*TW* Explicit description of OCD on self-harm/suicide obsessions and suicidal themes.
S i l e n c e .
It hung in the air.
He was staring at me intently, intently from his green backed chair. The chair that reminded me of sunny spring days and comfort, the whole room breathed with comfort. He had green eyes too, Steve did, and he was staring at me with them now. He was waiting, patiently, waiting for the words to come tumbling from my lips since we both knew they would, they were just a little choked up behind the barely controlled rivers of emotion.
My eyes, cold and vulnerably blue, were staring intently at the edge of his desk. He had a nice desk, silver with brown flecks and dashes, and it was calming, too, but I only stared at the part of the desk that met the floor, the part that was the farthest away from him. Because in my thinking, in my re-imagining, in my re-opening of freshly past wounds, I could not look at him, but I knew that he was there.
He was there, and staring, and waiting patiently as his very presence exuded a lack of judgment. He was Steve and I was Clara and Clara was eventually going to unhinge her mouth and explain to Steve why this silence had come about.
Clara was going to say what she needed to say, she had to. But it was so difficult to say it.
“It’s okay, take your time,” was Steve’s ever so calming, sweet reply. I bit my lip and chuckled softly. My eyes blinked away the forming tears, trying to control the emotion, control the tide, (You can’t control me, you can’t control anything) control the flow, the rivers won’t take me, the rivers won’t take me, (who are you kidding? You’ve already been taken) no, no, they won’t.
“I don’t know…” I began softly, my voice sounding hollow, empty, and desperate. “I — I don’t know…” I shifted mildly, moving my feet to a curling position around my green chair’s legs. Grounding yourself, that’s what you’re doing, you’re grounding (Are you sure you are? Have you checked? Have you?) yourself. I couldn’t find the words, I couldn’t…
“It’s like I can’t get out, no matter what I do – which isn’t true – it’s… aggravating. There’s…no way out… of this…nothingness…” My lips pinch in sorrow, considering these unsettling words.
“Would you say you feel trapped?”
I look to him, suddenly; I forgot that he was there. I forgot I was here. I shudder.
“Yeah, I… I feel trapped. But, that shouldn’t make me want to do it, should it?” A rush of worry and uncertainty swelled up inside me as the tide threatened to push and break me, once more.
My mind was yanked into a variety of directions, as if a whirlwind had spontaneously consumed me and the – darkness and nothingness ate up the souls of my being with their wide, greedy mouths. Thoughts, (Are you sure? So pathetic. So insignificant. You’re nothing.) thoughts frantically and hurriedly crashed and shouted over one another.
I groaned, sucking in a powerful breath of air, savoring the feeling of its cooling hug as my fingers pinched and curled and fumbled with each other, a tussle of thin, jewelry clad fingers that clanked and banged together. I was creating an orchestra of sound with these innocent, little nubs and instead of taking solace in that, I was focusing so heavily, so distractedly on all the negative power they could possess. (They ARE dangerous. You’re in danger. Can’t you see the danger you’re in? You must react; if you don’t react you’ll be harmed. And you don’t want to be harmed, do you? So do as I say. Check your thoughts, check your memories, and check again because you’re not sure you’ve checked already. Are you injured? Are you dead? How would you know? I’m telling you, you’re in danger. So, do as I say and get to work. Why aren’t you moving? Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?).
My hands were capable of forcing little lemon colored pills to slither down my throat against my will or to let the cool metallic gleam of blades slice into my flesh as I pleaded with the intrusive thoughts to just let me be. I imagined outpours of blood that rained down from the graying skies, a slew of uproarious bullets that flung at my flesh skidding through the muscles and sloppy nerves as the black hole grew and tore at me (Do it. Do it. Do it. Take this, then take that. Take this, then take that. Take this, then take that. Why can’t you do this? Why aren’t you listening? You’re just over reacting. You don’t even have a problem.) No, no, that’s not true.
