Stories

Living with a monster

“Its on an odd!” I screamed from the backseat of the car. Leaning forward at a stark angle, I impatiently slapped the soft cushion of my dad’s driver-side seat. 

Silently and without much thought, he calmly turned the radio dial up one notch so that the number on the sleek, black surface would read fourteen rather than thirteen. Feeling the wave of equilibrium rush over me, I settled back into my seat and enjoyed the Shania Twain lyrics that were flooding back into my focus.

This was my normal. And it had become my family’s normal too. Odd numbers, uneven lines, cracks on sidewalks–these were no-gos. Counting in fours, even numbers, the sign of the cross, and spelling out each word said on my favorite television shows–these were musts. 

It was early on in life that others recognized these odd games and patterns. Family members often joked that my brother and I–him with his ticks, and I with my games–were OCD; however, none of them knew how true their tongue-in-cheek comments actually were. That is, until things started to become much worse. 

As a young child, I was tenacious. A little firecracker on the outside. Blond-haired and green-eyed with a lit curiosity about the world. But on the inside, the growing anxiety began to swallow the inquisitive nature I had been given at birth, and slowly replaced it with fear and worry. 

OCD without insight. That’s what it’s called when you are not capable of rationalizing that your worries and fears are unwarranted. This is what I did not know I had. 

As our family pulled up to the mall, I slowly hopped out of the car and thought about what would happen, right now, if another car were to slam into us. “Stop stop stop stop,” yet I still scanned the parking lot in each direction to make sure the threat of being impaled by a blue Impala was miniscule. 

Once I had decided the hazard of moving away from the car door was manageable, I followed my family down the sidewalk. Slowly. “Kay, lets go!,” my mother yelled back to me impatiently. I was always far behind everyone else. A known doddler.

However, what they did not recognize was the perceived dangers of walking down a sidewalk. 

There could be ravenous dogs. Men and women who would steal you and throw you into a white van. Cars that would careen and crush you in one fell swoop. Couldn’t be too careful.

 Each crack provided safety, so long as I walked over it alternating in stride. Each foot dancing carefully along the sidewalk to ensure that the other would arrive in a manner that allowed for perfect equilibrium. 

A little song lilted in my mind “over the crack left foot. Over the crack right foot.” Slow and steady. Safe. But if I stepped on a crack? A warm rush of fear blanketed my body. Tingles raced into the tips of my fingers, and I could feel my heart beating into my rib cage.

Stepping on cracks was not safe. Stepping on cracks was trouble. This was life for me at eight years old. 

As we walked through JCPenney, I stuck my hand out to touch the soft fabrics of the sweaters hanging from the plastic store hangers. “Touch with the left palm. Touch with the right.” 

What if the metal racks of clothing came cascading down onto me, slicing my scalp and cracking my skull” “stop stop stop stop.”

The left pinky finger, near the very tip accidentally made contact with the scratchy rough denim of the neatly folded women’s Ryders. I looked at my finger to determine the exact right spot that felt the tough fabric. 

Then, I stared at my right pink trying to locate that same exact right spot mirrored on my other hand. “Kaylin Nichole–LETS GO!” Oh snap. But I couldn’t move until I slowly slid the top of my right pinky across the jeans. “Touch with the left. Touch with the right.” Perfect.

****

“It can’t touch it!” “Robert, stopppppp!!!!” I cried tears of frustration as my brother joked by pushing my peas against my mashed potatoes. “HE IS TOUCHING MY PLATE!” 

“Rob, don’t touch her plate,” my dad commanded my older brother. 

But although my brother’s germ-infested fork touching my food was cause enough for me to enter into complete freak out mode, food touching other food on my plate was another no-go. 

Peas did not belong touching mashed potatoes. Carrots should not be fraternizing with turkey. This was quite obvious to me, but to my family members it seemed of little importance. 

“What if I stabbed my hand with this fork?” “Stop stop stop stop…” My mind saw the cool metal tines forced into my small palm. And people think you’re weird when you eat turkey with a spoon.

