Thursday, May 5, 2011

OCD Characters That Rock (And a Confession)

Let me make a confession... I have OCD! I received the diagnosis when I was almost out of college. After a lifetime of thinking I was going insane, it seriously came as a relief - something manageable rather than something that would make me have to go live under a bridge so I could hide from the mental institution. 

My doctor told me, in fact, that when a patient says they "feel insane," it is a strong indicator to her that they may have OCD because an OCD person knows that the thoughts they have are not rational and thus are very disturbed by them... That's why the compulsions exist - to relieve the anxiety that comes from these strange, obsessive thoughts (which are caused due to the person thinking too much and using up too much seratonin and having none left to help them move on to other thoughts; they get "stuck").

If you knew me casually in real life, you would not be able to tell this because when most people think of OCD, they think of handwashing or compulsive straightening/neatness. I've had various obsessions in the past, but my current (and perpetual) obsessions are more internal about whether or not I did the right thing and doubting facts that I know/believe to be true (in relationships and in religion). The compulsions are not as pronounced, mainly taking the form of asking people stupid questions I already know the answer to because I need that assurance OR confessing my thoughts/feelings even if it serves no purpose. Prior to my diagnosis and treatment, I was always massively depressed because of it all.

Anyway, all that to say that I LOVE that there have been some books floating around with OCD characters in them, lately. I eat these books up like they are candy because public ignorance about what OCD is (and about mental illness in general) gets to me. Also because I kind of want to represent... Anyway, here are some of my recent favorites:

Dani Solomon of The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young

I knew this book dealt with OCD due to the summary even though it does not mention the disorder there. Dani's OCD manifests itself in violent images of her killing people she loves most or saying things to them that would hurt them deeply. Does she have a desire to do these things? Of course not, but they get stuck in her brain and greatly distress her, and she can't get them out. This becomes a big problem for her when she actually confesses to the mother of the child that she babysits and the media is informed. I was kind of shocked/appalled that the first psychologist Dani goes to doesn't realize what is wrong with her. A doctor in the 80's failed to diagnose me even though I was showing some telltale symptoms, but isn't this 2011, after all? However, I believe symptoms really still go unnoticed in some medical circles. The writing in this book amazed me. Even though I have never had obsessions exactly like Dani's, the way her thought process works throughout the book reminds me of the way I think. It was refreshing to see that played out in literature but kind of unnerving at the same time. I wanted to shove the book in front of my husband's face and say, "Here, honey. This is why I act the way I do."

Jake Martin of Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

It was hard for me to relate to Jake's counting obsessions because of the fact that they involve numbers. I hate numbers and math and all of the complex things that go on in his head in regard to them! However, what I really did appreciate was the way the book allowed me to experience how it felt to endure these specific compulsions and made me thankful that (for the most part) I am not as stunted in my daily life because of them. Jake has to have the numbers just magically right before he can proceed throughout his day, and if they are wrong, he has to "start over" so that everything can feel right in his head. Since he doesn't really tell anyone about this, his OCD is also undiagnosed. One point that I found very telling was this his mother also had a very severe case of OCD, showing the genetic link that is often present for many who have the disorder.

Kendall Fletcher of Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

Out of these three characters, Kendall is the only one who initially knows that she has OCD, and I think that she is much better for it. She has certain rituals that she has to complete to feel that she and others are safe as well as a very distinct way of looking at the world. In the scope of this story, this gives her an edge that others don't have as they try to discover why the townspeople are missing. I love that her OCD isn't something debilitating but rather something empowering. The truth of the matter is that the same thing that make true OCDers miserable is also what makes them strong in a lot of cases. Kendall is, like, a butt-kicking poster child for the upside...

Anyway, this post might be way TMI for some, but I felt the need to share specifically because The Babysitter Murders got me thinking about how many people out there probably have OCD and think that there is no hope for them when, in fact, there really is.


  1. I don't think it's TMI at all. Thank you for sharing that part of yourself.

    I read and enjoyed Cryer's Cross. I'd like to check out the other two books as well. I've heard great things about Compulsion.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. As someone living with manic depression, I really appreciate anyone willing to discuss mental illness to help remove the associated stigmas. :) The more of us that talk about it, the less we'll be seen as crazy people!

    Cryer's Cross looks great. I'll have to pick it up!

  3. Cryer's Cross was the first story that introduced me to OCD and I loved it! Thanks for the other suggestions and for sharing! It's not something that needs to be hidden...We all have something we're dealing with!

  4. I actually loved this post-- if it was TMI, I'm going to go all TMI and say it made me feel a lot better. I also have OCD-- mine manifests in 'rituals' and obsessive thoughts as well as counting (not like the guy in Compulsion-- I'm no good at math! But everything has to be an even number). My mother has OCD as well, so I really want to read Compulsion and learn more about the genetic link. The Babysitter Murders also looks fantastic, though I didn't love Cryer's Cross. (I liked Kendall, but was disappointed by the ending.)

    Like SM Reine said, thanks so much for posting this and helping to reassure the world a little bit at a time that we're not crazy people. :)