Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OCD and Celebrities

    Someone just pointed out to me that Megan Fox, of "Transformers" fame, has recently admitted to struggling with OCD.

    I love hearing stories like this. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I want other people to suffer with OCD the way I have at times. In truth, I wouldn't wish that kind of torment on my worst enemy.

    The reason I like to hear about it, though, is because I think people with OCD have enough problems without the social stigma that goes along with a mental illness.

    Part of the problem is that some people toss the phrase around lightly, the same as they do with the terms "I'm so depressed," over a bad day, "She's totally bipolar!" to describe someone who is moody, or "I'm going to kill myself!" when the workload gets too great or friends too demanding.

    The truth is, all of these phrases get way overused, and this leads me to think that the person speaking has no idea of the tremendous distress involved in mental illness. For example, I have a friend who jokes about having OCD because she doesn't like when her house gets messy. I've never known how to tell her that real OCD entails things like lying awake at night wondering if the frog you ran over with your car could have actually been a person, or analyzing the chances of catching a fatal illness from using a shopping cart at the grocery store.

    That's why I like it when celebrities come out and talk about their real struggles with OCD, or any other mental illness, for that matter. First off, it puts a real face on a disease and for some people, that makes it real. It also shows that not everyone who struggles with mental health is crazy, many of us are fully functioning and contributing members of society.

   The public loves to gossip about celebrities, and when stars admit to having a weakness, it means people are talking about OCD, depression, substance abuse, or infidelity at work, at home and with their friends. Talking about these issues is the first step to removing the social stigma, which can make it easier for those that need help to seek it.

   When I was 21, I was crippled by OCD for nearly a year. At that time, I didn't know anyone else with the kind of fears and obsessive thoughts I had. I was too ashamed to tell anyone what was really going on and instead just told people I had panic attacks. Not untrue exactly, but panic attacks over whether I could have killed anyone in my sleep or drank bleach by accident are not exactly standard panic attacks.

   Because of how isolated I felt when I was suffering, when I was doing better I wrote a book loosely based on my experiences at that time. I self published it for Kindle and Nook, and was suprised when within a few weeks, I had two reviews. One five star review, one one star review. I was baffled. My critic commented on my typographical errors, which I immediately fixed, but also just on the general tone and way the story was told. Basically the same things my five star reviewer liked. This troubled me more than I wanted to admit, and as much as I told myself that as with everything, some will like what you do and some will hate it, I couldn't stop obsessing over what I'd done wrong.

    Now I get it. It wasn't necessarily that I'd done anything wrong. The way I write is the way I think, and people that don't think obsessively might not get or like that way of writing. And that's okay. Because there are other people out there with OCD, lots of them, and those people are in the same club as me.

   These days, I talk about my OCD with anyone who asks. I tell the truth about my experiences with it and the struggle I have to keep it under control, which it is these days, for the most part. And I greatly appreciate anyone else who comes clean about their issues, as well. So thank you, Megan Fox, and all the other people who are open about their struggles. For each of us that keeps talking, someone else is less afraid to speak.

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