The correct way to eat dinner was accomplished by eating one item, wholly, at a time in a nice clockwise manner. Mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, turkey. Each bite was to be meticulously counted to make sure I ingested an even number of each morsel. Odd numbers were left to accompany the waste bin.

Throwing tantrums seemed pretty weird for an eight year old, and no doubt added to my status as a “difficult” child; however, with the impending doom of what would be to come from a dinner eaten incorrectly, it seemed a fitting response to me.

Bedtime was accompanied by more of what I would later recognize as “rituals” and was likely the most ritualistic part of my day.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by an avoidance of “bad” objects, people, or situations; compulsions to perform certain anxiety-relieving behaviors, and ritualistic actions–all of these things engaged in in order to satisfy the fear and keep the monster at bay.

As I sat down with my bedtime snack, and watching Friends with my parents, I felt the familiar annoyance of OCD. For some reason, I felt compelled to spell out each sentence Phoebe said to Rachel before Rachel could respond or Joey could jump in.

“s-m-e-l-l-y -c-a-t-s-m-e-l-l-y -c-a….” darn Joey spoke. Start all over. “B-u-t-w-h…” There’s Rachel. Start all over. My mom stood up to tell us kids it was time to go to sleep, but I had not yet finished spelling. Immediately that warm rush of panic and fear began to burn my skin.

“I’M NOT DONE! I CAN’T!” 

“Kay, it’s time for bed”

“I HAVE TO STAY UP!!” 

My poor parents never really understood what had set me off. You see, even I knew these things were weird, and I was not going to tell them that my thoughts controlled me.

OCD is often accompanied by unwanted, “intrusive thoughts” that invade the brain of the thinker. At a later age, I would learn that I am the thinker, and not the thought; however, I was not wise to this truth at eight years old.

Intrusive thoughts range from thinking of your Priest naked, to thinking about pushing your best friend into traffic. In my case, they manifested in the constant fear that I was going to get hurt or hurt myself. 

As I finally calmed down after reverting back into a screaming, crying toddler, I climbed into bed to begin the next ritual. 

The nighttime is a scary time for most children, but there was something different about the night for me. I Began to worry excessively, as my mind was plagued with the notion that I was to be kidnapped or killed in the night.

“What if someone comes through the window and takes me out into the street to murder me?” “stop stop stop stop.” “What if I die in my sleep from some brain tumor or heart attack?” “stop stop stop stop.” “What if someone comes to rob the house and shoots me?” “stop stop stop stop.” 

So how did I get these thoughts to stop? By making sure everything was exactly right. Each night I told my sister the same exact thing. I said it first, and she said it back. 

“Goodnight. I love you. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.”

Goodnight (you will have a goodnight and nothing will come murder you). I love you (just in case you do die, tell her you love her). Sweet dreams (you will not have horrible nightmares tonight). See you in the morning (You will not be kidnapped by a crazed neighbor). 

“Dad! She won’t say it.”

“She doesn’t have to, Kay. You can’t make her tell you goodnight.”  

“But I need her to do it. She has to say it!”

“Goodnight girls.”

My sister turned in her bed to face me, completely aware that she now held all of the power. It did not take long for my siblings to figure out how to use my obsessive compulsive tendencies against me. 

“Only if you go turn on the light in the library first and give me the stuffed dog to sleep with.” 

Fine. “It is worth it”, I thought, giving her the stuffed dog.

“Goodnight. I love you. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight. I love you. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning,” she replied. 

And then the sign of the cross–a perfect four, four times. Sixteen times I would make the sign of the cross in my bed to protect me from evil. Four points. Four times, times four. Perfect.

****

One very difficult aspect of having OCD as a child is school. 

There are many aspects of the school day and school work that become overwhelming when you are suffering from ocd. 

