Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

I’m not “quirky”

<lass="page layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

People always consider me to be an extrovert. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I do talk a lot and am very opinionated, but these things only tell part of my story. For much of my college career, there’s been another self boiling under the surface. A self that I’d try desperately to hide by presenting myself as a happy, spirited person. I’d talk so people didn’t have time to focus on my eyes, and how desperately I was searching for the courage to set myself free.

I’ve battled mental illness for as long as I can remember. When I was 5 years old, I developed severe anxiety, felt guilty over everything, and had to do things in a certain way. Things had to be in order. My shoelaces had to be tied just so. I was constantly afraid that I’d lied about something and had done something wrong, even if I hadn’t. I remember crying one afternoon because I had told the smallest lie, and I couldn’t dismiss the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. All of these things went against my naturally rebellious personality, and I felt like there was someone else in my brain. I sometimes felt like my true self was being chained by this other self and taken down a dark pathway, far out of reach.

When I was 6, I was a diagnosed with OCD. OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it’s basically when you can’t stop your brain from thinking. It differs from person to person, but for most people it’s a dangerous cycle of unwanted obsessions, which lead to compulsions to relieve the anxiety caused by these troubling thoughts. Thoughts swirl around and around and around in your head, like pictures clicking quickly behind your eyes. But the thing is, with OCD, you can’t control how fast your brain clicks through these images, or what these images are of. You’re never sure what scary image or thought your brain will think up next. It can make you feel like you’re going crazy and that you’re out of control. It can make you feel like your brain’s out to get you, and that the world around you is a frightening place. I was lucky that my parents got me help right away and supported me in my fight, and by the time I was 9, the thoughts calmed down and my OCD lost its power. But the thing about OCD is that it never completely disappears. It’s always looking for an opportunity to crawl through the walls you’ve worked so hard to build. It’s always looking for an opportunity to regain control, and to make you feel like you’re losing yourself.

At the end of my freshman year at Carleton, my OCD came back. It was small at first, just an uncomfortable feeling, making my heart beat fast and making me question myself. But last year it really reached a new level. It slowly began to devour my life, and the horrible thoughts and feelings of guilt came back. I began to question everything about myself and what I believed in, feeling guilty over the silliest things. Whenever I did something wrong, I’d overreact because it meant that I wasn’t perfect. I couldn’t use certain words and numbers when I wrote because for some reason I didn’t like they way they looked. This made writing for The Carletonian, something I loved the year before, a painful part of my week. My brain couldn’t stop racing, and sometimes I lay in bed at night and felt like I was flying because my thoughts were going so fast. I’d wish with all my might that I’d have the courage to confide in someone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was embarrassed of what others would think of me; that they’d think I was “crazy” and “unstable.” I hated the fact that my brain was “abnormal,” and it was my greatest fear that someone would see through my smiles.

This summer I told my parents and asked for help, and got the support I needed and am feeling much better. However, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was hard because I had to face my fear of being judged by society, and the reality that mental illness is still highly stigmatized, and at times romanticized. It’s an internal disaster that people don’t like to acknowledge, which makes its sufferers feel incredibly alone. Going online, I’m constantly bombarded with articles that give a stereotypical view of what it means to have OCD, oftentimes while making fun of it. Buzzfeed, the supposedly “progressive” online news source, is one of the worst perpetrators. I’ll admit that I love watching Buzzfeed videos (they’re my guilty pleasure), but they’ve published articles about “things only people with OCD will understand” that present a picture of OCD that isn’t correct. These articles make fun of things OCD people do, such as counting, checking, and putting things in order, and present them as “quirky” personality traits. This is so not correct. Yes, some people with OCD do these things, but not everyone does. And for the people who struggle with these types of OCD, these compulsions are not fun. For people with serious OCD, these compulsions can take up hours of their day, causing a lot of stress and embarrassment. They know what they’re doing is irrational, but they just can’t stop. Another misconception about OCD is that everyone with it is a neat freak and a germaphobe. Once again, some people have this type of OCD, but others do not. I’m generally not a politically correct person, but when BuzzFeed promotes a video for cleaning hacks with the tagline, “Let out the OCD person inside of you,” they’re being uninformed and insensitive. Why can’t they just say, “things all people who like clean houses should know,” or “how to tidy up your space?” Why do they have to bring mental illness into the equation? Sadly, I know the answer to these questions; calling something/someone “OCD,” or “bipolar” or “psycho” gets people’s attention. In our age of social media and information overload, those in the media are fighting to stay in the public consciousness. The things is, I honestly don’t think they even realize they are being insensitive because even with all the information out there, information on mental illness and how it actually affects people is rarely discussed. It’s out there, but it’s on the peripherie.

Now, BuzzFeed is only part of the problem. They’re just an example of how OCD being presented as a “quirky” personality trait is very much a part of mainstream media. Along with other psychiatric disorders, how it’s represented in movies and tv shows is damaging to individuals who suffer from these disorders. Seeing OCD as “quirky” and part of the “manic pixie dream girl” package, seeing people with Bipolar disorder as unstable, or seeing people with depression as lazy, but luckily creative, dismisses the seriousness of these disorders. It’s not that you can’t use the words “obsessive,” “compulsive,” “crazy,” etc., but be careful in what context you use them in and whether you group them together or not. I don’t want to be the word police, truly I don’t, but calling someone “crazy” because they’re struggling with mental illness shouldn’t be considered okay. However, people who do so shouldn’t be villainized, but taught the consequences of their actions. I honestly think people really do care about the wellbeing of others, and should be given the opportunity to learn about these silenced issues. And for those of you out there fighting alone, faced with the generalizations our society makes about mental illness, know that you are not alone. You are not weird, and you are good enough. Know that you can trust people to be there for you and accept you for who you are, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *