This post probably won’t be as long as some of my older ones since this focuses around a rather specific topic I’d been thinking about this morning, and it’s also an add-on to this great post at FWD/Forward on bad OCD stereotypes. This morning I did my usual run-through of social justice blogs, but since I still have a lot of internal prejudices I have to confront and work on correcting, this can spark some pretty damned ugly contrarian thoughts, that I’d much rather not share here for my own comfort and fear of being misunderstood, from my mind’s little “doubting devil.” They hit me as I was about to go downstairs to eat breakfast, and made me freeze and imagine taking a violent tumble down the stairs. But the way my mind presented it to me was in that kind of cheesy, wobbly, quick-take style typical of the sort of horrible, horrible horror movie I was subjected to in my film class at the community college I attended while on leave from Cornell last year. This made the bad thought seem almost comical, and the fact that I can actually now laugh off some of the things that would scare me into panic attacks last year makes me extremely grateful that I have that kind of inner strength.
This made me wonder if any famous (or not-so-famous) horror writers struggle with OCD, particularly since my mother, in an only half-joking manner, has suggested that I ought to channel the imagery I get from particularly anxious times into surreal or macabre stories and drawings (I really want to get back into drawing, but I’ve never been much of a fiction writer.) And while I really don’t like horror movies at all, if writing the script for one proved to be a mental or emotional catharsis for the screenwriter, I would most certainly have respect for that person. But that’s not what the vast majority of people think of at all when they hear OCD. As OuyangDan stated in her FWD/Forward post, it’s almost regarded as a synonym for “meticulous” or “nitpicky” by those who don’t have it, as if it’s just a benign little quirk of behavior that is actually nice to have as having it makes sure that everything gets in order. That’s bullshit, pure and simple. What really makes my blood boil about that attitude is that it never even takes into consideration the obsessive part of the equation—it might as well just be called “CD” to them. (And while I’m sure pure-compulsive disorder exists, I can’t speak for the people who may have it.) As anyone with OCD can tell you, what drives a person with it to undertake such compulsive behavior are tormenting thoughts of what is the absolute worst thing one can imagine, what is absolutely anathema to one’s nature. People with OCD get so desperate in trying to convince themselves that they’re not psychotic and would never actually DO the things that their minds are presenting to them (and oftentimes the thoughts are so real and all-encompassing, whether or not they’re actual hallucinations, that delusions of believing that one has actually done the action in one’s obsessive thoughts are not uncommon at all), that they are willing to do anything, even the most simple repetitive motion, to try and dispel them. This is what shows up on the outside, but on the inside is a much bleaker picture, and sadly, the torment these people feel rarely comes to the surface without guidance and understanding since in general, people with OCD, including myself when I first noticed it, are terrified of telling about their obsessions (even to close friends and family) for fear that they will be thought to be dangerous or even criminal.
Some people don’t even have the compulsions. As documented in the wonderful book The Imp Of The Mind by Lee Baer, which was more or less my Bible throughout last year, Pure-O OCD, as described in my first post, is actually the most common form of OCD out there. These people, until they learn how to manage their obsessions in a healthy way, tend to just freeze up and descend into tormenting spirals of horror and guilt, a feeling I know all too well. Some of them can get to the point where they can “pass” in public, and unless someone very close to them has become attuned to when they begin to feel anxious and obsessive (my mother, for example, would call it “the shadow falling over my face,” and I would also squeeze my eyes shut during a particularly strong or violent obsessive thought), it is hard to suspect anything is wrong with them. I’ve recently found that I’m not quite as Pure-O as I once thought—when I’m in an Anxiety Period, sometimes I have obsessions and sometimes I don’t, as it’s completely random. My obsessions are usually more subtle, though, as they’re typically not viewed as destructive—sometimes I’ve gotten so frustrated with picking hairs off my face or popping zits that sometimes it leaves little blood spots or scabs, but it’s never intentional. Some of them are even productive, as I started sewing when I was at my most anxious and sometimes I would just stay up in my room and sew for hours on end in an attempt to make the bad thoughts go away. I’ve gotten to the point now where I still sew even when I’m not anxious as I genuinely enjoy it, and I’ve made an entire quilt for myself that I’ll take back to Cornell in the fall, and I’m working on a baby quilt for my new niece in Ithaca. But as I said in my last entry, my main compulsion, when I have compulsions, is muttering. I’ve muttered all my life, actually, usually just repeating nonsense words to myself when I feel that I’m in an awkward or embarrassing situation. But when my anxiety started getting out of control, some of the words that plagued my obsessive thoughts leached into my otherwise benign mutterings, which then became vengeful-sounding, “I’m going to kill all you murderous anxieties”; that period was also a time when I over-personified my anxiety and treated it as a literal villain I had to vanquish rather than a series of mental anomalies that I had to work to get back to some sort of equanimity. As I’ve learned to not take my obsessive thoughts seriously, the muttering has decreased, but it never really goes away so I still do look sometimes as if I’m speaking in tongues. It just impels me to write more, as when there’s less junk in my brain the less it leaks out as mutterings.
Just as the mental health community cannot be pinned down as a whole, likewise, even people who appear to have the exact same mental disorder cannot be said to have the exact same experiences—similar ones, certainly, but there are as many different struggles with OCD as there are OCD survivors. Yes, some mental anomalies actually do have unexpected perks to them (I really do believe I wouldn’t be as passionate about a lot of things if I didn’t have Asperger’s—and a predilection for language) and I’m grateful that the OCD helped fuel my sewing, but trying to characterize, or worse, fetishize a particular disorder goes beyond naïveté into pure ignorance. Not all OCD patients have compulsions, but we do all have obsessions—maybe not all the time or as frequently as at a certain point in the past, but we all share the fight to keep a grip on reality and not to let our delusions take control. If you want to have someone around with organizational skills, go see an interior decorator and don’t trivialize the experiences of people with a very real and often paralyzingly scary syndrome.
(Okay, so this post did wind up being fairly long. So sue me. )