“Kaylin, are you almost finished, it’s already 9:30 PM and you have school in the morning.“ 

“Almost,” I replied for about the fifth time that evening. 

Each day at school I would write my notes in the same color purple pen, but there were rules. 

Each line had to be indented, bulleted, carroted, and spaced the exact same way. 

I must only write on an even number of lines, and I could only write on the front of any sheet of paper; you see with all of the times I ended up rewriting my notes due to errors, I only wanted to rewrite one page rather than two. 

I had learned from many nights copying the dark purple ink over and over than an error on the back of a page meant double the work. 

Late into the night, I sat tired and crying as I wrote notes dozens of times to ensure that they were perfect and worthy of being meticulously placed within my binder. 

“Kaylin, honey, it’s midnight. You really need to go to sleep.” 

“I caaaan’t,” I cried out, exasperated and snot-nosed. Warm tears slid down my baby face as I felt the cramps begin to burn in my hand. 

Middle school now meant more notes and more chances to mess up. With the responsibility on my shoulders, I was terrified that I would fail if my notes weren’t in the perfect order. 

My mom sat up with me until one in the morning when I finally allowed myself to go to bed. 

The next morning at breakfast, I heard the hushed whispers of my parents, as my mom made coffee for work. 

“Stanley, I’m serious. Somethings wrong. Maybe we should take her back to that doctor.”

She was referring to the doctor I had seen at three years old when I used to pull the hair from my head if the toe of my socks didn’t line up correctly. 

“Leslie, she’s fine. She’s just really serious. She’s somewhat of a difficult child, but nothing is actually wrong with her.”

Was something actually wrong with me? What did they mean? I mean sure I still twirled the hair out of my head occasionally, but for the most part I was good at hiding these things.

“I don’t know. Let’s just wait a while and see. She’ll grow out of it,” my dad said as he continued to console my mother.

“It.” What was it? What was this thing to outgrow? “Difficult.” I was bad. I was a bad kid. 

My mind flashed back to fourth grade when my parents were called to speak to Mrs. Pizzo, the school counselor, because I had scratched up my arms.

My dad had recently given me a WWJD bracelet that I was obsessed with. Whenever I was nervous, I would pull it from my wrist and twirl the metal hearts around my fingers and feel the engraved letters. This brought me such comfort. 

While sitting at my desk one afternoon, I pulled too hard and the beads went cascading to the floor. My heart wrenched as I felt a familiar panic enter my body. 

I had only been in third grade when I began to experience my first panic attacks. 

Warmth spread through my body, my fingers tingled, my chest tightened, and I was consumed with the idea that I would stop breathing.

I sprang out of my seat to collect the tiny heart letters when Mrs. Ellis took them from me. 

“DON’T TOUCH THEM!! THEY’RE MINE!” I had screamed at her. I felt myself losing it, but I couldn’t help it.

“Kaylin Inghram, that outburst has earned you a seat on the wall at recess.” 

That day, watching my friends play and feeling the anxiety rise inside me, I stared into the distance, not realizing the raw mark I was etching in my arm. 

That’s when they sent me to the counselor. 

“Why would you do that, Kay? That’s not normal behavior. That’s bad. Tell us, Kay, why would you do that to yourself?” My parents asked, dumbfounded. 

My mind flashed back to the present. 

I slowly reached down to my backpack and slid out the back sliding door to make it to the bus; hot tears rolling down my face again, but this time for a different reason. I was a bad kid. Not like Robert or Cora or any of my cousins. Bad. Difficult. 

The school bus pulled up to Strator Middle School, and I carefully made my way across the lawn—this was the easiest way to avoid the cracks in the brick walkway. 

My socks and ankles, soaked with the morning dew, I sat in my desk first hour preparing for the day. I set two purple gel pens neatly on the top right side of my desk. My notebook paper (stacked four high to avoid the scratchy feeling of the desk beneath) filled the space at my left side, and my pencil box (filled with extra purple pens, of course) sat front and center. 

