Turtles all the way down
Us humans spend most of our time in our head and sometimes things take a turn for the worse when our head starts behaving like a completely different invasive kind of individual who doesn’t agree with you, or obey you and its whole objective is to destroy you. When you’re dealing with any kind of mental illness you often forget what it’s like being not in your head all the time. You forget that there is this huge world out there, there are people who do love you in their broken way, most importantly, you forget that you’re a person too. You’re so in your head that sometimes the universe seems small compared to the vastness of the infinitely tangled labyrinth of our mind and, I know how difficult it is no to get lost or find your way out. As John Green quotes in his book Looking for Alaska –
You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the past.
And that’s exactly what is happening to our girl Aza in the book ‘Turtles all the way down’. Aza is 16 years old, who suffers from OCD, which often manifests as a fear of the human microbiome. She is constantly worried about getting infected. So, before I go further, let us have two minutes of silence for people who think Monica from Friends is what OCD looks like. Very Cute!
Okay! back to reality- Aza spends an awful lot of time in her mind, trying to convince it that she will not get infected but her mind usually wins all of the time, and the result is picking scabs, bleeding, changing band-aids, washing hands, reading about the infection, panicking, and doing it all over again and again and again. She is so caught up in this deadly routine that she doesn’t realise how it affects other aspects of her life. She needs to constantly hide this version of herself from everyone, she cannot kiss or even touch a boy without thinking about getting infected, she has no idea how people around her are also struggling in their own lives, but the worst of all is she doesn’t know where her mental illness ends and where Aza starts.
Reading this book was like reading my thoughts in the third person. I do not suffer from OCD, but the thought process during the panic attacks is the same, the effect of Anxiety has had on my life is the same. I thought Classic literature is difficult to read but this book made them seem like an easy read. It was like going through every panic attack all over again, watching the broken and helpless hearts of my parents, realising how hard it is keeping up with any romantic relationship or even friendships. But it was also oh so comforting and relatable- to know that I’m not alone, for the first time it made me feel like a normal person, it was enough to know that someone out there knew this is not the end of the world and things can always get better when you decide you are not your mental illness. So here’s one my favourite quote from the book (there are many because, duh, John Green)
Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.
PS: John Green, has himself struggled with OCD and anxiety for most his life, and he intentionally wrote this novel keeping in mind teenagers like Aza.
PPS: If you deal with any kind of mental illness, this book will help you understand yourself a little more and if you do not deal with any kind of mental illness, this book will help you understand those who deal with it a little more.