The thoughts had me screaming on the inside, curling into a tiny ball, (so very insignificant), worried beyond measure (you sat in a stairwell for fifty minutes too afraid to move, who the hell even does that?), my mouth feeling dry and my throat as constricted as a snake with its prey. I want the oceans outside his office to swallow me up – I want – No, no I don’t want that, god, (who’s even speaking anymore? It’s just you and me. No one else. Just you and me.) Why is this so confusing?
Steve spoke again, and as he did, his voice yanked me back to the present, the sweet, sweet present where there were green backed chairs and soothing eyes. Where reality was one cohesive unit and I didn’t have to be concerned over the anxiety that burst out from every cell of my body. I was sent back as though through a swirling, dizzying vortex of a time machine, and Steve was here and he was speaking in his ever so empathic voice.
I chuckled breathily in response, clinging nervously to the string his words provided for me to reach reality, rolling my eyes but understanding that he needed me to be explicit, that even I needed myself to be explicit. Except being explicit felt like being too explicit, it made me feel uncomfortable because I didn’t want to be saying what I was saying. And I certainly didn’t want to be thinking what I was thinking. (Except you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be thinking it.) I wished my mouth had just stayed shut as it always had been, (No one should know about the nothing. No one should know about the nothing. Don’t tell anybody. Nobody cares.) clamped shut like the Jaws of Life on a wrecked vehicle; because then maybe I wouldn’t be here, maybe I wouldn’t be sitting with a toppling over level of anxiety — but if not here, wouldn’t it just be somewhere else? At this point, what other alternative did I have? Was I meant to just sit still with the thoughts? Was I to lay myself down in defeat, never to rise again?
No, no, I came here for a reason. I came here to help myself, so I just had to open up these tight, trembling lips of mine and say something about the violence my brain told me about repeatedly.
At first the words tasted sweet, like the warmth of butterscotch spreading about one’s mouth on a snowy evening. Then the sweetness turned to fear as I swallowed reflexively, the shivers curtailing around my shoulders and settling with tension in my neck. A brief sprinkle of relief swept through me next, as the words were freed from the cages of my mind. My gaze fluttered from Steve’s desk to the man himself, as my forehead pounded like hammers, and I shifted in the green chair again.
Green: calming, safe, nonjudgmental.
Steve’s head tilted to one side while his gaze on me didn’t falter for a moment. “But, you don’t want to kill yourself.”
And there it was — what I’d been struggling with all along, the question that haunted my mind as I sometimes lay on the floor, staring up at chalky white ceilings for hours on end, wishing anvils would fall from the sky to wipe away my misery. Steve noticed my sudden clamming up complexion, my skin paling to a lighter shade as the incessant movements of my orchestral fingers immediately stopped and ended. The obsessive thoughts in my mind collided to a halt, every movement paused, and for all I knew I stopped breathing all together.
“Take a breath,” Steve whispered gently, one of his long black pant legs crossing over the other, the clipboard in his lap sliding with a soft fizzle. Something about the ordinary nature of this caused my lungs to restart and with a fast blink, air was being pulled in through my nostrils, once more cool and fresh, my mind reforming to make sense of the statements he had raised.
“No, I don’t,” I took another breath in, and let it out slowly.
Steve nodded and smiled encouragingly. He leaned forward slightly, hands wrapping around his clipboard, his red pen rolling about innocently, threatening to fall.
“And these thoughts you have are really distressing, aren’t they? I know from what you’ve told me today and in previous sessions, that they can get really scary. And it’s hard to focus on much of anything else when the thoughts get intense, right?” Steve studied me closely; his eyelids lowered as his green eyes shone like emeralds in the river. Like hope. “But you recall what we’ve talked about before, don’t you? How we can separate the thoughts from actions, the thoughts from your values. That you can have the thought about jumping in front of a train or the thought about cutting yourself, but you don’t have to do that. And, more importantly, you don’t want to do that. Does that make sense?”
I nodded in response, my body slowly relaxing again from the rigidity that appeared when Steve mentioned his damn explicit details about trains and self-harm.
