Stuck in One Gear: It Isn’t Funny Anymore
or My Comic Life with OCD
“Are we still friends?” I texted. I knew the question was irrational but I hit send anyway. In a week my best friend Raighne was helping me move my belongings across the midwest into a room three blocks from his apartment. Within a minute he called me and said, “Of course we’re still friends buddy.”
During our phone call he admitted he knew there were issues I struggled with. “What kinds of issues?” I asked. I hoped he knew that I was asking because I needed help.
After a moment he said: “Obsessions and compulsions.” The recognition I felt reminded me of when I read Naked by David Sedaris in college, when I saw The Aviator biopic about Howard Hughes, when I read the Hospital Suite graphic novel by John Porcellino and Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl. Each time I discovered their OCD issues I realized, “This is me.”
Unfortunately each moment of clarity and self-recognition was smothered. I thought, “But I don’t lick light switches. I don’t need to open doors with tissues, check the burners on the stove again or clean my ears repetitively.” My issues were different. And so I continued to dismiss the disorder that distorted and shaped my life.
In elementary school I filled entire notebooks with novels. My middle school planner was so crammed with repetitive phrases that my handwriting had become microscopic. In high school I bought a four foot high filing cabinet so I could categorize reams of celebrity interviews I printed off the internet. After I moved into the dorms in college I lifted weights every other day from four to six hours. Whenever I got into a task that involved organization or repetition, I lost days, weeks or even years of my life.
Over Christmas break my younger brother said that it was difficult to grow up with a sibling who was so talented and driven. He admitted, however, that he knew how debilitating it was for me. He said, “Your perfectionism has made you a great artist but I’ve seen what it’s done to your life.”
He was right. At the end of September my best friend Raighne and I got divorced. The theme of of my upcoming graphic novel The Man in the Blue Suit touches on how I lost my identity in our marriage. Painting it was turning the OCD that drove me to research subjects intensively for years in on myself. I fell into an obsessive-compulsive abyss.
My thoughts became repetitive and I spent hours sending Raighne texts detailing everything he had ever done wrong to me. I analyzed our marriage over and over. I exonerated him and sobbed over all of the ways in which I had failed him. I yelled at him for weeks over the phone. Weeks became months. During my few moments of lucidity, he would say, “It will get better buddy. We’ll get through this.”
I couldn’t shake it and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I felt my mind slipping. There were weeks where I stopped being friends with him, but I couldn’t stop emailing him rants. He answered all of them. He promised me the world if I could just pull myself together, but I couldn’t.
I tried hard to take control of myself. I became obsessed with printmaking and attended every class I could. I learned how to do monotypes with ink, watercolor and stencils and linocuts and reductive woodcuts. I bought a press, brayers, inks, barens, Gelli and plastic plates, speciality papers, wood carving tools and a honing strop. Printmaking gave me hours of relief in which I never thought about Raighne at all.
Things finally stabilized for us in December. A close friend of mine cut me out of his life when I refused to date him. The loss of that ten-year friendship made me realize that Raighne was the kind of friend the other person was not. I could finally see my negative thinking patterns and obsessive conclusions for what they were — mental delusions.
Our conversation in which we talked about my obsessive compulsive disorder for the first time made me see myself in a new light. I saw my inability to handle stress driving me to do things that were odd and trapping me inside of myself. I recognized my obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors and my lack of control over them. I began to see my mind’s disorder as something separate from myself.
Accepting that I have OCD has brought me a great sense of relief. It was a torture to be driven to endlessly think and do things over and over with no idea why. I spent so much of my life wondering “What is wrong with me?” without realizing that there were people with similar mental issues and resources for help.
I will never be an easy person or have an easy life. I will always have OCD. That being said, I can work through my anxiety and learn that I enjoy things I thought I feared, like parties and speaking on podcasts. I have intense social phobias but I like being part of a community. As long as I’m able to keep putting myself out there, well, as my best friend says, “Things will get better buddy.” ❤