At twelve, Jules is what some would say an “old soul.” She is the oldest of four, strong-willed, responsible. She is everything a parent would want in their child. Unfortunately, Jules is also convinced that she is going crazy- her thoughts are repeatedly trying to kill her. Or, rather, telling her to kill herself. Of course, to an average person, this sounds insane. Ludicrous. Bonkers. It seems that way to Jules too. She is continually arguing with herself. It started a little under a year ago when she set the volume of her music to seven. The dread that filled her gut surprised her, the odd number spiking fear in her brain. She quickly fixed it to eight. Relief immediately coursed through her. It was just that for a while, odd and even numbers irrationally stirring emotions inside her. A couple of months later, she got into a fight with her best friend, Emilia. She doesn’t even remember what it was about, except that it was Jules’s fault. And so, her thoughts told her she had to kill herself because she hurt her friend. It was a little mistake, Jules reasoned; I just have to apologize. But her mind disagreed. Her mind called her disgusting, worthless, cruel, mean. It even called her a bitch, a word Jules had never used in her life. Frankly, it was terrifying. Eventually, Jules made up with Emilia, though the thoughts rang in the back of her mind like a broken alarm clock. And it just got worse.
Soon, every decision Jules made was life or death. If she didn’t clean her room on time, her mom would die. Getting into a fight with her younger sister meant that she would undoubtedly get cancer. The thoughts were so relentless that Jules wanted to die to make them stop. Today, she rides the bus home, going over every detail of the day, dissecting every conversation she had. Her headphones cement into her ears as she sludges through the melting snow, winter turning to spring. It is almost her thirteenth birthday, and terror and excitement tear through her body every
time she thinks of it—a teenager. The idea fills her with anxiety. Boys, highschool, parties, homework; all of the things teenagers deal with in books and movies will soon become Jules’s problems as well. And she has enough on her plate as it is, because of the whole being insane thing. Lost in thought, she trudges home, dragging her feet at the invisible weight holding her down.
Her mother was noticing that something was up. And this horrifies Jules. How do you tell your mom you are crazy? How do you tell her you are terrified of dying but also crave it? Jules was convinced her mom wouldn’t know what to do, and that petrified her. Her mom always knew what to do, and for Jules to be the cause of confusion or stress was enough to make Jules pick at her skin until it bled. At the top of the steep staircase in her home, she glances behind her. How easy it would be to throw herself down the stairs. The image goads her on, repeating do it do it do it until Jules runs to her bedroom, flinging herself gracelessly onto her bed. Her heart thumps at the onset of adrenaline and fear. Tears are rolling down her cheeks, but she makes no sound, silenced by her sobs. Jules’s fingers shake at the persistence of the irrational thought. She has to tell her mom.
Jules’s mother takes the news surprisingly well. She is patient as Jules fumbles to explain her feelings through her tear warbled voice, heavy withheld back emotion. Immediately after telling her mom, exhaustion sets in, thick as wax on her skin. Eyelids puffy from crying, and fingernails bitten down until they bleed, she slips in and out of sleep as Jules mother talks in hushed tones to her father. She catches some words but can’t make them make sense, fogginess settling over her brain like a blanket. A couple of hours pass before Jules is gently shaken awake, her mom’s
concerned but attentive gaze on her. “We are going to go to the hospital, Jules.” She says the words quietly and slowly as if trying not to frighten an agitated bird. It is unsuccessful, as Jules immediately starts to panic. But she agrees, too scared of her thoughts to argue.
Jules has always hated hospitals. She hates needles and blood and the smell of potent antibacterial cleaner. She hates the nurse’s pinched mouths and the way the patient bracelet cuts into her skin from where it was fastened too tight. Jules and her mom now sit in an empty room, furnished with three slightly uncomfortable chairs and a small coffee table with a box of tissues on it. It was the type of room one was told bad news, with its neutral tones and cold air. A tall man steps into the room, and Jules’ clutch on her mother’s hand tightens. He is solemn-looking, with eyes that seem to bore deep into Jules’s thoughts. He looks important and busy. He questions Jules about her symptoms after a quick introduction, never showing any emotion on his face. She already forgets his name by the time they are done. Jules’s mother steps outside to speak with him because apparently, talk about Jules can’t include her. Wringing her hands, she cracks each knuckle repeatedly until they ache. Her mom soon returns, a small nurse in scrubs behind her with a bright, cheery face. “Jules, the doctor has decided that you should be kept overnight, just for observation. This is Nurse Penny, and she’s going to show us to your room.”