“Thoughts are just thoughts,” I murmured quietly, my lip trembling like a vibrating massage chair, once again trying to control the rivers and the tides that swept through my mind like untamed seas. But I don’t have to control these rivers at all.
“Exactly! And a lot of people have had these types of thoughts before, and it’s normal and okay that they happen. Remember how we’ve spoken about OCD in the past? That the problem’s not the thoughts or the anxiety but the response to them? How have you worked through these intrusive thoughts before?” Steve flipped through his pad of note paper and tore out a piece that soon began to be lined with columns. As he looked back at me, pen at the ready, I half-smiled with amusement.
“Um, well, on Saturday I woke up at like five a.m. and wanted to punch myself in the face,” I laughed and rolled my eyes, shaking my head.
Steve stilled for a moment then swallowed, “Let’s try to re-structure this, okay? You had the intrusive thought that you wanted to punch yourself in the face.” Steve looked at me for confirmation.
I nodded, replying, “Right.”
“I need you to say it.”
A heavy sigh and my jaw slid to the side. “Fine, I had the intrusive thought that I wanted to punch myself in the face.”
Steve smiled politely, “Thank you. What precipitated this thought?”
“What do you mean?” My brows furrowed and my blue eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Like what was happening before you had this thought? Were you stressed out about something?”
“Oh,” I pondered his question for a moment. “Ummmm, yeah, I think… I think I was stressed out about an upcoming exam I had.”
Steve’s penmanship scribbled over the columns quickly, nodding and quietly murmuring my words as he separated the chaotic information into their more organized counterparts.
“And how did you move through this?”
I smiled warmly, “I reminded myself that thoughts were just thoughts and everything was okay. I reminded myself that the thoughts could be there in my mind, which I recognized their existence and I accepted their presence, and that I could separate the thought from action, since I didn’t really want to punch myself in the face – ’cause that would suck. And then I eventually shifted my attention to a different task.”
“That’s great, Clara!” Steve’s enthusiasm flew like candy erupting from a piñata around the room. I felt traces of their imaginary bodies pattering onto my skin, centering me on the green chair beneath me, my gray sneakers planted firmly on solid ground, the rivers inside me breaking into steady streams of calm and the smile on my face grew with a blush on my cheeks as I silently agreed myself.
Over the next several weeks, Steve and I made glorious amounts of progress. He helped me to further separate the OCD thoughts from my own values, to uncovering other treatment options available to me, to reminding me that I wasn’t alone with these thoughts, especially in contrast with how my OCD would often tell me otherwise.
Steve, whether he knew the scope of it or not, became my temporary lighthouse in the roaring sea, housed on an island far away but near enough to reach out to me. When I faced the unforgiving, violent waves that knocked me onto the floor of my deck, when the storm sent the crackles of wood splintering into the pitch black night, when my ship lay in ruin and I thought I would never find the strength to begin the journey again – Steve would be supporting me, pointing out the salvageable pieces, reminding me of the power I had against such abstract forces. Steve carried my light until I was ready to start cradling it myself.
They were fifty minute sessions a week. Fifty minutes of a range of topics, a recap of events, a working through of difficult setbacks, of reviving the hope that came on the brink of death so many times.
I found the hope in the rivers with Steve’s presence. I learned to hear or see the violence that OCD forced into every crevice of my mind, and I learned to let it have its fun, while I remained hardly phased. Steve and his green eyes and green chairs and silver desk with brown flecks, made me feel safe and gave me the hope I had desperately needed, to believe that someday I could move through the intensity of OCD and make it to the other side. A side of life where there were the sweetest blades of the greenest grass swaying in a faint ocean breeze as the blue skies raked over the horizon. I learned that I could make it there, where I could be okay with the thoughts… just…being.
This revision was written in December 2014 for my final portfolio. I wouldn’t be surprised if I used this in the future in some type of book or created another rendition of it to convey what I’ve learned since then. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!!