An Ode to OCD and SAD
Everyone starts out life the same way. We’re born, we’re babies. We don’t know a damn thing about the world. All we do is eat and sleep and need our nappies changed. That’s it. As soon as we hit a certain age, that’s when expectations hit us. At age one, we’re expected to start teething. We’re then expected to learn to walk and talk. We’re expected to learn to read and write after that. If we don’t learn quickly enough, we’re stupid, if we learn too quickly, we’re expected to learn everything else just as quickly. God forbid that anything should be wrong with us. That won’t do. Parents want their children to be perfect. They don’t say it, but they do. They want to look at their child or children and say ‘Look at my child. I created that child and that child is a wonderful, well-turned-out, productive member of society. Look how well I did.’ All parents want to say that.
But the truth is that no one is perfect. We all have our idiosyncrasies, our weird habits, our imperfections that no one wants to admit to. We’re too fat, too thin, have big noses or small eyes. We’re moody, have anger management problems, pick our noses, hack up phlegm, smoke, drink, take drugs. There is always something that we look at in ourselves and we know we don’t like it. I knew from a young age. I knew I didn’t like myself. I looked in the one mirror that we had in our grotty council maisonette that was nailed to the bathroom wall, and I knew I hated myself. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like my face. It was too round, my eyes squinted because I could barely see, my nose seemed too large and I was chubby. Everyone told my mother to stop letting me eat sweets. The funny thing was I never ate sweets or chocolate or drank fizzy drinks as a child. I was hyperactive and an insomniac so I hardly ever slept. My mother thought the extra sugar would make it worse, and she was probably right. But still I was chubby, borderline fat, and nobody ever asked why. Just told my mother to put me on a diet at age seven and that was it.
I was also a perfectionist. If I thought that my ponytail or plait wasn’t tied right in the middle of my head, then I wasn’t satisfied to go out like that. My hair had to be in the perfect place, and in the exact style I wanted it. Everyone just thought I was a fussy child. I would only let my mother brush my hair. No one else was allowed to. Again, I was just fussy. Everyone liked my brother more. He was quiet. He didn’t ask questions. He played football and was happy and didn’t question what anyone else said and that made everyone my mother knew, very happy. I, on the other hand, asked questions constantly. Every minute of every day I had a new question. What is that? How does it work? Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I see properly? Why can my brother see properly if I can’t? Why can’t I go to the same school as my brother? I asked constant questions.
The truth was that no nursery in my local area would accept the responsibility of a child with a visual impairment. No school really wanted me. The only school I could go to was a school for the blind and partially sighted. Only now you’re not allowed to call someone blind or partially sighted. It’s not politically correct. So now I’m vision free in one eye and half vision free in the other. Nobody wondered why I asked questions all the time. No one wondered why I needed to count the cracks in the pavement and make sure I never stepped on one when I walked anywhere with my mother. If I stepped on a crack, I would get agitated and upset. I would want to go home immediately and start again. Only my mother didn’t have the luxury of time to deal with my habits. Nobody else did either. No one ever thought there was something wrong with me. No one ever thought that I might have problems. Everyone said it was a phase and I would grow out of it. Everyone said that, but I didn’t.
Most of my childhood was spent being bullied by my father. If you ask him now, he’ll say he never did bully me. He never smacked a little kid around the head and screamed because I tripped on his shoe. His shoe that I couldn’t see anyway. That didn’t matter. He’d never admit that he screamed things in my face that are too awful to repeat. Now, I can’t really get over it. My mother’s answer is “It’s in the past” or “At least he didn’t beat you” or “There are kids who were much worse off then you were” and she expects me to forget how I felt, and how much I still hurt. No one understands that it’s far too hard to forget the things that hurt us, while it’s far too easy to let the bad memories over shadow the good.
I tried to make friends. I really did. People didn’t talk to me unless they wanted help with their English homework. Boys teased me because i wasn’t pretty. Everyone bullied me for trying to be strong. I was a girl and I could throw a punch as well as any boy. But I was never accepted for that. I was a freak because I should’ve dressed in dresses and skirts, and pretty things. But all my mother could afford for me to wear were tracksuit bottoms and polo shirts from peacocks. I can’t blame her for not having any money. I tried to fit in, but I couldn’t and in the end, I was always alone. Even on the school trips I went on, I was considered a freak, an oddity to be mocked.
I was ill one night, when I was about... fourteen and I was on a school trip in Austria. My form tutor told me to go to bed and try to get some sleep. I’d been sick, but I’d tried to respect the sleep of the three other, older girls, who were two years above me at school. The funny thing was that when I finally managed to go to sleep, those same girls, snuck in with a camera, and a bunch of boys, and shook me awake to start snapping pictures of me in my pyjamas, while I was still ill. One girl, the biggest one, yanked me out of my bunk and pulled me on the floor. They were laughing at me because my hair was messy. I’d just been sleeping so of course my hair wasn’t picture perfect. Why should it have been? I remember just wanting to be left alone. I just wanted people to leave me alone, leave me in peace. What did they need to pick on me for? Weren’t there enough people around? Couldn’t they just stop for five minutes? Think that maybe I was sleeping because I was ill? But they didn’t care. I tried telling them to leave me alone but they wouldn’t, so I screamed. I don’t remember doing it. I don’t remember how loud I was, but it must have been loud, because within a minute, my form tutor was there and ordering everyone out of the room. Then once the door was closed and I was left in the dark, I could hear her yelling at them.
