Just a minor trigger warning here for frank discussion of mental illness and relationships.
You know that video that has been going around, the one with the slam poet with OCD discussing an old relationship? Well, it kind of freaks me out.
This is sort of sketchy ground, so let me preface this post by saying this:
I have OCD.
Now, when I say “I have OCD,” I do not mean “I like to organize things!” I mean I have OCD. I mean that I have a series of compulsions that require me to do certain things in certain ways. Whenever I interact with the outside world in any meaningful way, I have to wash my hands. I wash them once, usually.
If that doesn’t sound like OCD, then you need to know that if my anxiety is acting up I’ll wash them three or four times, and that I’ll count to thirty in my head as I’m washing. If I don’t get to thirty, or if I count too fast, or if I just don’t like the way the numbers sound, I have to start over. Back when I was in high school it wouldn’t be strange for me to wash my hands for five or six minutes.
During the winter — when my anxiety typically peaks — my hands will be constantly red, dry, and irritated. Even during the summer and spring my hands look a shade different from the rest of my body.
I have to be careful about daily occurrences repeating. If I get into a habit, I’ll never get out of it. When I take a shower the sides of the curtain have to be snug against the wall. I have to wash my body in a certain order. Breaking the order causes my throat to flutter. My anxiety rises. I’ve had a panic attack because of this in the past.
We have an automatic garbage can thing. You wave your hand and the lid opens. At night, I have to either watch it close or be out of the room when it closes. I feel a sense of incredible dread if I break this pattern.
I have obtrusive thoughts when I drive. I visibly see myself crashing. I see others crashing into me. My heart sometimes races. I’ve never taken a long drive without my reflux acting up because of this. I sometimes get terrible images in my head that I can’t get out — of anything awful happening to me or my family.
So I get it. I’ve been there. I know what this guy is talking about.
But… it creeps me out, man. It creeps me out because of the way he talks about his ex — like she’s a possession, like she can’t make up her own mind, like she can’t decide what is best for herself.
And — this is what really freaks me out — there’s an implication that she has an obligation to stay in the relationship because of his mental illness.
That’s just not cool.
Ideally, we should live in a world where mental illness is understood — that you can say you have OCD without someone chiming in about “me too!” — we should live in a world in which you can get genuine sympathy and compassion from people when you say you have a mental illness, regardless of what it is. None of us, after all, deserves to be exiled for things we have no control over.
But, in that same breath, when you combine illness with a relationship, things get complicated.
Mental illness is challenging. It isn’t one dimensional.
Mental illness (or illness in general) can turn into an abuser’s tool. Many people who are very close to me have been abused by proxy of illness. There is a special sort of helplessness one feels when someone else’s life is hung within your hands — when it is constantly teased between your fingertips, every little twang of the string can cause panic.
Sometimes the person suffering from mental illness will threaten self-harm if their partner does not comply with their wishes. This is dark stuff. It is not a good place to be.
Often, this is how abusive relationships spawn. The one with the illness throws the other for a guilt trip, making the other feel as they are trapped — that if they leave, they will be potentially harming their partner. This creates a terrible dependency, and it often leads to physical abuse, not to mention profound emotional abuse.
And honestly, I can’t look at that poem without seeing that — without feeling like the poet is calling out their old partner. That he is trying to stick that guilt in their hands.
As someone with a partner whose c-PTSD was caused by similar circumstances, I can’t help but see the language as potentially abusive. Really, seeing people fawn over this video on Facebook kinda worries me.