A Story of Being Stuck Inside of One’s Own Thoughts
It is a thirteen-year-old named Anna’s first day of eighth grade, when she starts to have terrifying, irrational thoughts about loved ones dying if she does not perform a certain task – starting off with tapping and counting, but escalating quickly. Shortly afterwards, Anna is diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and is struggling to cope in school, where she has always been an excellent student. Anna feels like a prisoner to her own conscience, constantly stuck inside obsessive thought spirals. In addition to her dyslexia, OCD makes reading and writing nearly impossible for her. She starts attending a therapy group to help her cope. This group helps Anna a lot, until her therapist asks them to consider something – causing Anna to revisit a part of her life which she previously had blocked out of her memory. This memory causes an obsession that she had when she was young, and struggling with a neuropsychiatric disorder, to resurface, and making eating extremely difficult. Anna was already struggling with bleeding hands and hips, and bruised fingertips, from performing rituals, and barely being able to look at certain numbers or read and write, before this new obsession resurfaces.
It becomes impossible for Anna to cope, so it is decided that she needs to attend a residential program, where she learns how to fight her thoughts, and overcome her rituals, and little did she know, it would change her life. Anna decides that revisiting an old obsession was a blessing in disguise. It lead her to a low point with her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which causes her to attend a residential program, where she learns ways to overcome her rituals and cope with her thoughts – causing her to get back on track in school, and be able to manage her OCD.
On the first day of eighth grade, I, Anna Sydney Brooks, became a prisoner to my own thoughts.
These thoughts started at school. I walked the hallways on my way to math class, my first class of the day, and when I got to the door of Ms. Fielder’s classroom, I had an overwhelming need to tap the door frame 4 times on each side or else my dog would die and it would all be my fault. This thought caught me off guard. I was frozen at the door. I felt like a prisoner, being controlled by my own thoughts. I couldn’t move until I tapped the door frame. If I didn’t tap, my dog would die. I was so scared by this thought that I had to tap the door frame. I tapped it 4 times on each side, feeling confused and scared, but I was reassured that my dog, a beautiful black lab named Nitro, was safe. A huge wave of relief washed over me. Nitro was safe.
“Okay, pull your thoughts together, Anna” I said under my breath, and walked through the door and found my desk. Luckily I was early to class, so nobody saw my tapping.
Despite the relief the tapping caused, it also caused me overwhelming anxiety. Anxiety caused by having no idea what caused me to think such a terrible thought. Nitro is my best friend. Why would I ever think about him dying, especially him dying and it being my fault? What was happening to me?
“Hi Anna, welcome back!” my math teacher said to me.
I was still caught up in my own thoughts, so I wasn’t really paying attention to what she said.
“Oh! Yes, good morning, Ms. Fielder!” I replied, not really knowing what she said.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m okay!” I responded, sort of lying.
We had a light conversation for a few minutes before other people started to come into class.
I couldn’t help but notice that nobody else tapped the door frame. None of them looked like they just had the thought of their dog dying unless they tapped the door frame 8 times. I felt even more anxious now. What was wrong with me?
I tried to ignore my thoughts.
Class started, and it was probably the hardest class I have ever attended. Not because the material was difficult, but because I couldn’t focus with my thoughts constantly circling in a large cycle of anxiety. Mostly these thoughts were just about what was wrong with me, but they wouldn’t stop. Ignoring them didn’t work.
Eventually, class ended. I got up to collect my book bag and homework for tomorrow, when Ms. Fielder called me over to her desk.
“You okay?” She asked me.
“Huh? Oh! Yeah, I’m okay. Well, not really, but it’s okay.” I responded. I was always honest with Ms. Fielder – she’s always been supportive, so I figured it was okay to tell her.
“What’s up? I can tell from your eyes that something’s upsetting you.”
“Oh!” I blinked really quickly a couple of times “No, no no I’m okay.”
She didn’t buy that.
“I can tell that something’s bothering you. I’ve known you for 4 years, and some of your siblings for even longer. I know this look. Trust me. I’ve seen it a lot from your older sister. You don’t have to tell me, but I can try and help if you decide to share. Just let me know.”
God, Ms. Fielder is so wonderful. I guess me and my older sister have a specific look that shows when something is upsetting us. Our thoughts show. Great. With my thoughts, having them show would make people think I’m crazy.
“Okay… I guess I can try and explain. It doesn’t make sense to me, and does scare me. But okay so I feel like I’m being controlled by my thoughts”. I felt crazy when saying it. I regretted telling her immediately. I was now afraid of what she would think of me. Maybe she would think I was crazy.
“I can tell by your expression that something was bothering you and distracting you. I just wanted to know what was up. If your thoughts continue to be a distraction in your classes this week, don’t hesitate to either talk to me about it, or talk to your parents. I want you to start this school year off well, and if something is affecting your ability to focus and learn, I’d recommend reaching out to someone. Okay?”
