DISCLAIMER: If you didn’t already guess by the fact I didn’t manage to pass A-level Biology; I am absolutely not a doctor. I am however, a curious bugger and as a result of this, I’ve racked my brains since the OCD diagnosis as to why I have it. It’s all guess-work from this point on babeeey.
Every single brain on Earth is different. Every brain thinks differently, causes different behaviours, asks different questions and enjoys the taste of different foods. Why is my brain like this? I don’t know much about the specific studies which have researched Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I do know that many psychologists believe that we may have a genetic predisposition to OCD i.e our parents have passed on the risk that we will develop OCD. Some psychologists believe that a stressor is required as well as the genetic predisposition in order for OCD to grab ya by the short-and-curlies and take over your whole goddamn life. I’m not saying that this theory is necessarily the answer to the OCD, but I’m gunna write this post as though it is.
Okay sooooo let’s say I was genetically predisposed to OCD. This would make sense, as some of my family members display definite OCD traits even though none of them carry a diagnosis. I’ve tried to prove which side it might have come down on so that I could guilt them into buying me all of the beautiful and rare jewels in the world, but that plan didn’t really work out. The ‘genetically predisposed’ paragraph is dead short because I don’t really need to explain genes. Science is science ya know?
The stressor part is a whole different can of worms though (I can’t ruddy believe I just voluntarily typed that word lol – cue intrusive thoughts about worms in my brainstem yay). It wasn’t until I underwent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that I even questioned this part. I had OCD – I just accepted it. Shit happens etc etc. It wasn’t until my therapist made me draw up a series of ‘responsibility pies’ (officially my least favourite type of pie by the way), that I suddenly realised how much weight and blame I place upon on my shoulders for things that I cannot control. My therapist asked me to draw a circle for each of the things that had caused trauma or upset to my loved ones, and then I had to draw in the percentages of who or what was to blame for those problems. A pattern soon emerged, as 95% of each pie was blamed on me.
Once my therapist had established the amount of responsibility and guilt I put on myself, she wanted for us to establish why. What had happened in my twenty four years of life that had caused me so much unjustified guilt and self-blame? After much discussion we came to the conclusion that it was most probably the fact that I grew up with a chronically sick sibling.
As a child, I was aware that Jess was poorly. I would visit her in hospital, I would hold her hand when she coughed, and I would watch quietly from the doorframe as my Mum and Dad helped her with her physio. At some point during my childhood, there was a definite shift from me being the younger sister, to me feeling like the older sister. Ahhh yes…ye ol’ switcheroo. I remember wondering why Jess had to go through all of this and I didn’t (cue the guilt). I remember feeling extremely protective of her. I was getting into altercations with much older kids and teenagers who so much as thought about being nasty or rude to her. This protective streak grew into a hulk of a beast, and I started to feel overly protective towards the rest of my family too.
My experiences seeing Jess poorly during my childhood meant that a deep level of empathy blossomed within me at a very young age. I became very aware of my mum, my dad and my sisters. I thought about their emotions and why they had to go through these difficulties. I thought about what I could do to help. I thought about life and death in a deeper way than I would have had I not had a sick sibling. I’ve come to realise as an adult, that the majority of my peers weren’t thinking about mortality at such a tender age.
Jess became progressively more ill the older we grew, and so my thoughts became deeper and the guilt became more prevalent. I spent my teen years indulging in things that she wasn’t healthy enough to – passionate and uninhibited romantic relationships, lots of socialising, and a metric shit-tonne of partying. For around five years I engaged in a purely hedonistic way of life and felt terribly guilty about it. Perhaps some of the reasoning behind this way of life was the fact that I was trying not to think too much about Jess’s life, and the fact she was dealt a lesser hand than me. Perhaps I was trying to party the guilt away, which consequently resulted in even more guilt. I don’t know. What I do know is that even writing about mine and Jess’s relationship in my blog fills me with guilt and discomfort. GUILT IS A CRUEL, PERSISTENT MISTRESS and also I’m sorry Jess I hope you don’t mind lol I LYSM.
So we have three factors at play here:
- The guilt that Jess was the one with CF
- The overly-empathetic approach to my loved-ones
- The very strong need to protect my family and keep them safe
These three little circumstances amalgamated into one beautiful, synergistic shitstorm that I suspect may have played a big ol’ part in my OCD. First, I would feel empathy towards the people I love over small, minuscule things that most definitely didn’t bother them. Then I would feel guilty that I have let this small, minuscule thing happen to them (because I am Responsible Mim – responsible for ALL THINGS). And then I’d need to protect them from this small, minuscule thing from ever happening ever bloody again.
POUR EXAMPLE, MES AMIS. A family member gets a cold. I feel absolutely terrible for them. I feel guilty incase I brought the germ in that caused them to get ill. I start manically cleaning the soles of my shoes and repeatedly washing my hands so that my loved ones will come to no further harm. Geddit?
The OCD then took this beautiful concoction, and made it even more mental. OCD sprinkled delightful little commands into my head at random times, so that I didn’t even need a triggering event to happen for all of this guilt and empathy to come spilling out. I’d just be making some tasty tasty lunch – thinking about nothing but my tasty tasty lunch – and the OCD would roundhouse kick me in the kidney. “Shut the fridge five times or one of your family will die”. A CLASSIC OCD MOVE RIGHT THERE. (The good thing is, one of my family members actually dying kind of rendered this spiteful OCD jibe powerless because I survived the death and the grief with logic, not OCD. TRY ME OCD, YOU IRRELEVANT LITTLE SWINE.)
So yeah, to conclude, if I had to decide on a reason as to why I was blessed with OCD, all of the above would be that reason. I’m interested to know if there’s anyone out there who has this guilt/responsibility element to their OCD, and whether they’ve thought about the root cause. I apologise for rambling and perhaps not making much sense. This blog post has been the only post so far that has managed to make me feel a little bit emotional, so it’s probably more of a mismatched collage of words than a sonnet or a poem. I find it harder to word things in a pretty way when I’m feeling raw feelings. I’m not gunna proof-read it, I’ll just let my emotions sit on the page this time.