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When I Would Call My Mom to Confess Intrusive Thoughts

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“You have a collect call from…

I cheated on my social studies test. I looked down Nadia’s shirt. I tried to rub Steven between his legs. I think I wished you had breast cancer. Love you, bye.”


I put the payphone down and hurried back to class. The thoughts had taken over by then. I was 12.

My mother and I had choreographed an elaborate dance to help me to get through the agonizing six hours I would spend away from the house at school each day. At least once every few periods, I would place a collect call from the payphone by the gymnasium. In place of my name, I would confess a litany of repulsive, purely imagined offenses and hang up. It was ironic really.

My mom knew better than to pick up the phone when I called. And that was OK. I knew the answering machine would record my “transgressions” and that was sufficient enough to relieve the suffocating guilt until the bus dropped me off at 3:30.

The thoughts had begun when I was 9. I had a brand new baby sister and I was terrified to touch her. I knew that if I laid my hands on her, I would surely damage her. Of course I never did, but in the recesses of my mind I was scared to the core that I might. And that fear became an uncontrollable beast that somehow transformed “I might” into “I did.”

One afternoon, I walked to the gas station across the street from our house to buy an after-school snack. When I got home, I told my mother I had tried to poison the baby. She panicked, because she didn’t yet know the depth of my confusion, and told me to tell her exactly what happened. I told her I tried to poison the baby with gasoline.

I hadn’t.

I had walked across the street to the gas station and maybe stepped on some old, dried gasoline and then perhaps touched some with my fingers when I took off my shoes. The shoes I had only taken off, so as not to track gasoline into the house — in case I accidentally started a fire.

As she would many times after this, my mother took a very, very deep breath. And even though she was tired and worried and scared, she hugged me close and told me it was OK. And I felt relief. It was a relief that only she could offer and a relief I would cling to until three years later, when we got an official diagnosis for what plagued me.

It was an unpleasant, desperate time for all of us. I was exhausted, upset and uncertain about the thoughts each day would bring. And although I felt wounded and betrayed by my own body — I don’t believe I ever felt scared. Even through the very darkest moments, my adolescent mind took comfort in the knowledge my mother was still rooting for me. That no matter the breadth of filth my mind revealed, she would love me and lift me up – when I was too weak to stand on my own. She would be my mom, no matter what.

I still vividly remember the books stacked high on my her nightstand, checked out from the Mass General Hospital library, as she tried to navigate the uncharted waters of my mind. I remember handing her pages of scribbled confessions of unthinkable deeds and receiving a handwritten love note in return. I remember her picking me up from school when I couldn’t take another step.

I remember that, while my mind was suffocating me, she was my oxygen.

She may not have done everything exactly right, but she did everything within her power. In 1997, there was no Google to help self-diagnose or direct you to your nearest children’s psychiatric unit. She went to the ends of the Earth to find a psychiatrist and help me mix the perfect medication cocktail to ease my struggles – all while never making me feel like any less than her little girl.

I thank God every day we were able to right the ship. But what’s more, I thank Him for a mother, who made me feel human. Who told me she loved me when I told her the very worst parts of me.

I’m thankful she was exactly what I needed – that she was my mom, no matter what.

Originally published: February 19, 2016
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