Mrs. McKoy handed out the math test, and the familiar rush of anxiety filled my small body. 

Math tests were hard enough, with all of the odd numbers staring up at me from the page, but this time, she had broken our somewhat unspoken rule and assigned me an odd-numbered test. Seventeen stared at me from the page. 

I quickly shot my hand into the air. 

“I can’t take this test. It’s an odd.” 

“Yes, you can Kay.”

“No ma’am. I can’t. I need someone to trade me” 

“I’ll trade her,” Benjamin Barnes answered from two seats over.

“No, you will not, Benjamin. Kay can take the test she has.” 

My blood hot from the anxiety was now positively boiling with anger, as Mrs. McKoy refused to be reasonable. 

“You just want me to fail!” I screamed. 

Laughs and ooooos escaped the children in the room as I felt myself lose control. 

“You don’t care about me at all! You don’t care about anyone! Take your own stupid test!”

I left my neatly placed items behind as I slammed the classroom door.

“Kaylin Inghram, go to the…” 

“Office! I know!”

This is when my parents started to uncover the “it” that was wrong with me. The “it” that I would not outgrow. 

****

At this point, what others perceived as issues with authority had come into my life. Adults often thought that I was combative and difficult, and the words “obstinate” and “defiant” had been thrown around. However, they did not understand the daily war with my brain, and they didn’t seem to care either. 

The few times I had tried to explain to a teacher that the desk setup was imperative for me to start my work or the way in which I had to take even numbered tests, they always tried to break me of these “bad” habits. 

After the incident with the math test, my parents ended up taking me to see a doctor. Dr. Maguire was her name, and I absolutely loved her. 

Dr. Maguire was an older, southern woman with a warm accent and a bright disposition. Her effulgence engulfed me, and I looked forward to seeing her after school twice a week. But what I did not realize at the time was that through trying to please Dr. Maguire, I would actually learn to hide my traits even more. 

“Well, Dr. Maguire says…”

“That’s enough talk about Dr. Maguire, Kay, let someone else talk.” 

I placed my fork down carefully next to my peas and began to count them out again. Nine peas. I shot one at my brother and called it a day. 

“Mom, Dr. Maguire says that my brain thinks differently than other people’s brains.” 

“Well Dr. Maguire just means that you are special.”

“But dad said I was difficult.”

My eyes stared down at the bedroom floor as I remembered what I had heard only a few weeks prior “she’s a difficult child.”

“Well you can be difficult, Kaylin.” 

That was not the answer I wanted to hear. Dr. Maguire made me feel much more normal than anyone ever had. At home I still felt like the odd one. 

Call it middle-child syndrome if you will, but I always felt out of place. 

Robert had his own problems and was somewhat of what I would call a difficult child himself; however, my parents never seemed to acknowledge this aspect of his personality. 

Robert had always tormented me in ways that I was peculiarly sensitive to. “Sensitive” was the word my parents used. “She’s sensitive. She’s dramatic. She’s difficult.” Nothing that they ever meant to be mean. Just factual.

But Robert never seemed to be called any of the names that I thought befitting of him–”Mean. Challenging. A bully.” 

Robert loved to “fatso flop” onto my sister and I so hard that we felt we could not feel our breath in our lungs after the assault. Robert liked to push my face so hard into the sand that I felt my pores absorbing the tiny granules. Robert was just mean, but it seemed as though my parents never punished him. 

Cora was a lovely child. She was also the baby. My mom and dad had tried so hard to get pregnant again, and we all had heard the story of Cora over and over. 

“Mommy went to the doctor to get her tubes all tied up so that she would not be sad anymore. See, mommy had lost a lot of babies. But when we got there, the doctor said he couldn’t do the procedure because you were in there! You are mommy’s miracle baby.”

Accident baby is what Robert and I told her. 

It seemed that Cora had always gotten a lot of attention. She was mommy’s skinnie minnie and I was her chubba bubba. She was such a doll child. 

