Spiraling deeper and deeper, it began to consume every empty cavity in my brain. I could feel myself slowly starting to slip away, the power of it pulling me down toward that familiar, tenebrous pit of worries. No! I argued back. I’m so done with this, I won’t… But it was already too late. The thoughts were like a powerful beast, wrapping its ugly claws tighter and tighter around my brain.
I could feel my feet thudding down the narrow hallway, the cold floorboards slapping against them as I propelled myself towards the bathroom. I found myself surrounded by smooth, whitewashed walls, hovering over the polished, marble sink. My feet pressed into the spotless, glistening tiles as I stood on my tiptoes, staring into the gleaming mirror. A pair of nervous-looking eyes peered back at me. Was that really how I looked? While I stood, gazing at the mirror, my hands had somehow already found their place beneath the clear, gushing stream of water, lathered in a coat of sweet, lilac blossom hand soap. I watched as the warm water ran over my palms, ebbing away the soapy bubbles. Then, I pumped another dollop onto my hand, shaped perfectly like a raindrop. I could finally feel the beast loosening its grasp, now that I was washing off all the lingering germs from my hands. Yet, my hands itched for another squirt of soap. What if some of the germs were still there? What if my hands maybe weren’t so entirely clean? The thoughts still hung there, not quite wanting to disappear. So, I allowed myself one more foaming mound of soap to rinse with.
Once the buzzing bathroom lights had been flicked off, my sister punctuated the brief silence by bellowing for me to come down and have dinner. As I skittered towards the kitchen, the aroma of grilled chicken and herbs wafted up my nose. I slumped down onto one of the wooden chairs, grabbing a seat next to my sister. While my eyes wandered over to the array of dishes spread across the table, my mind was still unsettled, caught in a trap of worries that had been left behind by the daunting thought of germs. Just as I was shifting my gaze elsewhere, my sister glanced up from her iPod and acknowledged my presence. She then shot me an accusing glance, keeping her eyes narrowed. She queried promptly, “You were upstairs this entire time washing your hands again, weren’t you?” My eyes flitted to my hands, folded tightly across my thighs. I could see how dry they were, rough and scratchy like sandpaper. She didn’t wait for me to answer her, though. She just continued on, “What’s wrong with you these past several months? It’s like you have OCD or something.”
OCD? What even was OCD? I quickly mumbled, “I don’t have OCD.”
“Yeah, well, if you say you don’t, then stop acting like you do!”
I decided to just keep quiet. However, my sister tossed me one last sympathetic look before exclaiming, “Why are you so crazy!” I returned her remark with a menacing glare, daring her to spit out another word. Did she even know half of what I was going through; how it felt like to be devoured by one’s own thoughts? Who was she to call me crazy when she wouldn’t even understand how everyday of continuous thinking felt like being trapped inside a dark box, with nowhere to escape?
At the sound of the squeaky front door opening and our dad’s heavy footsteps clunking down the hallway, my sister and I gave each other warning glances, knowing better than to be bickering when he was home. While we ate, I stole a few quick glimpses of my sister looking so carefree and buoyant, enjoying her dinner like any other teenager. I remember thinking, would I, someday, ever be able to feel as lighthearted and happy too?
After dinner was finished, my legs brought me back to my pristine bathroom where the delicate, pungent scent of lilac blossom hand soap and Febreze air freshener greeted me. I had grabbed my toothbrush and started brushing my teeth, the thought of germs and “dirtiness” starting to circle my head once more. I thought of the dark pit, swarming with endless worries, waiting for me to fall in, like a tank swarming with teems of sharks, waiting for their victim of fish to fall in. I hastily finished brushing my teeth and rinsed out my mouth, careful to gurgle for exactly four seconds each time. Four. Then, while smothering some lotion over my hands, I headed into my bedroom. I strode over to my dresser and fished out a pink tube of lip balm buried under a tangle of bracelets. After popping the cap off, I dabbed it across my lips four times. There it was again, that number four, somehow comforting and alleviating. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t done something in sets of four. Then, just as I was about to leave my bedroom, I saw my iPod on my bed and thought of, OCD. My sister had mentioned that earlier… What was it?
I sprawled out onto my bed, and searched on my iPod what OCD was. The results had been striking. No. No, no, no! I had shaken my head vigorously, as if that would clear away the words I had already soaked up on WebMD. “People with OCD are plagued by recurring and distressing thoughts, fears, or images (obsessions) they cannot control. The anxiety (nervousness) produced by these thoughts leads to an urgent need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions). …” My mind had gone swiveling. So, this was what OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—was? I still couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing on the small rectangular screen in front of me. It was as if someone had taken a trip through my brain and had found the perfect words to describe what was happening in there. But, it couldn’t be. I didn’t have OCD—did I? No, I had told myself, no I didn’t. I did not have this ‘disorder.’ Yet, when I skimmed through the page again, I realized that I had been “plagued” by that “distressing fear” of germs and that I also performed “certain rituals” to make me feel less anxious. This, out of all the other things that were mentioned, had scared me the most. The certain repetitive things I knew I did everyday hadn’t dawned on me as being rituals” until that moment. When I thought about why that scared me so much, I realized the reason was because it was just too specific. It was the one unusual thing only people with OCD did. Then did that mean I actually had OCD? That thought, the frightening thought that I could possibly have such a thing called OCD, was what made me cling onto the fact that I needed to stop. Seriously stop. I had to ignore my thoughts and impede them from devouring my brain. Except, it wasn’t that easy at first. To be honest, it wasn’t actually until a few weeks later when I actually tried.
When the thoughts came spiraling, I still worried and had to let them unravel so I could think about them. But, like an endless black tunnel, each new thought conjured another new one that would add on to the growing chain of worries bombarding my head. I realized I was only wasting my own time thinking and worrying. So, for the first time, I tried to ignore the spiraling thoughts and willed myself to not let it pull me down into that bottomless pit. I fought back, struggling immensely to keep myself from letting its powerful, luring tug bring me down. I felt like I was a giant magnet, trying to repel myself from a slab of pure metal. That invisible force was so strong, steering me closer to those thoughts, but I had to stay even stronger and brace myself from gravitating towards it. Each time I felt like I was losing my grip, I let the terrifying words “It’s like you have OCD” echo through my brain. That was enough to keep me fighting.
Remarkably enough, I won my own battle: I no longer felt the terrible urge to think or worry. Wow, I actually did it! A deep feeling of relief and an unbelievable sense of accomplishment swelled inside of me. After all those months of feeling like living under a huge storm cloud, I had finally found the light I was hoping for. All it took was just a strong desire within myself to want to get better. Because of that one desire, I had made the decision to stand strong and refrain myself from letting my thoughts control me. I had made an incredible breakthrough. Thus, with the storm cloud cleared and no more thoughts spiraling through my brain, I do think that I will be able to feel lighthearted and happy from now on.
Looking back now, several years later, I’m glad that that time in my life has become something of the past, something that I can laugh about and share with my family. I often think to myself just how “crazy” I actually was, doing all those nonsense things that back then, seemed to me like the most important things. But, now, I also know that I have a powerful inner strength within me that can overpower even the strongest thoughts that dare to weave its way through my brain. It’s just that sometimes, it can take a while to find that inner strength because it’s not until you have a firm desire to want to become better that you finally stumble upon it.