“How could you do that to her? She’s not well and you purposely went into that room to try and upset her? I’m ashamed of all of you! There won’t be any going out tonight! You’re all staying here! If I hear any more trouble from any of you then I’ll personally stay here with you every day and watch you study the work you would’ve been doing if you weren’t on this trip.”
She said all this. I heard upset groans and annoyed mumblings, but not one person apologised. Not one person cared about what they’d done to me. No one was fussed about the fact that I’d been upset and close to tears. Not that I ever cried. I think even now, I’ve just... forgotten how to. I want to cry. I always want to cry, but my eyes don’t produce the tears.
My whole school life was full of incidences like that one. I had few people that talked to me, and even fewer friends. My first friend died of Leukaemia when I was seven years old. That was the last time I remember crying about anything.
When I was nineteen years old, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. No one had ever thought about that idea. The longer I was left untreated the worse it got. The doctor and then a psychiatrist, later told me that, in fact, most of my idiosyncrasies from childhood were markers. They were signs that I had a serious mental illness that, combined with the severe depression I suffered, was hurting me. I spent my whole life scrubbing my hands, keeping to a strict routine, moulding myself into what I am now. I wish that my mother hadn’t spent so much time pushing me. She pushed me and pushed me and pushed me, and I’m right on the edge, waiting to just fall, but I’m holding myself back by a thread. But she can’t stop pushing me and sooner or later that thread will snap and that will be it for me. There won’t be any turning back. I’ll just... fall and I don’t know how I’ll end. I don’t know whether I’ll fall into a deeper well of depression and try to hurt myself. That isn’t something I haven’t done before. Or whether I’ll just fall into a rage and hurt someone else, whether with words or actions, or physical violence. The fact that I don’t know is something that scares me. No one quite gets it, but it’s the fact that I look deep into myself and I don’t even know what’s there sometimes, that’s actually frightening.
Now, I still look in the mirror and see someone fat, someone ugly. I don’t think of myself as a person. I think of myself as a being. Something that should be able to better themselves. But I never do. I eat when I’m sad, or I don’t eat, and both paths make it harder and harder to lose weight. Everyone looks at me and they think I’m happy. They think I’m a cheerful person. I’m not, but I have to pretend. I have to pretend that I’m happy because my mother is fine with who I am so long as I never say it out loud. I have to try and be normal, because whenever my moods go up or down I’m an embarrassment and everyone pretends that I’m just awkward. But I’m not.
At the age of twenty nine years old, I’ve not only been diagnosed with OCD, but also with an acute Social Anxiety Disorder. I read this on a letter that was sent to my doctor, explaining that I need to have a special kind of therapy to help with the serious social awkwardness I suffer. It depressed me. And then, I started laughing. Why? Because I realised that the initials of Social Anxiety Disorder spell SAD. I’ve spent most of my life being sad. So I laughed at the irony of it. But I’ll do what it takes to get help. I’ll make myself someone people can speak to. I’ll make myself someone that people can love. Because what is the alternative?
The alternative is that I live all alone, without a single friend or loved one to care for me, I live and die like a hermit, and I do it all in shadows, because no one will ever acknowledge that I have neurological conditions, that my actual brain is against me. That would mean having to admit that I wasn’t perfect, that there is something wrong with me, that it’s something that I can never cure, only try to control, and that control will not always work. There will be days that are dark and full of pain and fear and sadness and loneliness because those are the days I will shut myself off from the world until I can somehow find a way to pull myself back on an even keel. Those are the days where I’ve slipped over the wrong side of that fine line between happiness and insanity. That line is perfect control. I have to have control over myself, even though my brain actually pushes me to be difficult. My brain, that people say I’m so lucky to have, that gives me intelligence, my brain is my own worst enemy. No one knows how torturous that can be. No one knows how much it can hurt, to fight your own mind, constantly, day in and day out, and God damn, is it exhausting. Sometimes I want to give in and just let all these neurological conditions that I have, win. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I didn’t care, and if I didn’t want help. Sometimes, I think it would be easier if I just completely gave up control of my brain and hibernated for a while. But if I did that, I would cease to be, and what would be left, would be a stranger. Not only to me, but to everyone I love and care about. So I must keep on fighting. I must keep on hoping that I can find the perfect way to control my brain, for longer, and for better. Because all I really want, all I ever really and truly wanted, is to be accepted.
Is that wrong?