Friday, October 22, 2010
In the News
I was excited to come across this article on childhood mental health on Time magazine's website, an article that does a good job describing sexual orientation OCD, how it all too often begins at a young age, and how it can affect the sufferer over the years. The reason I was so excited and surprised to see this type of OCD mentioned and intelligently explained was that, all too often, OCD is portrayed in a fairly one-dimensional manner by the media. We hear all about the stereotypical washing and checking compulsions, while other forms often get ignored. OCD can latch onto almost anything that we deem important in our lives, and the corresponding compulsions are equally infinite.
As more types of OCD are given attention, perhaps more people will understand that OCD is not really about being a germophobe or being afraid of setting the house on fire. It's about uncertainty and the strong desire to eliminate it; that's what unites all sufferers with the disorder - a pursuit of certainty that reaches unhealthy proportions. As the article points out, the treatment for OCD, cognitive-behavioral therapy, teaches the sufferer "to embrace uncertainty rather than fight it." Nicely put Time. Nicely put. It's unfortunate that the media's ability to get it right is so exciting, because it just brings into sharper focus the fact that this usually isn't the case. Perhaps I just read the wrong sources, but it catches me off guard when I read something in the general media about OCD that does more than thinly veil the shallow understanding of the author. Thank you, Time, for getting this right. And thanks for using a less-frequently publicized form of the disorder to make your point, too. Hopefully with more articles like this, people with the disorder will be diagnosed earlier, so that they can get treatment closer to the onset of their symptoms and be spared the kind of long-term suffering this article describes.
There was one other thing that caught my attention in this article that I wanted to explore. To illustrate the effect that mental disorders can have even at at a young age, the author describes a girl who began to battle the symptoms of sexual orientation OCD sometime in her pre-teen years. It was nearly two decades later that she finally figured out the cause of her suffering and got appropriate treatment. I found it interesting that they mentioned how this girl, "like so many other adult sufferers of childhood-onset emotional disorders," is now "at last enjoying peace," but also "grieving the decades she lost to her condition."
That last bit caught my attention because I think I struggle with my own desire to grieve the time lost to OCD. A lot of times I wonder if I even have the "right" to grieve my past with the disorder. It seems presumptuous, like I am suggesting that I suffered in a way that other kids, teens, and young adults didn't. I am lucky in many ways, to have what I have and to be able to live the life that I live. But within all that was good there was also the darkness of suffering from OCD, a suffering strengthened by the very isolating fact that I didn't know what caused my distress. Can I grieve this loss without seeming ungrateful for all the wonderful things I DO have in my life? All the good things I HAVE experienced?
I hope so. My desire to be "allowed" to grieve what has transpired in my past is not for the sake of lamenting, or regretting, or wishing I could change things. Rather it's the desire to be "allowed" to acknowledge and believe and accept that yes, I did suffer. I did experience something painful and saddening that others my age did not face. I want the "right" to believe this. Not the right to say that my suffering somehow trumps the painful things that others experienced, but merely to acknowledge, to recognize, that I did experience growing up differently and suffered in a way that others might not have, because of my disorder. I want the right to see that and own it in a way that is hard for me to currently let myself have. I don't know if that makes much sense. I feel like I am having a hard time capturing what I mean, but that seems to be the best way to describe it. Seeing that others feel they have the right to acknowledge their experience with OCD as something difficult, something worthy of grieving, helps me begin to understand that maybe, just maybe, I have the "right" to do the same.