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What OCD Is Like (for Me)
Gooooood Morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.
This video is about my mental health
But I want to say here, at the outset, that I am not a psychologist
and that, in general, I think we should listen to experts when it comes to mental health
and also when it comes to other things.
But I can only speak to my personal experience.
Okay, so it seems to me that the stuff happening way down inside of us is difficult to talk about,
partly because those experiences aren't really accessible by the senses.
You can't usually see or hear psychic pain
and it's difficult to describe without simile or metaphor.
Like, I might say that it feels like there's a void inside of me
or like my insides are twisted
or like my brain is on fire.
I can say what it's like more than I can say what it is
So, I have obsessive compulsive disorder
which is mostly seen in the popular imagination
as being about, like, excessive hand washing, or neatness, or whatever.
Because those are things you can see, you know?
They're not like the formless, insensate horrors of psychic pain,
they're behaviours that you can, like, portray in a movie.
But, for me at least, there's a reason the obsessive comes before the compulsive in the name.
So I experience these obsessive thought spirals
in which intrusive thoughts–that is, like, thoughts I don't want to have
that seem to come from outside of me–
sort of hijack my consciousness.
Now, everyone has known some version of not being able to choose their thoughts.
Like, after you lose someone you may find yourself thinking about them all the time,
you may see a sunset and think about seeing a sunset with that person,
or you open a car door and remember driving with them, etc..
Bu, for me, these obsessive thought spirals happen all the time
and they can take over for days or weeks or months.
Like, I might worry out of nowhere that my food is contaminated or somehow poisoned
and then, suddenly, that will be the only thought I am able to think.
The thought I'm either thinking or distracting myself from, all the time.
And when that gets bad, I can lose all control over my thoughts for an extended period of time,
to the extent that I can't follow what's happening in a TV show
or read a book.
This is exhausting, of course, but it's also kind of terrifying.
Because, 1) I can't stop being scared of the thing I'm scared about,
and 2) If I can't choose my thoughts and I am, at least in part, made out of those thoughts,
then am I actually the captain of this ship I call myself?
And the more you think about that, at least for me, the more it becomes sort of the premise for a horror movie.
Right, so the compulsive behaviours I use to cope with these obsessive thought spirals,
repeatedly checking my food for contamination, for instance,
or spending hours googling what will happen to me if I eat moldy bread,
those are, for me, ways of trying to comfort and calm myself.
Like, I'm not checking over and over again to be eccentric or whatever,
I'm doing it because I can not stop obsessing over the fear that I might have eaten living mold
and I will do whatever I can not to be strangled by that thought.
Mental illness is highly stigmatised in our culture,
but it is also sometimes romanticized.
We see TV shows where, in order to catch a terrorist, a mentally ill person must go off their meds,
or we see obsessive detectives whose obsessiveness allows them to crack cases that others couldn't.
That kind of thing might be true to some people's experiences but it hasn't been true to mine.
Like, I don't feel like my mental illness has any superpower side effects.
In fact, when I'm stuck inside a thought spiral, I find it very difficult to observe, like, anything outside of myself,
I become a terrible detective.
So, when I started the book that has become "Turtles all the Way Down,"
I wanted to like, try to find form and expression
for this way down, non-sensorial experience
of living inside of thought spirals.
The book is fictional, totally fictional, but it began from me
with thinking about what it would be like to be this one particular 16-year-old girl,
Asal Holmes, who's trying to be a good daughter and a good friend and a good student
and maybe even a good detective,
while also living with terrifying thought spirals that she can not see or hear
but that are nonetheless very real.
So, Hank, that's a bit of an introduction to the story and how I came to write it.
I also want to say to anyone out there concerned about their mental health,
please, please, seek help.
I've put some resources in the dooblydoo below.
I know it can be difficult to get effective treatment
but there is hope, even if your brain tells you there isn't.
The vast majority of mental illness is treatable
and lots of people with chronic mental health problems have fulfilling and vibrant lives.
Hank, DFTBA. I will see you on Friday