Stories That Breathe

I Believe You

Chapter 8

I inspected the bright waiting area. There were many sofas along with some tables, and a few stacks of parenting magazines were resting on the tables.

Jacky approached me with two cups of plain water. A few parents were with their young children (most of them below five years old). “It’s so empty here,” I whispered, taking a sip of the water. If I had spoken in my normal voice, my voice would have carried throughout the entire waiting area.

The nurses at the counter were chatting with each other. A few doctors holding folders shuffled in and out of their room. I wondered which one of them would I be allocated to. The nurse had said “Dr Ong”.

“Joanna Fung?” I looked up. Out of nowhere, a tall young man was standing in front of me. He looked like a decent chap with his thick glasses and neatly gelled hairstyle. I stood up instantly and offered my hand for a handshake. “Come with me, would you?” He smiled. I turned and looked at Jacky. He winked at me and then relaxed on the sofa.

I was led into Room 15, with the name “Dr Ong Kim Leng” tagged on the door. The room had a sofa, a table with toys, a big whiteboard and a desk with a computer. Dr Ong motioned me to sit down. I looked around and realized that I should sit on the sofa. I had never sat on a sofa when I visited a general practitioner.

“Okay, Joanna, seventeen years old. Junior college student. National Junior College. Not bad.” He rolled his chair in front of me and pulled out a file with a pen. “Now, it’s only you and me. Just you, Joanna Fung, and me, Dr Ong.”

I nodded.

“So, whatever we say here, no one else is going to know. Okay? So we have a pact.”

I nodded again, this time nervous.

“I just want to let you know that coming here is the right choice. You know something is wrong, and you’re admitting it. Finally.”

I did not want to nod; but still, I did. He was very naggy.

“Okay then, let’s not waste time. So, come on, tell me what’s bothering you.”

Finally, I got to talk. I told him everything that I had told Jacky: the curse. Dr Ong was amazingly attentive: He kept on listening, and, while listening, he would write something on the file. Sometimes, he would draw something and ask me irrelevant questions.

“Tell me frankly, do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Are you happy while chatting with your best friend, Landy?”

“Yes.”

“How do you feel if I tell you that you’re a very creative thinker?”

“I don’t know.”

Finally, after an hour, he closed his file. “Do you have any question for me?” he asked. I shook my head. “Okay then. What you’re suffering from is a mental illness called obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD for short.”

I shrugged. I had never heard of that before.

“Before I go on to tell you what OCD is, I’ll give you a simple example. Have you seen people in toilets washing their hands almost every few minutes, rubbing their hands with soap till they tear their skin?”

I nodded. I had known someone like that during my secondary school days. She just kept on going to the toilet to wash her hands. I had always thought that she was just paying more attention to hygiene than us.

“You see, they’re also suffering from OCD. They feel that their hands are always dirty, so they have the urge to wash them again and again. They’re obsessed with the thought of dirty hands. And they wash their hands to make them feel better. That’s their compulsion.”

“And?”

“You’re also suffering from OCD. Your case is a bit different. You’re obsessed with the thought that you’re ‘cursed’; hence, you have the compulsion of not talking to others. It will make you feel better.”

Crap, I thought.

“You see, we’re always in a cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. You have the thought of fear when talking to others, fearing that you might curse them. The fear is the feeling. So, your behaviour will be to avoid talking to them.”

I toyed with my fingers; I was not paying attention. He stood up and began to draw the cycle for me to see.

“We can’t drill a hole through your skull to change your thoughts. And, your feelings, your fears, are created by your thoughts. What you do, that is, your behaviour, is based on your feelings. So, we can only help to change your behaviour. Through a change in your behaviour, your thoughts and feelings will change as well. We’ll go through a therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy to change your behaviour. In other words, to be happy, you have to change the world or change your thinking. We can’t change the world for you. We’re here to change your thinking through changing the way you behave. When your behaviour—”

“Okay, so when can we start?”

Dr Ong stared at me, his eyes and mouth wide open. I must have been the first patient to accept his diagnosis and treatment so readily.