I was startled. She took this so calmly. She didn’t think I was crazy. She even told me to reach out for help. She tried to help me, she wasn’t confused, or scared, or think I was crazy. She almost seemed to expect this, given that she understood what I meant.
Little did I know, she suspected something I didn’t.
All of the following classes were just as much of a struggle. Except for now, I felt more urges to go do something or else something bad would happen. Usually, it was that I needed to tap, count, or blink to avoid someone I love dying. Irrational? Yes. Did it feel real? Also yes. So I did it. I tried to put off the urge, to put off the thought, but every time I did, it just came back. The thought cycle continued. Bad thought, count. Bad thought, tap. It was relentless.
I took the bus home from school as usual. Still anxious, but my thoughts seemed to have calmed down a bit. Thank goodness. My first day of eighth grade was overall good. My teachers are awesome, and my best friend Hazel is in most of my classes. I didn’t tell her about the thoughts though… I didn’t want her to think I was crazy. I had little homework, which was nice. Hopefully eighth grade doesn’t have as much homework as my older siblings said it would… but it was only day one, so who knows.
I got home, said hello to my mom and siblings, grabbed a quick snack and went up to my room to think, which might not have been the best idea. My thinking was already a mess right now, so spending time to just think was not a smart idea.
I got up to my room and started to cry. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was upset, scared, and so lost in my own thoughts. I had no idea what to think. My thoughts were controlling me to the point where I couldn’t think for myself. I felt like a prisoner to my own thoughts.
“If you don’t go tap that wall 18 times your sister will die” my own brain said. Not again. I thought these thoughts would go away when I got home but boy was I wrong.
“It’s okay, Anna. It’s okay. Relax. You are going to be okay. This is irrational. What will tapping the wall do?” I said to myself, trying to calm myself and my thoughts.
I love my sister. My little sister means the world. I cannot let her die. If she dies it will be my fault. I will not let it be my fault, or I will be overwhelmed with guilt.
I tapped the wall 18 times. The thought of my little sister dying overwhelmed me. Tears streamed down my face as I tapped the wall, trying to relieve the anxiety that the thought of my sister dying caused.
Why was I having these thoughts? They are so irrational, yet they feel so real.
I guess one of my older sisters, Josephine, heard me crying and came into my room.
“Hey Annie! What’s up? You okay?” She frowned.
I didn’t respond. I just kept crying. I was so tired from fighting my own thoughts that I had a hard time finding the words to respond.
Josephine sat down on the bed next to me. Josie is 17 years old and a junior in high school. She always knew how to calm me down.
“Come here, little one. It’s okay. Was it school?”
I shook my head.
She looked confused.
“Did it just happen?”
I shook my head again.
“Then what’s upsetting you?”
“Myself” I respond.
Josie looked confused.
“What do you mean?”
“My thoughts” I say.
Josephine sighed. Did she know something I didn’t as well? I hate not knowing.
“Okay. Can you describe what about your thoughts are upsetting you?”
“I feel like a prisoner to my own thoughts, Josie. I feel like something is wrong with me. Something is wrong with me. My own thoughts are scaring me. I would never think about anything that I’m being forced to think about. My thoughts are making me do things, Josie, and I’m scared. Really scared. I hate it. But I can’t stop. I’m exhausted.”
It all just came out. A wave of relief washed over me by telling someone. Someone I love. Someone I trust.
Josie sighed again.
“Okay. What are the thoughts telling you and making you do?”
“The thoughts are saying that if I don’t do something, someone I love will die and it will be my fault, or something bad will happen.” I say.
“What are they making you do?” Josie asked.
“Tap and count, mostly.”
Josie sighed again.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I know. I know how hard it is.”
“You do?” I ask.
“Yes, Anna. I do. I know exactly how you feel. Trust me. Does it feel like a thought cycle that won’t stop until you tap or count or do something else?” Josie asked.
“Exactly.” I respond.
Another sigh. She seemed to know what was going on.
“What is it?” I ask eagerly.
“Okay, Anna. Is it okay if I talk to mom about it? Just to tell her what’s going on so we can help you?” Josie asked.
“Okay. But don’t tell her about the thoughts I’ve been having. They scare me and I don’t want her to know about the scary thoughts. I guess you can tell her generally, though.”
“Anna?” Josie asked.
“It’s going to be okay. Trust me. I know exactly how it feels to have these thoughts. I get them too. Not only getting the thoughts, but feeling compelled to perform a ritual to help relieve the anxiety the thought causes.”
How does Josie always know what to say to her? And how did she put everything she was feeling into words perfectly?
And then it hit me. Josephine might have similar thoughts. But what was it?