Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why We Say It's "My" *Insert Mental Illness Here*

I am not my messy hair and
schlubby wardrobe, either.

You might have noticed that people refer to their mental illnesses as if they own them. When I talk about my personal experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I call it "my OCD" more often than not. People with mental disorders don't always do this, but it feels right in certain contexts for a few reasons. It's not because we feel like we own our disorders, but rather that everyone's case is different. 

If you were to take me and all of the aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorder that I suffer from and put me next to say Howie Mandel, you're going to see two very different experiences. Mandel has contamination OCD. It's severe enough that he can't shake hands with people. He has other problems, some of them probably deeply personal, but the fact is that none of it looks at all like what I have. I shake hands all the time. I wash them probably not as much as I should. I'm far too anxious ever to be a television personality, and yet he is able to do it. So, when I say my OCD, I'm referring to OCD as it presents in me. For example, my OCD involves terrifying intrusive thoughts. See how that works?

For some of us, our use of my could have something to do with the denial we suffer from and that others heap upon us. Someone with depression may wonder if they are depressed or just a big baby (you're not). Someone with OCD may wonder if they really have OCD or are going "crazy." Doubting yourself is part of several of these illnesses. When you put some ownership into the way you refer to your condition, you are not only asserting that you have it, you are also telling others that they can't take that away from you. Sure, we want them to take the illness away, if they could, but we don't want them to take away that explanation for why we suffer. 

Some therapies call for depersonalization of mental illness. They ask that the individual behave as if the illness is something that is not part of them. It is something "other." This is a coping strategy along the lines of the popular mantra "I am not my OCD." If this works for you, do it. Your mental illness is not you. You just have it.