“Illness is a story told in the past tense. ”
-John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
This office wasn’t decorated in shades of brown. This office was brightly lit by the sunlight streaming in through a backdrop of white blinds. This office had red rugs layered on the standard, grey, office carpet. Three vases full of bright flowers sat on the desk. This time, I sat in the office without fear of what I would learn. This time, I felt prepared. I had already been diagnosed so there was nothing more to learn, or so I thought.
Since we moved, I put off finding a new doctor. But as the last of the prescription from my previous doctor ran out, I had to swallow the sour taste of anxiety in the back of my tongue and make an appointment.
I spent the 40 minutes before my appointment filling out paperwork. There was the standard “fill out all your personal information and we promise not to share it with other people” type of paper work. But then there were also pages of questionnaires to fill out. It felt pointless to me. I already knew what was wrong with me.
I sat in the office and told my life story to yet another doctor. Once again picking over the emotional rubble in my brain. In the midst of this conversation, she threw out there, “It looks likes you have some compulsive tendencies.” I was a bit surprised by her readiness to discuss the idea of OCD. My last doctor had dismissed the likelihood of OCD when I brought it up. Instead, she just said I had unresolved issues from my childhood that I needed to talk about with a therapist. But this doctor wasn’t so hesitant. So, almost 2 years after being diagnosed with bipolar, anxiety, and ADHD, here I am adding yet another acronym to an ever growing list of cracks in my brain.
When you hear OCD, someone like Detective Monk probably comes to mind. Someone who has to use sanitizing wipes after shaking hands and can’t focus if a picture on the wall is crooked. That’s what I thought of until I watched a video by John Green, author of Turtles All the Way Down, a book about a teenage girl with OCD. In the video, he talks about his own struggle with the illness. His description really resonated with me and I began to wonder if this was something that I had a problem with. If you want to learn more about the illness, here is a page that has a good description of OCD and how it manifests.
When obsessive thoughts burrow their way into my brain, my mind gets caught up in images of accidents or violent events. For example, when we moved into our new apartment, I was super excited about having a washer and drier in the apartment. No more creepy, shared laundry rooms for me! However, my husband told me to be careful to not leave the dryer door open because our cats like to crawl in. All I could think of, every time I did laundry, was making sure the cats didn’t crawl into the dryer. Not only would I check the dryer for the cats, I would spend 5 minutes hunting down both our cats to verify that they weren’t in the dryer. I didn’t have to do this. I already knew they weren’t in there, but I was so worried that I missed them and that I would accidentally kill them by trapping them in the dryer that I had to verify they were safe before turning on the machine.
It has been hard for me to process this diagnosis. Part of me still thinks, “What if the doctor is wrong? What if I don’t have it? What if I am just looking for something else to be wrong with me and I am projecting the illness on myself?” But the more I think about it, the more I have accepted that this is what I am: a messy bundle of mental health problems that is precariously balanced on the edge of potential ruin.
Right after I got home from the doctor, I sat down and read Turtles All the Way Down. I had coincidentally received it in the mail a couple days before my diagnosis, and I was hoping that it might help me process what I was going through. I recognized a lot of myself in Aza, the main character/narrator. Like her, I often feel disconnected from the outside world, caught up in the tightening spiral of my thoughts.
There were a couple of quotes that stood out to me. The first is the one at the beginning of this post. The second is below:
“I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.”
When we discuss illness, we always talk about the journey to getting better. For me, there is no better.
When I was a kid, I loved to collect rocks (honestly, I loved to collect everything which was probably a manifestation of my OCD). I remember the feeling of the tin where I kept my collection. Despite its small size, the tin had a substantial weight to it and when I picked it up, I could feel gravity pulling against my hands as the tin strained to connect with the floor beneath my feet. This is what the inside of my chest feels like: tightly compacted rocks struggling to slip out of my grasp and fall far away from my control. This is a feeling I will be able to control with medication and therapy, but I will never fully escape from. I can put the tin of rocks back in my closet, but that doesn’t make them any less heavy. Instead, they simply sit, waiting for me to open the door and pick them up, so I can once again feel their weight.