Man with OCD (video for Psychology class)
For my abnormal psychology class, our professor asks that we watch a series of videos that were taken some years ago, of persons who regularly live with mental illness. The video I just watched was of a 50 (ish) year old man with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), who had lived in Lawrence for much of his life.
I understand some of the things he said from personal experience, and I think he is brave for having gone on camera to discuss them, knowing that thousands of undergraduate students would use his experiences as reference to the rest of the world. To me, because I have physically felt some of the experiences he also knows personally, he just seems like a normal guy, with another set of experiences, some of which may genuinely suck. But what he asked students in the final moments of the video is to simply consider him and many people who experience irregular mental health conditions (like OCD, which is a much more intense version of some of the things I also know personally), as other human beings. Clearly, I too would ask that.
It just seems like common sense. Not everyone will experience perfect sanity all of the time, and that should not be any kind of reason to wound them, whether or not you realize it. He seems like someone I’d want to get coffee with, because I understand him, in a way. To me, him being able to talk about his differences and what genuinely hurts makes him more human, not less. I respect him for being that brave.
Why are our counselors so often people who have never lived with anxiety problems, or similar disorders? For the sake of understanding and truly understanding alone, is that entirely fair? Should things stay so neat and clinical, if you truly want people to heal? Can you afford to keep such an enormous distance between you, a Clinician, and the people you treat, if you truly want them to be able to develop health? I believe it’s possible, and to me, it makes sense to have another person’s experience to trust in. A lot of what this man said was that he used rituals as a form of structure. Despite the fact that it may be somewhat disruptive in his life, and potentially endanger his well-being, don’t we all crave structure? Don’t we all invent organization, or invest in friendships, or attempt to make sense of the word through some sort of formed structure? Is it really so weird to think that this man would take the initiative to create his own? The part of what he does that is dangerous to himself and potentially others, that may not be healthy. But the part of him that takes initiative to evaluate his own reality and attempt to make it better? I respect that, because it makes a lot of sense. He worked in several roles in the Lawrence community and in the nonprofit sector. For him to be a leader, and take it upon himself to improve the world in his professional life as well as for himself is something that I think deserves a tremendous amount of respect. He should be free to get the help he needs and feel no shame in that.
Now, I know that mental health disorders do not exist in isolation, much of the time. If he becomes incapable of making decisions for himself that would be generally pretty safe, then he should be free to consult others and decide what strategy works best, in evaluating his disorder. In the video, he talked about self-mutilation, and showed a few marks of having cut himself. He mentioned that he was happy to be able to see himself heal. Is that so crazy? If a person exercises, the same rush of endorphins will come to his or her brain as if they wound themselves. Being outside can provide this, as well as physical labor, and generally speaking, doing the things you need to do to take care of yourself. Maybe he just doesn’t realize that exercise would be a more constructive outlet, rather than hurting himself. I admit, wounding yourself may be potentially easier. But at least if you exercise, people think you’re hot.
And I’m dead serious in saying that. He seems like a smart man with a lot to offer in his life. If the same “feeling of release” could just as easy come from working out, and he craves being able to control and calculate his own life decisions, it is possible that simply knowing he has options and not shaming him for deciding on his own might be a valid solution that would be enormously quicker, and side-step all the red tape involved with medication and counseling. He seems entirely capable of rationally thinking. Perhaps he could solve his own problem if he was allowed the right to do so.
I know that saying this in 2015 is much different than saying it in the late 80s. That isn’t fair, but it is reality. I think of all the people in my family and in the world who have suffered from mental health problems, and how simple some of the solutions may be or could have been, if they were simply granted the right to be treated like human beings. This stuff isn’t rocket science. It really isn’t. And in a way, that is the tragedy. If people decided to invest in understanding one another more over time, as a commonly accepted thing, there would be no cause for people to live with such shame. It is entirely possible, and that kind of attitude can ripple out of you, changing the world. How the hell else did Gandhi do it? He may not have been right about everything, but he certainly made a difference. Does someone’s past immediately discount them from caring? How can it?? If we want people to genuinely care, maybe we should allow them to not have things all the way figured out, and any point. Isn’t that the gist of what Jesus tried to do, in the first place?
He seems like someone I would trust to give me an honest answer, and make a joke about something that would also scare the crap out of me. That is intensely valuable! How can it not be? If the main problem with therapists (to this day) is that they do not understand, why exactly should it be so crazy to allow therapists to acknowledge that they DO understand? The politics in actually allowing people to heal are staggering.
But, I have faith in humanity, and specifically, in the ways God’s love can work through humanity. I don’t think we have to be perfect. He still seems like someone that I would trust. He may not have it together, but honestly, who does? He seems nice, and worthy of my time and attention. And honestly? That should be enough.