The First Few Chapters of a Life with OCD

Matt Bieber in The Wheat and Chaff:

PhotoWhen I was 18, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Since then, I’ve occasionally considered writing about my experiences, but I’ve tended not to trust my motives. Writing about my experiences, I thought, would be a way to redeem them, to justify an early adulthood that hadn’t measured up to my adolescent hopes and dreams. I may not have been happy in my twenties, I thought, but at least I’d have a book – and perhaps the beginning of a writing career – to show for it.

It was a cracked notion, of course. I was so caught up in the grip of OCD – and in my flight from it – that I could never have written about those experiences. I didn’t want to spend any more time with them, didn’t want to be anywhere near them.

But at some level, I felt like I was owed. I’ve had to suffer day in and day out for years. Maybe I can cash in on that suffering. This didn’t feel like the noblest of impulses, of course, but I was floundering: what else was I going to do with myself? I was in my mid-20s, moving around a lot and working a series of jobs that didn’t mean much to me. I hadn’t found much direction, and when I looked, OCD was usually in the way.

As I came to see, however, the idea of cashing in on my suffering was itself compulsive – a way to feed an insatiable feeling of insufficiency, to measure up to some external (and endlessly receding) standard. I wanted to write a book because of what it might teach me or might allow me to express, yes, but also because I suspected that lurid stories of suffering would sell, and because I couldn’t imagine how else to feel good about myself. When I saw this – that part of my desire to write was a product of OCD – I decided to treat it that way and did my best not to give in.

More recently, though, things have shifted.

More here.