* * *

“Obsession disordering of…computing,” I explained to Jacky. “Eh, wait. OCD. Obsession computer disordering? I forgot the name. The short form is OCD.”

“Sounds like the company in RoboCop, OCP. And what is it all about?”

“I am obsessed with the ‘curse’. And I’m controlled by it. So, they’re trying to change my thinking—eh, no. Not thinking. They’re trying to change my behaviour. So that my thinking will change. And my feelings will change.”

“The thoughts-feelings-behaviour cycle. I’ve heard of it before.”

“Whatever,” I blurted. “And I’m supposed to meet this Mr Kam later. He’ll do a therapy on me. Change my behaviour. Change my thoughts. Change my feelings. Crap.”

I was prescribed with medication that cost about ten dollars. It was Fluoxetine, some sort of SSRI (as mentioned by Dr Ong) or, simply, an antidepressant.

We waited for another half an hour before Mr Kam came forward to greet me. He was in his forties with a lean build. He led me to another room, leaving Jacky alone again.

This time, the room was smaller. There were two small chairs, a small table and a desk. The walls were adorned with drawings by children less than ten years old. I sat on one of the chairs. “I’ve read your file. I know about your condition, but I would like to hear the whole story again from you.”

And once again, I revealed my curse. Amazingly, I had told three people about my curse within two weeks.

“Alright. OCD.” Mr Kam was not as friendly as Dr Ong. “This therapy involves doing something that you might find uncomfortable. We’ll, however, do it progressively. You think you can curse someone. So, come on. Curse me.”

I cupped my mouth, my eyes so wide open that I felt that the eyeballs would roll out. He is insane. He must be. I had never expected that the fourth person I had confided my secret to would ask me to curse him.

“Go on, curse me.”

“I really have the curse,” I said. “Don’t play these games.”

He pointed at his forehead. “It’s all in the mind, Joanna. Your thoughts. Your thoughts are telling you it’s wrong. But I want to prove your mind wrong instead. Curse me. When your behaviour changes, so will your thoughts and, eventually, your feelings. And then, you’ll be cured. Come on.”

I was thinking of Jacky. I wondered how he would react.

“No,” I said.

“Do you want to be cured?”

“I’m not sick. I’m cursed.”

“Trust me. Just this once. Just say that sentence. Prove me wrong.”

“I don’t want to ruin you!”

“You won’t. Curse me leniently then. We’ll do it slowly.”

“No, please…”

“Oh, come on! Don’t make me lure you with candies. You’re already seventeen.”

“Please don’t force me…”

“Come on!”

“Stop it…”

“Curse me!”

I could no longer take it. I stared at him, thought for a while, then said softly, “You’ll break your arm within this week.”

Mr Kam smiled. He must be sick in the mind. He is the sick one, not me. That sicko! Trouble-seeker. “Good, Joanna. How are you feeling now?”

I kept quiet for a while. “Guilty. I just want to say sorry in advance to you. I hope you’ve bought insurance.”

“Don’t worry, I’m insured. From a scale of one to one hundred, one being least anxious, one hundred being most anxious, how anxious are you feeling now?”

“Hundred,” I said. He showed me a sheet of paper with a table drawn on it and wrote something.

We chatted about irrelevant things for the next ten minutes. He told me the various kinds of obsessions or fears people had, like the fear of using a fork and the fear of crossing the road. I was kind of amused, yet at the same time amazed by these real-life stories. Mine did not seem serious compared to someone who was afraid of seeing anything that was green. After fifteen minutes, he asked me how anxious I was again. I said hundred once more. An hour later, he asked again and I said hundred. Mr Kam did not look pleased.

He got me another date to come back for the next therapy session. “I believe by then it won’t be one hundred.”

“Maybe more,” I said and went out to meet Jacky.

When I told him what I had done, he just smiled. He did not believe in my curse either. I will show him. I will show them just how powerful my curse is.

Gosh, can’t they understand me?

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