Let’s talk about OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A lot of people say they have OCD because they, for example, like to keep things ordered or do things in a certain way every time–the kind of people who separate all their M&Ms by color before they eat them, that kind of thing. That’s not OCD, that’s just “being really organized.” Actual OCD, the mental disorder, is crippling and dangerous and potentially deadly.
When my brother was first diagnosed with OCD, and described the symptoms to me, I was shocked. His brain would tell him to do things, like throw himself down the stairs or punch the wall until his hand bled, and he was literally compelled to do it–as in, manipulated by an outside force. When your brain tells you to do something it’s every bit as un-ignorable as when your body does it. Imagine that you have to pee, and you try to ignore it, and it just gets worse and worse until you’re squeezing your legs together and dancing in place because if you don’t go pee RIGHT NOW you’re going to explode. Now imagine that instead of peeing, you get the same urge with the same intensity about making your head bleed. You have to make your head bleed RIGHT NOW or your entire life will be a disaster, and come on what are you waiting for you’re miserable and horrible and your head needs to bleed and why won’t you let it because it would make everything better just do it. You know, objectively, that making your head bleed is wrong, and harmful, and a bad thing. But your brain is sick, and it wants what it wants, and you have to live like that for the rest of your life.
I remember an old comic by the cartoonist R. Kliban, who did a lot of stuff in the 70s and 80s, including several about cats that you may have seen somewhere. The one that always stuck in my mind was “Anti-Jump Muscles”:
The idea of muscles that work in reverse is funny, but this is the reality that people with OCD live with every day. When my brother’s brain tells him to break his hand, or hurt himself or (on a couple of terrifying occasions) his family, it takes all his willpower to not act. His Anti-Jump Muscles are fully flexed, day in and day out, just to live a normal life. It is scary and lonely and utterly exhausting, and he is only one of millions of people in the world who have to suffer through that.
If you know someone with OCD, give them a hug or send them an email, and tell them you love them. Tell them you support them. Do what you can to help.
And if you’d like to help my brother, and to raise awareness for other people with mental health issues, take a look at our Altered Perceptions campaign that just opened today. Dozens of amazing authors have contributed alternate versions of their published works to an anthology, and none of us are getting a penny from it–every cent goes to help Rob and, if we reach our goals, others like him.