I’ve been on the move all my life. I was born in Seoul, South Korea because my dad worked there as a diplomat. I’ve lived in eight different countries, including Malaysia. After Seoul, I moved to Iraq, but then we left because of the Americans. . . bombing and all.
We went to Bangladesh and lived there for about four years. Then we went to Canberra, Australia for another three years before we came back to Bangladesh for four years. Those four years were the worst four years of my whole life.
I got clinically diagnosed with OCD at 11 years old. I got suicidal back then, so my dad was like, you know what? We need to get you treatment. The psychiatrist told me I carried a deep sense of perfectionism. When I was still in Australia in 2010, I did a month of fifth-grade class before going back to Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, I had to repeat the fourth grade as the Bangladeshi education system focused more on rote learning, whereas the Australian education system was more holistic. We were shoved down with so many subjects and textbooks for the sake of “learning”. By the time the half-yearly exams came, I had a complete breakdown due to how much I needed to study. I never had to study this much before in my whole life!
But anyway, luckily, my dad was there and he helped me out. He developed a structured study plan for me and then you know what? I got the highest cumulative marks in my class– around 746 out of 800. After that, I received so much recognition and praise from my classmates and teachers. I felt good about it at first, but now I have to uphold this expectation. I couldn’t. Then in fifth grade, came the Ramadan break.
I started having suicidal thoughts as a result of my religious mom. She instilled this fear in me that, let’s say, if I miss a prayer, she calculated how many years I’ll be in hell. Or when you’re in the grave, you’re going to be bitten by snakes, the angels are going to hammer you because you didn’t pray and read the Qur’an. So, I had these messed up, incoherent thoughts until I got so scared, that I’ll offend God, anger the prophet, or I’ll end up in hell.
Those thoughts drove me insane. They just kept coming, you can’t turn it off because that’s what OCD is like. But when I do housework like cleaning, it’s like ‘no thoughts, head empty’, literally. Yet, the thing about my OCD is it’s about control and power. Because of my dad’s job, I did not have the liberty to experience a lot of things.
I could never hold friendships down because people were never that genuine and they lost touch with you as soon as you were out of their vicinity. I had to leave a room I made my home several times. I lived several different lives. Each new country and city felt like it was a new life for me. Leaving places all the time messed me up–emotionally, psychologically & physically.
The OCD was how I was somewhat able to reclaim control over some aspects of my life. For example, my bedroom was the most sanctimonious place. It was where I kept all the things I loved. And when I was a child, I LOVED stationeries and I would buy all sorts of stuff which I didn’t necessarily need–but hey, I bought them because it was cute!
Having to move around a lot, I discovered that I have a profound appreciation, or rather deeply sentimental and attached for objects I can call my own. Yet, I don’t feel the same for people anymore because. . . if you do, you’ll be in deep trouble. Yes, I do appreciate the brief and ephemeral friendships I have with the people I’ve met throughout my life, but, it’s never stable for me.
My therapist once asked me if I think I’m defective or anything, but I don’t think so. Imagine – there are 500 pieces of a puzzle, but this puzzle happens to have an extra piece so now it has 501 pieces. I am that puzzle piece that doesn’t fit anywhere on the puzzle. I’m just. . . me, you know? It sounds cliché as hell, but every person is unique in their ways.
But I feel really good about this year, this semester, about myself. I have a lot of hope and optimism, although sometimes I can be pessimistic. Now I feel like it’s all clear. Like there’s still hope, there’s still hope.
Article by Elly Zulaikha
Photos by Shawn