Not an Adjective By Julia Jarvis (Age 17)

As humans, we feel compelled to have some sort of obsession. Maybe it’s that hot, up-and-coming movie star you just saw on the big screen last weekend (because you have to admit, Ansel Elgort is gorgeous), or that body spray you bought at Bath and Body Works last summer (I, myself, have grown very fond of Paris Amour). Whatever your obsession, whether a person or a thing, you probably feel attached, buying all of his work or spraying it every day before you leave the house. You see, I have obsessions, too, but to me, the word ‘obsession’ means something completely different. To me, obsessive is the first word of my severe anxiety disorder: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

I’ve been made fun of before. I don’t touch doorknobs. I don’t use public restrooms (even when out of the house for fourteen plus hours). I wash my hands compulsively. “Oh, she is such a germaphobe.” “So if I poked you would you wash your arm?” “What if I hugged you? Would you have to take a shower?” When I’m out for lunch or dinner with friends, they see me pull out a wipe. And when I start to wash my hands for sometimes ten minutes straight, that’s when they judge. Some say, “Stop washing your hands!” I wish it were that easy. When I feel contaminated, I think that washing will help. It seldom does, but the thing is, the monster in my head is telling me that if I don’t scrub every little corner of my hands, I will get violently sick. It’s telling me, “You missed a spot,” while seemingly laughing at my insecurity. This monster picks at these things because he knows he will win.

It’s not just germs, though. No, it’s also checking, repeating, counting… I am obsessed with symmetry. Things have to be neat, stacked, and in the “correct” order. Whenever I am home alone, which let me assure you, is often, I check, and recheck, that all of the doors and windows are locked, even when I know for a fact they are. This doubting fear inside of me tells me, “If that door is unlocked, somebody will break in. And it will be your fault when the house gets robbed.” In spite of this, I do not live in a high crime area. In fact, I might even live in a no crime area. But that doesn’t stop my mind from wandering to the “what if’s,” worrying about this “danger” that isn’t actually there. It is this same doubt that forces me to lock the car doors while my mom runs into the drugstore to buy some Tic-Tacs. If I don’t, the anxiety will start munching at my brain, ultimately taking over my body.

I reread the same passage in a book several times, in fear that I omitted some words or missed something huge. I rewrite sentences: words: letters until they look perfect. Sometimes, when I feel that I did not say something correctly or I’m not sure if I said anything at all, I say the line over and over again until it feels right. What is perfect? What is right? My OCD knows, but I sure don’t.

Stemming off of this, there is the counting. For most people, the number ten is just that: the number ten. But for me, it holds this significance, and for this reason, I must perform certain actions in correlation to it. For instance, I wash my hands in groups of ten: ten seconds scrubbing with soap, ten seconds rinsing one hand, ten seconds rinsing the other, ten seconds drying…ten times. I shower in groups of ten. I make sure my walk from my room to the stairs is exactly ten steps. If it is more or less or forget to count, I have to turn around and start over.

I also have aggressive obsessions. I have visions that honestly freak me out. If I am holding a kitchen knife, I see myself impulsively hurting somebody in my family or dropping it on my cat, just because I can. I fear that I will punch a friend, not out of anger, but just because I can. After having these thoughts, I worry. In my mind, having a morbid thought is as brutal as committing the action itself. Although I do not have any intentions to harm a loved one, my OCD threatens me with the words, “Well, what if?”

Julia JarvisIt used to really bother me when people used the term OCD casually in a conversation – “I need to clean my desk. I am so OCD.” – and I’m not going to lie, it still does. OCD is notsynonymous with concerned. It is an actual chronic illness. And my disorder is not an adjective. I am not an adjective.

While there is so much that has been left unsaid, I feel that this is a start. My head is certainly not a happy place to arrange a home, but it is the only home I know. With any anxious thought, it is important to tell yourself, “I am having this thought. It is only a thought. I do not have to give it any power.” I talk back to myself to prove the anxiety wrong, using logic and facts to support. Exposure therapy is beyond agonizing, but I recognize it as obligatory. My OCD has helped me see that things never turn out as horrifically as I had once predicted. So… I am not ashamed.

 

To read Julia’s post on Scholastic’s Teenbeing blog, click here!

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