Cora and I often fought when we were little and at times I had hurt her on purpose. I was so ashamed of the things that I had done to Cora, that I guess I had to excuse the way my brother treated me. 

When Cora was little, I often thought of how easily it would be to kill her. These thoughts flooded my mind, and even as a young child, I knew they were wrong. I often thought of pushing her from the castle on the playground, but I never did. However, the thoughts would become so overwhelming that almost as soon as we arrived at the playground, I would want to leave. 

It was only when my anger consumed me that I treated Cora so badly, once striking her with my nails so hard that bleeding puncture marks were found inside fingertip-sized bruises along the outside of her thigh. After calming down, I would always feel like a monster. 

And I never could erase the image of Cora’s wrenched up and crying face after realizing what I had done.

I spent a lot of time in my room for the outbursts I displayed as a child; however, I could not control my emotions and was not equipped with the skills to understand them.

“Well Dr. Maguire sees me tomorrow and she said she has something exciting for me.”

****

I sat in the floral and polka dotted chair that was tucked into the back corner of Dr. Maguire’s waiting room. My dad usually dropped me off at 2:30pm every Tuesday and Thursday and came back for me at 3:30pm on the dot, but this Thursday he had dropped me off just a bit early.

As I sat in the chair, thinking of all of the fun things I could tell Dr. Maguire about my week, I noticed her door open about ten minutes early. Was I going to get to see her for ten whole more minutes than normal?

A ginger-haired boy with a long blue shirt and jeans on exited Dr. Maguire’s office, and I felt a stab of jealousy control me like I had never felt before. Was she going to give this boy something special too? Did she like him more than she liked me? I felt my cheeks grow hot with anger as I realized that Dr. Maguire most definitely did like this ginger-haired boy more than she liked me. 

A few minutes later, I was called into her office and filled with annoyance. 

“Hey, Kay! How are you doing this week? What’s going on in your life.”

“Nothing.”

This one word response was quite unusual for me, as I usually spoke a mile a minute. 

“Surely there is something going on. How is school? How was your visit with your cousins?”

“Fine.”

Dr. Maguire stared blankly at me for only a half a moment before the smile returned to light up her face. 

“Well, today we are going to talk about something very special. Do you have a dog, Kay?”

“No. I had one once, but not anymore.”

“Okay, well how old was your dog?”

“I don’t know. He was young.”

“What kind of dog was he?”

“A black and white one. Like from Cruella.”

“Okay perfect! Well you know how dogs can be annoying and they just want to play?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Well I want you to meet Sammy!”

I stared around the room, looking for where she could be hiding a puppy. 

“Where?”

“Well if you could have any dog in the world, what kind of dog would it be?”

“Probably one of those golden retrievers like Air Bud from the movie.”

“Okay, well close your eyes and imagine a golden retriever named Sammy.”

….Okay…this lady was pulling my leg. What was she talking about a pretend dog.

“I don’t get it.”

“Close your eyes, and meet your new dog Sammy. Sammy is a puppy. And sometimes puppies can be annoying and they might want to play too much. They may keep bringing you their ball or nipping at you with their puppy teeth, but that doesn’t hurt you, does it Kay?”

“No.”

“No it doesn’t. Whenever you have the thoughts that you have to do something, like rewriting your notes or picking your pen up over and over,  I want you to think of Sammy. Sammy may want to play when he’s not supposed to, but you can just tell him that it’s not the time and place. I want you to imagine Sammy with a ball or nipping at you. And then I want you to tell him ‘Sammy, Sit. Stay.’ then I want you to walk away.” 

Okay…she’s weird.

After spending the rest of the hour making up attributes for my pretend dog, My dad came to pick me up just on time. 

“So how was it today?”

“Fine.”

I still felt the jealousy raging inside me. She was stupid anyway. Who cares if she liked someone else more than she liked me. She was a quack doctor! She was making me have an imaginary friend at twelve years old, and what’s more…he was a dog. 

