Perhaps the time has come to re-evaluate how we portray OCD in films and TV series.
Official website Iannis is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. His dramedy screenplay "Mary and Dionysus" was a Semi-Finalist at the Shore Scripts Feature Screenplay Competition 2018, as well as reaching the Quarterfinals at the 2019 Scriptapalooza Screenwriting competition, while his horror film "Flesh" won a Bronze Award at the Spotlight Horror Film Awards 2017. Prior to that, his short film "Headz" won a Gold Lion Award at the 2016 London Film Awards. When he's not writing screenplays or making films, he scribes short stories and comic books. He also loves to eat and sleep. He's a sucker for whisky, dark chocolate, and honey. Finally, he's a firm believer that humankind was at its best during the thousands of years of hunting and gathering but knows that, unfortunately, he wouldn't last two days alone in the wilderness.
I've had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was a child and I'm now in my early 40s. For all of this time, I have felt like I should be apologizing for it.
It's like this invisible phantom that engulfs one in fear and doubt and brings dark clouds to a shiny day at the park. The sense of guilt has always followed me due to the disorder being a part of my everyday life. For whenever I would try to talk about it to a friend or a relative, to explain a certain lifestyle choice, to touch upon its debilitating nature, I've often been looked at funny in return.
There've been other times still when I've been flat out accused of simply making excuses and of just being lazy. Lastly, there've been also situations, on more than one occasion, when I was told the following by a friend or acquaintance: "Oh, yeah, ha, I'm a bit OCD too, sometimes I have to double-check that I've locked the door."
My fellow OCD afflicts out there, tell me that doesn't infuriate you big time. For the record, unless you check that door desperately, repeatedly and then some, for fear that absolute tragedy will befall you and your loved ones if you don't, then you do not have OCD.
I have recently concluded that this sense of dismissal, of slight irreverence, is due to the way that OCD is presented in popular culture. Barring some exceptions, of course, most of the time there's a slight cavalier, played for laughs quality to the depiction of characters with the disorder in films or TV series.
Sure, characters such as Melvin Udall in As Good as it Gets and Adrian Monk in Monk play at being the suffering protagonists, (and quite well at that), but their affliction is largely employed into the service of humour, the emphasis always falling on the comedy. Further notable examples include the character of Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, Kevin Casey in Scrubs and Monica Geller in Friends. All these sitcoms adding, unintentionally, to the trivialisation of this condition.
Take the last season of the excellent Fargo series as a further, and more recent, example. It features the prominent character of Odis Weff played exquisitely by actor Jack Huston, (who also had a memorable role in Boardwalk Empire). The portrait of the debilitating nature of the character's OCD is handled truly well, yet even this example isn't spared from going down, albeit briefly, the comic relief route. This is in no way a criticism of the series itself, of which I'm a huge fan, and I urge anyone to watch it if they haven't so already.
Now, don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a comical approach in the depiction of OCD in the world of entertainment. Far from it, after all, laughter is therapy as they say, and I'm not a fan of restrictions of expression when it comes to creativity, either. I'm simply stating that there should be more of the other side of the coin as well, one that does not include the humour. More films like The Aviator, for example, to balance things out. We should become more mindful of the suffering, the anguish and the struggle so that we as a society can have a more complete idea of what living with this disorder truly means. Of course, what also doesn't help is that it's quite difficult to display a full picture of the suffering as most of the time, the fear, the strife, the struggle, they all happen in the mind. Something which doesn't translate to the screen as well, thus it's understandable that there's a story emphasis on elements of the disorder such as repetition, symmetry, hoarding and germphobia, all of which are more visual in interpretation and lend themselves well to mockery. None the less, an effort should be made to lessen the caricature-like display of OCD in pop culture. If anything, we have seen enough of that already; it might be time now to move on.
Like all mental disorders, a level of understanding needs to be applied to obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can be a misunderstood condition and a person with it can suffer in silence and in hiding. So - understanding helps, and so can cognitive behavioral therapy. There's medication, and meditation too. Lastly, there's something else we should include, for, if OCD is a fear-based illness, then the key to dealing with it lies in the opposite of that, and that is none other than love.
Name-calling and rumours can take a big toll on a young teenager
It's somewhat amusing that people get struck by "the fear" the day after a big night out. "The fear" generally refers to a feeling of anxiety over your actions the previous night. What sort of embarrassing things did you do while intoxicated? In other words, "the fear" is really a light-hearted way of discussing anxiety.
Admittedly, I have used the phrase "the fear" plenty of times – laughing at pictures of myself and my friends dancing stupidly or realising I over-shared something silly with someone. But what about the first time I felt "the fear"?
The first time I felt the fear, I was 16-years-old. I had been to a party, my first real party, the night before. It had been for a boy's sixteenth birthday. And rumour had it, this boy liked me. I liked him too, but not in that way. It was just nice to have a male friend. In fact, I found it embarrassing when his friends would make a big deal about us talking, and I was not too fond of the perception that I was now his. However, I felt grateful to be invited to his party and ecstatic that my mother was allowing me to go.
While at this party, I had one shot too many. We shouldn't have been drinking liquor, but there was nothing else available. I didn't stop to think when everyone said I should have that extra Jaeger shot, even though I was already drunk. So, I did. And I blacked out.
The next day I found out I had become terribly sick and picked up by my parents. I was in such bad condition they were worried I had been drugged. The shame and disgust I felt pushed me to leave home that year. I ended up going to boarding school in another country after that. Of course, I was lucky and privileged enough to make that escape. But the lingering feeling of disgust and shame exists to this day.
A couple of months after I started this boarding school, I got a call from a friend I wasn't particularly close to and was told that the boy whose birthday party it had been (the boy who liked me) had told everyone I had given (or offered) him oral sex. I laughed and brushed this off as ludicrous since I had blacked out and had no memory of doing such a thing.
But, truthfully, this event has become impossible to escape. Did I do it? Did I want to do it? Was I already passed out?
Not to toot my own horn, but I was relatively confident and academically bright as a teenager. The kind of teenager that might get mistaken for older than they are, who definitely acts mature beyond their years, and who seems more than able to handle their own affairs.
For example, it never crossed my mind that calling me a "feminazi" could constitute bullying. On a more general level, I hated the term because of its clearly offensive use of the word "nazi," but I didn't stop to think about the impact that name-calling might have on me as a person in the long term. Truthfully, name-calling is always relatively harmless, but all these micro-aggressions can take a bigger toll on a young teenager.
Now at 22, I realise how naïve I was at 16. I still am naïve about so much; so, in what world would a 16-year-old be able to handle these kinds of things on their own. Caught between being a woman and a girl. With the body and tenacity of a woman but the innocence and experiences of a girl.
The most perplexing of facts is that I still can't excuse my 16-year-old self for her mistakes. I blame her, and I am ashamed of her. I am ashamed of even spending time thinking about her, labelling it as some sort of self-indulgence. How can we be expected to help change other people's attitudes when I can't even change the attitude I have towards myself?
I will never know what happened that night, and maybe I'm lucky I won't. I hope sharing this helps that sixteen-year-old girl. And anyone who has experienced something similar that stumbles across this knows they aren't alone – some will listen and support you and your voice.