Anna Bethke: The Ideal Prisoner

A memoir-essay by Anna Bethke written in October of 2011. 

“What you have to understand, doctor, is that I am being forced to come here against my will.  I don’t think therapy will help.  I don’t even need it.  I can deal with this myself,” I mumbled sullenly.

Doctor Widitz sighed and tapped his clipboard with his pencil.  “I can see you don’t want to be here, but consider your options: you can continue therapy with me, or you can go back to the unit.  Which would you prefer?”

I glared up at the doctor and said with all the defiance I could muster, “I’m not going back.”

The doctor raised his eyebrows.  “Are you sure?” he asked.  “It would only be for a couple days.  You’d be in and out before you knew it.  It would be nothing like your previous stay.”

I gave the doctor my most ferocious, start-running-or-I’m-going-to-eat-you scowl. “Double locked doors, staff watching my every move, sharing a room with a potential psychopath, mind-numbing antidepressants…  I’d rather endure therapy with you for three straight months than spend two days in that hell hole.”

“Do you have PTSD?” the doctor asked jokingly.

I scoffed.  “It’s certainly a possibility after all I’ve been through, but that’s not why I’m here.  As you well know, I’m here because I have OCD and it’s freaking out my parents.  I’m not here for anything else, so don’t tag me with anything else.”

“There’s no need to be so defensive, Anna.  I’m just trying to help you piece together what’s going on so we can figure out how to get you back on your feet.”  He swivelled his chair around to face his desk and picked up an old-looking blue book.  “You’ve been out of school for the past two weeks.”  He swivelled back to face me.  “If things don’t improve, you’re going to hurt your academic future.  I’m here to help you develop strategies that you can use to get back to where you need to be.  First of all, I’d like to tell you one strategy that has been known to help people while they are being treated: don’t call your problem ‘OCD’.  Find another name, like ‘The Boogyman’.  This will help you develop the mindset that your problem is not you, that it is a bad guy, someone you have to defeat.”

Really? I thought to myself.  You may be a child psychiatrist, but that doesn’t mean you have to sugarcoat things for me.  I’m pretty sure OCD is organic; it’s as much a part of me as my left kidney.  I nodded to show I was listening.

“Keep that in mind; it may help you.”  The doctor opened the book to a page marked with a yellow sticky note.   “For now, though, I want you to consider an activity that you can do to help analyze your actions.”  He handed me the book and pointed to a page with an empty chart on it.  “OCD is defined by obsessions and subsequent compulsions, or actions that one takes to satisfy his or her obsessions.  You can use this chart to record your obsessions and compulsions, and how each of them made you feel.  This may help you to see a pattern in what you do and why.  What do you think?”

“I think this is a waste of time,” I grumbled.  “ I don’t need to record my obsessions; I already know what they are.”

The doctor sighed.  “Anna, I’m just trying to help.  It’ll be easier for both of us if you cooperate.”

Help?  I thought.  The only way you could help me overcome my OCD is with the prospect of not having to see you anymore if I do.  “Fine,” I said to appease him.  “I’ll try the worksheet.”

“Good,” said the doctor, “I’ll make you a couple photocopies.  Sit tight.”  He stood up and left the cramped office, shutting the door behind him.

I sighed and leaned back in my chair.  “Just when I thought I was free of all this…  I can’t believe my parents are making me come here.”  I looked around the office.  It was about the size of a cubicle, with bland white walls and gray carpet.  The door was invitingly close.  I considered making a run for it through the winding hallways of the hospital and back into open spaces, but I had learned long ago that impromptu escape attempts were unwise.  So I sat, docile and obedient, the ideal prisoner, and waited for the doctor to return.


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