“Whatever, I don’t know if I want to go see her anymore.”

My dad looked over at me with a worried look. 

“What happened?”

“NOTHING! I JUST DON’T LIKE HER OKAY.”

“Okay. We can talk about it with mom.”

That evening, as I was checking to make sure I had put my homework in my purple homework folder for the fourth time, I thought of Sammy. I had a vivid image of a cute, yet annoyingly clingy dog, wagging his tail, tongue out, and waiting for me to throw him his ball. 

I remembered Dr. Maguire–”If you throw the ball, he is only going to keep coming back, Kay. Don’t throw the ball.”

“Sit! Stay! Good boy.

****

Dr. Maguire and I continued to see each other at least weekly throughout the next year of my childhood. 

After she gave me Sammy, I decided that she wasn’t really that bad after all. 

I became more and more attached to her. I felt like she understood me, and I knew that she was helping me. I loved her and often thought of what it would be like to be her daughter.

There was definitely a love hate relationship between the two of us, as she forced me to draw uneven lines, write Xs three times and complete other odd behaviors that I absolutely hated. But she also encouraged me. She let me know that these nagging thoughts were okay to have and they could not harm me. 

Sadly, with as much good as she would provide to me, she would also be the therapist who taught me how to lie. As well as the one who taught me not to trust. 

“Kay, you are doing so good! How many times did you check your folder last night?”

“Not at all!”

“Awesome! That’s good kiddo.” 

“How many times did you check the board?”

“I didn’t even have to put the check mark on the chalkboard this time at all!” 

One way Dr. Maguire had helped me to stop checking things so often was to put a check mark on a chalkboard in the kitchen when I had completed things. 

Snack packed: check

Homework finished: check

Homework in folders: check

Clothes laid out for tomorrow: check

Check check check check! All good.

This goal helped to ease me from checking so many different locations–my bookbag, my lunch box, my closet, etc. 

However, the ultimate goal was to get me to stop checking the chalkboard as well. 

“You’re so smart, Kay. You’re doing so good!” The affirmation and validation from my therapist left me feeling like I had been anointed by The Pope. 

This, however, is when I learned to lie. I would keep my bag by me at night in order to check that I had done my work, packed my snack, and finished everything. I rewrote my classroom notes by a tiny shell-shaped night light that lit up the floor of my bedroom, and I continued to avoid “bad” numbers. Yet nobody knew about any of this. 

Therapy had once been my safe haven, as I knew that Dr. Maguire understood me, and she was always there for me. But I wanted to keep her happy, and she seemed to be happiest when I was improving. I would tell her “it’s not as ‘bad’.” “Good,” she would respond. “That’s good!”

This began my foray into black and white thinking. If I was doing good, I must be good. If I was doing bad, I must be bad. There was no gray space–nothing in between.

I was determined to garner only positive attention from Dr. Maguire, and to do this, I had to be good. 

I was very perceptive as a child and was not unaware of how others related to me. As I began to “recover,” my therapist was happier and happier with my behavior; therefore, I never wanted to inform her of the bad habits that I had just gotten better at hiding. 

After about a year, my family and my therapist decided that I no longer needed to see her, and I could resume living my life like a “normal kid.”

This was the event that broke a lot of my trust in therapists. I loved Dr. Maguire, and I needed her. Couldn’t they tell that I needed her?

“This is a good thing, Kay! The whole point of therapy is to get better.”

“But I’m not all better,” I whined.

“Kay, you are doing so well. You need to keep Sammy with you and keep up the good work. You’re ready to do this by yourself, and I have other kids who are struggling like you were, and I need to help them too.”

I could feel the familiar jealousy boiling in my veins–the jealousy that had resurfaced any time I heard her mention another child or if I saw one leaving her room.

I was not ready to stop seeing Dr. Maguire, and I did not understand how she could just leave me. 

This fear of abandonment and the outbursts that I had been exhibiting in class before therapy, would later flash in my mind as I was given the mother of all diagnoses. 

