Turtles All The Way Down (Book Review)

My ongoing deep dive into the world of literary OCD

Hurrah for OCD awareness advocacy- this is the first fiction book I’ve read with a character who has a brain like me, and it was important. A friend at work recommended I read it, and while I was at first deterred by the fact that it is a young adult novel- it was worth the read.

The story centers around Aza, a highschool girl with an obsessive compulsive mind that never stops. She lives in her own personal hell a lot of the time, and tries to bat away that the thoughts that she calls “invasives,” while also struggling to understand how to live a life with a brain like hers while also having functional relationships with other humans in her life.

At different moments throughout the book Aza’s friend tries to prompt her to carry on with business instead of spiraling into the wormhole of OCD panic attacks, but is unsuccessful.

“‘I wish I understood it,’ she told me as I drove. ‘Like, does it help to be reassuring or is it better to worry with you? Is there anything that makes it better?’

‘It’s infected,’ I whispered.’”

The author John Green himself struggles with OCD, so this book is very personal to him. And I think any person who has OCD can commiserate with this piece of the book. Similar to addition, only you can help yourself with your OCD- but you are also your own worst enemy when it comes to your own thoughts at times like this. Is there anything anyone can do to help? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. But maybe I just haven’t discovered the secret yet. It seems like the author of this book hasn’t either, if there is one. Aza muses about co-habitating with her demons for life:

“It’s so weird, to know you’re crazy and not be able to do anything about it, you know? It’s not like you believe yourself to be normal. You know there is a problem. But you can’t figure a way through to fixing it. Because you can’t be sure, you know? If you’re Godel [a mathematician who died at 71 of starvation because he feared being poisoned] you just can’t be sure your food isn’t poisoned.”

At one point Aza has a major panic attack, and her OCD brain sees putting hand sanitizer in her mouth as the only solution. The author’s writing during this scene captures OCD thought so clearly within Aza’s inner monologue:

“See the hand sanitizer mounted on the wall near the door. IT’S THE ONLY WAY that’s stupid if it worked alcoholics would be the healthiest people in the world YOU’RE JUST GOING TO SANITIZE YOUR HANDS AND YOUR MOUTH please fucking think about something else STAND UP i hate being stuck inside you YOU ARE ME I am not YOU ARE WE I am not YOU WANT TO FEEL BETTER YOU KNOW HOW TO FEEL BETTER it’ll just make me barf YOU’LL BE CLEAN YOU CAN BE SURE I can never be sure STAND UP.”

Toward the end of the book, Aza has not “solved” her OCD, because OCD is a brain style, and not something that can be fixed. But she is coming to terms with her unique brain. Even if she can’t find love and compassion for herself at all times, that doesn’t mean she should stop trying:

“As I wash and rebandaged it in the bathroom, I stared at myself. I would always be like this, always have this within me. There was no beating it. I would never slay the dragon, because the dragon was also me. My self and the disease were knotted together for life.”

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe — http://eepurl.com/cZoiG9

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