood. He made me touch the office walls, the desk, and patient chairs after first thourghly cleaning them with me watching. Then slowly he would take a coffee cup from a garbage can, place it on the desk and pick it back up again. Then he would make me touch the place the “contaminated” cup was. He never let me wash my hands. My tantrums didn’t even bother him. He told me he has seen too many. For the first time in my life I was playing by someone else’s rules.
After a month of regular therapy, I was slowly introduced to something called “large group seminars” ; groups of about 10 people with similar diseases or mental disorders. This also included people not only OCD but with depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders; all people with hormone “misalignments”. We learned from each other, feeling when someone was in pain, and praising them for going past their fears. We became a second family. This was the first time that compared to other people I almost looked normal. I felt normal. We were sent to PITAGT (Pain in the a** group therapy) without the effects of our medication. It was said that without medication, we could concentrate on working out the problems while they are occurring, rather than say we will change them later on, so this made me see people at their worst. One kid, Peter, couldn’t even begin a conversation without clapping his hands 9 times, apparently he was scared that he was going to say something life changing so the extra 9 claps gave him time to think about it. I would go through my rituals too, but they never seemed as bad anymore, it was something I could handle. Now I knew that there were people like me. People that were worse off than me.
With both group therapy and one on one sessions’, I started finding alternate ways to express my rituals. For college, Dr. Chapel recommended rubber bands, showing me exercises to do in between frustrations and instead of rituals.
Kaden laid down his pen and looked at the 12 page paper that lay in front of him. He flipped the paper back and forth, excited that his work had finally finished. He picked up his hands and stretched them in the air, hearing his back crack twice before reaching over his desk to grab the bottle of hand sanitizer. After two squirts, he quickly rubbed his hands together, smelling the scent of fresh, clean and new and tapped the floor 3 times with his foot before getting up and retreating to the kitchen to celebrate.