Thursday, January 5, 2012

Discovering & Recovering

This is something that I don't recall mentioning on this particular blog before. I have on others, but not this one. It's a tough subject for me to bring up at this time...tougher than I expected it to be...but I believe it's important that I share. So this is the first of a few blog entries that I'll devote to a widely ridiculed and often misunderstood condition that I and millions of others deal with. For once, I'm not referring to my systemic disease.

Over the past few months, I've been spending some time watching television (which is not common for me). I have to say a couple of the faces of Food Network have really struck a chord in me lately. One is a chef who is a tremendous perfectionist. In watching him closely, it became pretty obvious that he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I'm not going to type his name because I don't want to risk this coming up in a search of him. He doesn't publicly acknowledge his OCD, so I'm certainly not going to disrespect him by doing so. But make no mistake...he has it. After only a short time, I recognized his behavior, and a few weeks later, one of his chef friends picked on him about it in detail on Twitter. It was a confirmation that my observations were right on the money.

This reminded me of my own challenges...things that I don't often think about until they blatantly slap me in the face. I have acknowledged in the past that I have mild OCD, but haven't talked about it a lot. Believe it or not, those who notice this in me the most are my students. I have mentioned it many times in class because I struggle greatly with creating paintings that are asymmetrical. I don't let things get too serious...my students and I always chuckle about it and move on. I do my best but I have found that when I compare my paintings to others, my paintings are borderline ridiculous because I can tell that I was trying to create a symmetrical scene in spite of my efforts not to. Frustrating, but a challenge that I knowingly chose in becoming a Ross instructor. Eventually, I started to deny that I had OCD because I felt my issues were manageable. As much as I hate to admit this, the last time I mentioned it while teaching, I said "I call myself OCD, but I'm really not." I had started using the word "quirky" instead. I had convinced myself that I didn't fit the mold, and that I needed to stop going on about it (because only those who have OCD should be allowed to make light of it, in my humble opinion).

Years before my symmetrical painting battles, I was an excessive hand washer. I couldn't walk by the bathroom without stopping to wash and dry (and dry, and dry) my hands. At some point, I recognized what I was doing and made a conscious effort to improve. I did so, and stopped dwelling on it. But when I think about it now, I realize that the mindset is still there, I'm only executing the habit differently than I used to. I'll go into more detail later. I don't want this entry turning into a novel.

That being said, OCD was back on my mind again for the first time in a while.

Then during the recent holiday season, "Unwrapped" came on. I had not seen it in a few years, but I love the show and I've always loved Marc Summers. I loved him when I was in elementary school watching Double Dare, and I loved him even more when he came forward about OCD years later. He wrote a book in the late 90's, but I didn't read it. Watching his TV interview(s) was painful, although I felt very proud of him for sharing his struggle. I don't think I had ever been so proud of a man as I was of him when he did that. It affected me deeply.

Anyway, that night when "Unwrapped" came on, I decided to Google Marc so I could read his Wiki page (I Wiki everybody these days) and his book popped up in the search. Cue my conscience tapping me on the shoulder. I said to myself "Okay, okay. Read the book, Kelli. You know you should." I promised myself that I would go by the library the next day and look it up, so I did and read it straight through.

Gut-wrenching. Profoundly unexpected. Life-changing.

I didn't even get out of the foreword before the tears started. The facts about OCD and the variety of ways that it manifests was like a punch in the throat. I felt like I couldn't breathe the entire time I was reading. I was sick to my stomach and couldn't eat until the next day. The issues of symmetry and hand washing are nothing...a drop in the bucket compared to the discoveries I've made about myself thanks to this book. One page suddenly made a lifetime of irrational fear and anxiety make sense.

I am completely overwhelmed. Broken. Thankful. Scared. A flood of emotions. If only I had read it in '99. I don't know if my life would have been much different, but I think I would have been a little less confused and felt a lot less crazy.

How much do I love Marc Summers for writing this book? I don't know. I'm just grateful.

I gave people my word that I would share more soon...still processing all of this. Right now, I'm at a loss as to what else to say. One thing I do know - I will kick some serious butt when I dive back into my college major soon. Lemonade will be made by the truckload. Bring it on.