The day I was diagnosed with OCD was the first time I even hinted at the theme of my intrusive thoughts. I’d been terrified to tell anyone what I’d been obsessing about, and I’d done—ahem—obsessive research into therapists I thought I could trust. See, my worst fear about divulging my secrets was that I’d be reported to the authorities for my thoughts, as unwanted as they were. What if a therapist considered me a threat to children? I imagined the headline: Mild-mannered proofreader arrested in Minneapolis. And the article itself? Shameful and humiliating to the core.
Last night someone posted to an OCD support group I belong to on Facebook. She was upset by a post she’d seen in another group she follows. I’m neither a mother nor British, so I’d never heard of it myself, but when I saw the post she was upset about I became upset, too.
As an advocate, I consider it my responsibility to calmly educate people who don’t understand OCD. But I was literally sick to my stomach, and I probably wasn’t as kind as I could have been. I tried my best. In the comments section, people told this woman it’s her duty to report her friend. They said they were disgusted and that this woman’s friend shouldn’t be around children, ever. I was shaking as I responded to people, telling them people with OCD are the least likely to commit a horrific act, and that we’re actually more likely to commit suicide. I vacillated between being generous (“Honest question: Do you know what OCD is?”) and being borderline rude and angry (“You’re not ‘stuck.’ You’re either a caring friend or you’re not.”)
I wrote to the page itself, saying that this poor woman in question trusted her friend and was now about to be betrayed. I said I have OCD myself and what’s happening to this woman was my worst nightmare. I scolded them for not vetting questions more carefully. (This morning I noticed the post had been removed.)
I grew calmer as I watched fellow OCDers come along to stick up for the woman with OCD, posting screen shots from IntrusiveThoughts.org and other educational resources. It didn’t seem to matter to some of the original commenters, though. They insisted that this woman was a danger to children and that social services would sort everything out. And as sad as this all made me, I have to admit that it’s understandable that they don’t know that the words “pedophile” and “dark thoughts” mean something totally different in the OCD world. They weren’t being bad people for sticking up for children and their well-being.
The problem, of course, is that there needs to be more education about OCD, and it can’t take place in the heat of the moment. Ideally the woman who posted her dilemma would have asked her friend questions and then taken it upon herself to research OCD herself. It seems like a lot to ask, but she’s worried enough to post to a board of hundreds of thousands of people asking whether she should report her friend to the authorities and cut her out of her life. The least she could do is look into what OCD is, why people with these intrusive thoughts are afraid to be around children, and how she can help.
Friends, continue to feel unashamed of this disorder. And continue to confide in people you know you can trust. Keyword here being trust. And if you’re not sure who those people are yet, join support groups full of like-minded people. In the meantime, I and other advocates will continue to spread the word on behalf of all of us. I’m no longer afraid of people judging me. Bring it on.
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