No no no no no. This is not what Jules wants. Anything but this. She can’t speak as she is gently led through elevators and hallways until they reach a brightly coloured floor with flowers painted throughout. A portrait of a clown is hanging on one wall. Jules feels nausea push against her throat at the sight of it. It is laughing at her. They go into a small room, cramped with a cot pushed beside the hospital bed. A shudder runs through Jules at the presence of wires and
hospital equipment. The view from the window is the only beautiful part of the room. The children’s ward is on one of the highest levels, so Jules can see everything downtown, the bustle of people going about their Friday errands. She aches to be one of them. Down there instead of up here.
Jules and her mother are left alone, and the hysterics of the day finally settle onto her shoulders. Shaking sobs wrack through her, and though Jules is not one to wallow in self-pity, she lets herself this time. “Let’s go check out the games room,” Her mom says after Jules is over the worst of her crying. Bleary-eyed and red-faced, she follows her mom to a room filled with toys, TVs, and entertainment. The rest of the evening is a blur of distraction, going from games on the WII to board games with her mom. A bland dinner of mashed potatoes and a meat-like substance leaves her feeling sick and weak. Changing into the pyjamas her father brought her, Jules settles into her hospital bed, letting sleep take her before the insistent thoughts do.
Soft hands shake her awake, the room still black with night. A nurse stands over her, looking foreboding and solemn. A cry rises in Jules’s throat until the nurse explains that she is taking her vitals. I’m not sick, though, she thought. But this isn’t true, is it? She is suffering, or she wouldn’t be here in this hospital. For the first time since arriving, Jules realizes that she has a real illness plaguing her brain. She is sick. After the nurse leaves, Jules stays awake. Her brain goes over every mental illness she knows, listing symptoms and definitions like an encyclopedia. She itches to research on her phone, though she knows it’ll do more harm than good. She finally exhausts herself back to sleep, just as the first hints of the sun creep into the horizon.
“C’mon, you’re going to miss breakfast.” A new nurse shows Jules to a cart holding her food. “If your legs aren’t broken, you can get your own food.” She had said to Jules. The last thing she had wanted to do was get out of bed, but the rumbling in her stomach propelled her to her feet. After breakfast, Jules desperately wants to shower, to wash away the salt from her tears off her skin. But a nurse has to watch her while she showers. Jules thought that this is a massive invasion of privacy but then remembers that she is technically on suicide watch. The thought rocks her. She decides that she can go one more day without showering.
Jules and her mom settle into the same office as yesterday, awaiting the same scary doctor. Jules bounces her knee, trying to stop the anxiety from exploding out of her. She wants to bolt out the door and hide away from the doctors and nurses and bad news. Too soon, he steps into the room, fingering through the file of papers in front of him. Jules is hardly listening to his words until he looks at her directly, forcing her attention. “Jules, your diagnosis is OCD, or
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Now, there are many things we -” But Jules can hardly hear the rest. Maybe a part of her is relieved to know she wasn’t crazy, but most of her is numb. She has no idea how to fix this. No idea how to control it. She isn’t normal, never would be normal, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Her body seems to crumble under the burden of it all, but she still stares attentively, not moving a muscle. As the doctor goes over treatment options, like therapy and medication, a calm settles over her. I can do this. I will do this. Jules has felt determined before, but not like this. This war inside her mind will not destroy her, and she will fight it with all she has. Before she can stop herself, hysterical laughter bubbles up through her mouth, interrupting the doctor. She looks at her mom with tears in her eyes, who is staring at her with concern. Jules can’t stop laughing. Her mom cracks a smile, and soon, she is laughing too.