Yesterday I was talking with a friend who has recently become a therapist. She is treating someone with OCD who feels humiliated by her obsessive thoughts (scrupulosity in particular, a very common form of OCD), yet also compelled to confess them, thinking that might help her. Boy can I relate! The embarrassment of mental illness might well be the most crippling aspect of the whole disease!
If you’ve read my book, you know that one of my obsessive fears has been impotence (in layman’s terms “not being able to get it up” for sex). This particular thought burdened me throughout my college years and into my 20’s My compulsion regarding impotence was constant “checking,” a common compulsion for all sorts of obsessions. Obviously, this checking wasn’t anything anyone could see (unless I wanted to get arrested for unzipping my pants 23,498 times per day), but every time I’d pass a pretty girl, I’d check to see if my penis had moved (there’s a hilarious Seinfeld episode about whether “it” moved and whether George might be gay AND there’s a great article on this form of OCD by Steven Phillipson here). Essentially, all day every day, I was monitoring my penis’s state of alertness against how alert my obsessive brain thought it should be.
Some of you are probably thinking, “I can’t believe he’s writing about this!” and there’s a part of me that does indeed find it embarrassing to share this. But that’s my whole point in this post: Mental illness is embarrassing and therefore isolating. When you have a broken leg, there’s external proof that a problem really does exist. No one’s embarrassed to wear a cast or use crutches in public. But because most people naively think that human beings have complete control over our thoughts at all times, those of us with a mental illness who have at some point “confessed” our terrible thoughts to others have likely been met with some version of this response: “Just think about something else!” Or there’s the spiritualized version of this thinking: “Just pray about it” or “Quote this verse about trusting God,” yada, yada, yada.
If we were even brave enough to confess our thoughts in the first place, we find ourselves even more embarrassed when we can’t make our brains quit thinking the terrible thoughts or when the Bible verse fails to do the magic we had hoped for. The embarrassment, shame, humiliation, and sense of isolation eventually become the only true friends we know we can rely on.
My advice for those who want to know they’re not alone, though I am not an expert in these things, would be as follows:
- Find someone to talk to honestly and openly BUT DON’T tell just anyone. Most people are not remotely qualified to deal with a mentally ill brain, and many people, even professionals, respond the wrong way to our confessions. In terms of finding a therapist or friend to divulge your secrets to, start by asking them how familiar they are, in general terms, with OCD, depression, etc. (whatever you’re dealing with) and let them prove to you that they are ready to hear what you have to say before you spill the beans. Also, consider starting with one of your less embarrassing confessions to gauge their reaction; then go from there.
- Read as much as possible about your particular source of embarrassment. I guarantee you you are not alone. Just start with Google and look up “common forms of ocd” or “things depressed people think about”…and start digging. You’ll find “friends” quickly!
- Start right here! This website is intended as a place for people to find community online. You don’t have to share your real name or anything like that…but if you need a place to “confess” or to ask if anyone else understands, this can be the place to do just that! Leave a comment on this post, or go into the Chat Room (just be aware that it’s still under construction and somewhat clunky, so for now, the comment section would be best).
- Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve heard all sorts of “confessions” since I went public with my own internal struggles. I dare you to try to shock me! I doubt you will succeed.
I Think It Moved by Steven Phillipson
Steven Phillipson’s tremendous OCD website: OCD online