an unlikely friend

BY ETHAR E. HAMID

I know I will get electric shock therapy (ECT), one day. I think. I think I can trust myself, on this. After all, my intuition told me in the eighth grade that I was developing a mental illness, and here I am. I knew because I was reading a book about a girl who had bipolar disorder, and though I didn’t know what being bipolar meant, and I am no psychic, I knew I had something similar. The character in the book I was reading experienced extreme changes in mood and behavior, throughout the story, and–almost in sync–I was starting to change, too. I was becoming depressed, reserved, and starkly different from the happy-go-lucky kid I had been.

Admittedly, the thought of getting electric pulses sent through my brain and getting a mini-seizure is scary. But I’m not one to discriminate against eccentric treatment (or eccentric anything, for that matter). Getting ECT may be scary, but so many other things in life are scary, too…and I somehow manage with all of those.

ECT will treat my depression, but I heard (from a certain Internet video by a brave sufferer of schizophrenia) that it can help with obsessive-compulsive disorder, too. So hopefully the ECT will alleviate my mind’s fierce gnawing at itself, softening its pain at walking away from the stove or the car. (Parts of me wish I could just stand by my kitchen stove and by my car for hours, checking to make sure the stove-top is turned off, and the car doors are locked.) And hopefully, ECT will help with the feelings of being contaminated by dirt. When I wash my hands, I go over-board—scratching the bar of soap with my fingernails to get one hundred per cent clean, washing and rinsing up to 6 or 7 times.

I know I have a skewed perception of cleanliness, because I fantasize about soap, for Pete’s sake. This may seem wholly inappropriate, but when I was living in a dorm, my sophomore year of college, I was in love with my suite-mate’s hand-soap. I used to pump a few dollops of soap onto my eager hands when my suitemate wasn’t looking, and enjoy myself. The hand -soap had little blue beads, in it, and smelled like the ocean. Against my palms, the soap lathered into a terrific foam. The beads scrubbed against my hands, and dissolved into a sapphire liquid. Watching the whitish suds and the blue streams of melted beads running down the drain provided me with a comforting satisfaction. Since leaving my dorm, and my suitemate’s hand-soap, I feel like a small part of me has died.

I believe I displayed signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was a little kid, too. (Like most things, this is easy to say, in retrospect.) I remember that, if I were to be walking down the stairs in my house, and my right arm happened to brush against the wall, I would have to take a few steps back, up the stairs, and deliberately brush my left arm against the same spot my right arm had touched. Call it “needing more balance in the universe” or just a chemical flaw…it was what it was. And it was just a given—it was a no-brainer. And, what’s more, I thought everyone was like that.

I am pretty sure that I’m also obsessive-compulsive over things that I don’t even think about. I’m probably obsessive-compulsive while watching TV. Subconsciously, I probably make sure the head of the remote faces the right corner of the TV, while sitting on the carpet, using invisible parallel lines, in space, as rough measurement. Why? Because. Just because. There is no logical answer.

Despite every bad feeling that has come with it, I don’t want my disorder to go away. It taught me about myself; it made me a more compassionate person. It’s become a friend—more loyal than even some people, who you’re “supposed” to have, as friends. Unprovoked cruelty on the part of people-friends is part of my experiences. On the other hand, I have found that being cruel without reason is not a characteristic of OCD. OCD can be cruel, yes–but it has every right to be so. And as the cruelty it manifests painfully scrapes against my heart, it polishes it into something better than it was, before. This is more than can be said for the “friend” who has cold airs and spiteful insinuations to offer me.

As a friend, my only wish is that my disorder would not clench me with such a tight hug, sometimes. I wish it would just hold my hand, instead.

Ethar E. Hamid is a junior at George Mason University. Photography by Clare Connaughton, of art by David Atlmejd

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