****

As I got older, a lot of the ritualistic behavior seemed to go away, and I had outgrown many of my compulsions.

However, it was also as I got older that OCD took a very dark turn. I had “outgrown” many of my ritualistic behaviors. At fifteen years old, I was no longer asking my sister for our bedtime good nights, and I was much better at rationalizing out odd numbers in my head to somehow make them even.

“Hmmm three pretzel sticks, but I can break the last one in half, so it’s even on each side of my mouth.”

“The television channel is on 121, but if you add 2+1+1, it’s 4! That’s even.” A sigh of relief as I once again found myself in a place of equilibrium.

However, what I would never share with anyone was the darkness that had begun to control my mind.

I often wondered how if my brain was mine, how my own thoughts could decide not to listen to me. And the more I told myself not to think of a certain thought, the more it took over.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder sufferers are not always easy to spot, as many compulsions are performed in private as a means of making the dark thoughts cease.

My parents were never privy to the thoughts that had begun to take over my mind.

I thought I was going crazy.

“Kay, what is this mirror doing in the closet? Do you not want it anymore?”

“I don’t know? I didn’t do that.”

But of course I had.

At fifteen years old, I was consumed by my mind telling me to break the mirror and cut myself with the glass.

“Well please put it back in your room. I don’t know who did it either, but we’re trying to clean up here.”

I reluctantly picked up the long, sleek mirror and set it down on the floor of my bedroom; it’s length leaning against my pink and orange striped walls. 

The juxtaposition of my bright, almost childish, bedroom against the dark and nearly violent thoughts that occupied my mind was ironic. I subconsciously believed that the more I decorated my room with folly, the less the thoughts could penetrate my life–my bedroom a forcefield against the sharply spiked arrows that aimed to puncture and tear into my own mind. 

I was wrong. 

The mirror stood, silvery and shining, it’s surface mocking and taunting me; it called to me like a song on repeat in the depths of my mind. 

I went down stairs to sit on the large black, leather couch, and I grasped the remote in my hand. “Stop stop stop stop.” 

With a click, the television turned from a blank, dark screen, to a picture of glamor and extravagance as My Super Sweet Sixteen flashed across the screen. My sister Cora and I used to love this show, with extraordinarily wealthy, and oftentimes bratty, teenage boys and girls showcased for their exorbitant birthday parties. 

But as I watched, the mirror still beckoned to me from upstairs. As siren song. I could envision the sharp, jagged piece of glass slicing into my hands and legs. I saw in my mind’s eye what I was “supposed” to do. “Stop stop stop stop.” 

Refocusing upon the television show, and trying to distract further, I began to play with the beads on my bracelet–slowly encircling my fingers with the smooth, rounded surfaces of etched glass. 

“Why do you keep doing that…you’re so weird….hellooooo, are you even watching this?,” asked Cora with a haughty air of annoyance. My eyes glanced sidelong at her as I was snapped back into reality. 

“Uhm…of course I’m watching it, weirdo. That’s why it’s on.” 

“Okay, but you’re about 10,000 miles into space right now, and I’m waiting to watch the next episode of Charmed.”

Many times OCD sufferers seem to “zone out” as an unconscious way of dealing with extreme anxiety. 

My sister, two years younger than myself, often pointed out these weird habits of looking off into the distance with a blank stare. Thank God she could not see what I was thinking. But it seemed that the more I tried to stop, the more the good thoughts were devoured by the bad. 

“Fine. whatever,” I mumbled, handing over the remote and trying to think of something else to do. There’s no way that I could go to my room with my mind where it was and with that mirror awaiting me.

I spent a lot of time avoiding certain things that I thought would harm me or cause me to harm myself. And for the past few weeks, the mirror was an object to be steered clear of–the reason I had locked it away in the hallway closet only nights before. 

However, this is the first time I would give into the thoughts. This is the first time I would lose. 

