Posted: 23rd October 2013 by Sean Harris in Editorials

We’re going to talk a little about mental illness, since it seems to be a reoccuring theme for a few of us.

I wrote about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more intimately than I ever had before, in the editorial of the September 1995 edition of The Monthly Rag. I was really struggling at the time, if I remember correctly (and I’m pretty sure I do, trauma is often hard for me to let go of), and I think it was a way of baring all my sins in lieu of actually going to therapy. Entirely for my own satisfaction and catharsis, it ended up having a few positive secondary results in that it brought forth a reader who was hiding a similar affliction, and also that it found its way into the hands of the teacher of the psychology class at the College of the Redwoods. To my good fortune, it struck a sympathetic chord with her, and she kept that issue around to share with future classes when studying emotional and mental development deficiencies.

Over fifteen years later, I’m still battling the uphill fight, which has at this point taken sharp turns for the worse and worn my spirit down to the nub. Honestly, I thought (or at least prayed) it would diminish in my middle age or older years, but it appears my wishes for any inner peace have fallen on deaf ears. It’s been a tiring and long ordeal. We’ve all got something, like the old saying goes, but some of us have something just a little more special and ridiculous (and sure, many have even worse, but what does it matter which way you are robbed, and who’s to ever say which Hell is the most trying?).

Let’s do a quick recap of the timeline so you’re up to speed: somewhere between the ages of twelve and fourteen, my head pulled a diabolical maneuver, and, depending on which theory you subscribe to about genetics and/or environmental factors, a long dormant abberation killed off my central control system and took over at the controls. I started doing some very eccentric behavioral tics thereafter, worrying abnormally, even for a teenager, about pathogens, cancer, AIDS, and losing loved ones or myself to death. A set of rituals were drawn up emotionally to deal with these preoccupations, perhaps to level the playing field and counter the sense of control I felt I had lost over the tangible things in my existence. These routines grew to intrusive proportions, consuming my waking hours, washing my hands, checking and counting and doing all the hallmark things one with this particular anxiety disorder does.

The first thing you do when you become aware that you have lost a few sandwiches from your picnic basket is try to hide that unsettling fact from everyone around you. I was a relatively bright individual for my age, at least enough to know that what I was doing was irrational and that something that I had no control over whatsoever was pulling all the stings ahead of me. All the same, the embarrassment and fear yanked within, and I struggled to maintain a facade of normalcy to the eyes of my peers and family. My hands finally gave my secret away, cracking and bleeding in the cold winter air during a marathon of persistent scrubbing. Over a small breakdown not much time later, I was sent to St. Helena Medical Hospital via ambulance and 51/50 to spend some time in the adolescent mental health wing.

It was there that my ailment was given a name, far before it was a popular buzzword and throwaway descriptive term for anyone that might be anally retentive about personal orderliness or hygiene. From that point forward, medicated and in and out of various counseling, I tried to come to grips with the phantom I was saddled with. At the very least, I knew I wasn’t insane, so there was small comfort to certainly be had. Still, the frustration of knowing I’d likely be locked in combat with this nuisance until my dying day, and all the things in life it would likely keep me from enjoying, frequently took the wind out of my hopeful sails. There remains entire weeks, moreso often than not lately, that I just don’t want to even wake up and try again.

Perhaps it’s a form of midlife crisis that I feel like an abject failure despite the accomplishments I have managed to perform even as a malfunctioning organism. It’s difficult to ascertain the source of the self loathing, and I’m certainly not being paid like my many past therapists to figure it out in depth. Giving it due reflection and trying to articulate the experience with the written word or moving image is as good as it gets for me, even if those too can only be executed when the demon permits.

My dream, if there is one left to be had in the box of broken promises, is to reach some kind of understanding between the world around me and the twisted thing that exists to torment my soul deep inside. Maybe one day I can get it right, and leave just the right marker behind that can touch the minds of the curious and the hearts of the empathetic.

  1. Jessica says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Sean. You have insight and in my mental health books, they tell us insight is important for healing. I would wager to say normalizing your struggles in a place like this with a wide audience is worth it’s weight in therapy. I am not a clinician (yet) though- so don’t quite me. Thanks for the site and the transparency. You rule.

    • admin says:

      It means a lot to hear encouraging feedback, since it isn’t particularly easy to open up about such personal matters on a public forum. Thank you for being a dedicated and communicative reader, Jessica! 😀

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