I sauntered into the kitchen to see my dad cutting up pieces of broccoli and whirling a fat, black spoon in a bubbling, white mixture on the stovetop. My sister lie sprawled out on the couch in the front room popping white cheddar popcorn into her mouth, occupied with witches and demons, and my mom was still meticulously cleaning the house. Robert never seemed to be around. At seventeen, he had just gotten his license and had much cooler places to be than Casa Inghram. 

So with nothing else to do, I decided to face my fears and go up to my room to read The Great Gatsby. The novel had been assigned to me in my literature class a few days before, and I knew that I could get lost in the articulate descriptions and the beautifully depicted East and West Egg. 

I plopped down on my fluffy, pink comforter and unzipped my purple Jansport book bag. Running my fingers up and over the many pieces of notebook paper, my hand found the book in the bottom of the bag. My mind flashed to the mirror. “Stop stop stop stop.”

But this time I could not stop. 

I placed the book down neatly on my pillow, and sat my palms down on the comforter at each side of my leg…ready to push myself up from the bed, I questioned whether or not this was the best course of action. 

After deciding that I could squelch the thoughts by giving into them, I carefully pushed my body from the bed and slowly stepped over to where the mirror lie against the wall. Squatting down to my knees in front of the ominous item, I stared at my reflection. 

Green eyes staring back at me. 

I looked at the outline of my face…my slightly rounded jawline, my long dark blonde hair, my pinky peach lips, and my bright green eyes. I stared at myself until I felt I was lost within my own reflection and lost in the calling of the mirror. 

Slowly, I tested the fragile surface of the glass. My fingers closed around the body of an open-toed pump, and I reluctantly tapped the mirror with its spiked heel. Nothing. I drew back my hand and hit harder the second time until the mirror that had stood before me just moments ago was replaced by framed cardboard alone.

Looking down, my eyes met the shards of glass, lying broken in a mosaic on the white carpet. I slowly waved my fingers over each piece of glass and carefully chose the perfect shard. 

Gripping the glass between my pointer finger and my thumb, I stared at the unique outline of its barbed and ragged exterior. 

Hesitantly, and nearly unwillingly, as if in a trance, I let the piece of glass poke into the tip of my finger. A large red dot of blood emigrated from beneath my skin. “That’s not so bad,” I thought. 

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

A jolt of electricity shook my body and blood rushed into my cheeks as I entered back into focus. Shit. Still bleeding. 

“Kay, it’s time for dinner. Dad made chicken and that broccoli soup that you like.” 

“Yeah, mom. Coming! Just give me a moment to finish up this page.”

“Okay, Sweet girl.” 

Ashamed of my behavior, I quickly picked up each piece of glass and wrapped them together in a towel. Carefully, like an archaeologist archiving bones, I made sure to keep the pieces protected from breaking any further. 

As I sat down to dinner, I looked at my family and felt the small tinge of pain pulse in the tip of my finger. I stared at my reflection in the cool, silver metal of my dinner spoon and thought back to the mirror. 

“Hey, by the way…I accidentally broke that mirror when I was moving it back to my room…” 

****

As I got older, I began to feel more and more suicidal, and I continued to self harm in scarier and more serious ways (such as cutting and burning). I was at a point where I was in and out of partial and inpatient programs every three or four months. I resumed private therapy for OCD as well as my mood disorder in 2017, and in the winter of 2018, I underwent ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy– the results of which were amazing. I continue going to therapy each week, and I also attend DBT each week. DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and it is specifically used to help teach skills to use in different situations. I go to keep abreast of mindfulness and emotion regulation skills, but the interpersonal and crisis skills are wonderful as well. I am doing much better overall, and one of the most important things that I have learned is that you have to keep people in the loop. Whether it be parents, spouses, doctors, or friends…your support system is very important. My support system helped me through some of the hardest moments in my life, but it was when I was trying to hide how bad I was getting that my symptoms worsened. 

— Caitlyn Berger

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