Hey everyone: with the holidays coming up, I unfortunately won’t have much time for writing, so expect things to be quiet here for a little while. Merry Happy, and see you in 2014!
I’m sorry I’ve been quiet, but I’ve been pretty busy with personal stuff recently and I have a few projects in the works – including one that’ll be on this blog soon.
Anyway, there’s a new Psych Today column. Of course, now that I see it published, it looks embarrassingly sentimental, but I think (hope?) there’s stuff in there that could be helpful for parents dealing with this.
I know sometimes it’s hard to hope, but you have to try.
Hey, remember that time I said I was moving? And remember how much I hate moving, and how depletes my resources and it dangerously exacerbates my mental illness? Ha ha, good times.
So yeah, moving + grad school = very little time to write for my own enjoyment. The good news is, I am still blogging over at Psychology Today, and I’ve put together a couple of pieces over the past couple of months that I’m really happy with:
First up, I wrote a first-hand experience of a recent change in my medication routine. It’s a weirdly personal essay that probably isn’t applicable to anyone else’s experiences, because brain chemistry and the way it interacts with psychiatric medication is so unique to the individual. But you might find it interesting, if not useful. (I like the clip art a lot, too.)
The next two columns actually complement one another pretty well. There’s an essay about how quiet and boredom can exacerbate OCD symptoms, and another essay about how I’ve found that complicated, geeky subjects and stories can provide some relief from the disorder (something I wrote about a lot in Triggered). I don’t recommend avoiding boredom and seeking constant stimulation as a method for managing OCD, but I find these things can be surprisingly effective in a pinch.
So yeah, things will likely continue to be quiet around these parts – though I’ll try to be better about posting Psych Today links, and I am a little more active on Tumblr these days.
Some of you may have noticed I’ve been under radio silence for a few weeks; my excuse is that I recently moved from Philly to Boston for graduate school. Guys, I hate moving. Moving is the worst and I hate it, I cannot emphasize this enough; trying to change apartments when you have an anxiety disorder is basically asking for a two-week long panic attack. Anyway, here are some suggestions for managing anxiety and some jokes, but mostly just lots of complaining.
There’s nothing that can actually make moving enjoyable, short of an electrode that zaps the pleasure center of your brain every time you fill another 1.5 cu. ft. cardboard box from uHaul. And sadly, an anxiety disorder only compounds the problem – but going in with a game plan can help.
I have a new column up at Psychology Today. It’s about something I’ve been wrestling with a whole lot recently – I wrote this while as a way to put my thoughts together, in a way that might help others who are dealing with the same stuff. Here’s an excerpt:
…honestly, there are moments when it feels like I was a different person before my OCD diagnosis and treatment in 2007. As a child and teenager, the OCD permeated every aspect of my life: every birthday and Christmas and graduation, every conversation, every kiss and argument and laugh. Every decision I made, every thought that passed through my head, was tainted by it. I can’t remember a period of time longer than a week when OCD did not find some way to hurt me.
And, even today, visiting my parent’s home, returning to the places where I spent my childhood, can sometimes be especially hard. My years with OCD haunt me. I’ll visit the wrong spot, I’ll see the wrong sign, I’ll overhear a snippet of conversation that will put me in a frame of mind that will bring back a vivid memory – and all of a sudden I’m there again, as a child or a young man, writhing in the grasp of my illness.
How do you live with that?
How do you live with a hurt so big it swallowed four-fifths of your life?
We’ve been observing radio silence for a few weeks, but I promise, it was with good reason!
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to give the keynote speech at the Parent/Professional Advocacy League’s 3rd annual conference in Marlborough, MA. PPAL was extraordinarily gracious and I’m very grateful to them for the opportunity to speak. The presentation involved the frustrations and challenges of growing up with OCD, along with some characteristic weirdness.
PPAL sent along some photos of the event, which I’ve put up on my Facebook page if you want to see me emoting and annunciating. Set them as your background! (Please don’t.)
My family and I also participated in last week’s 1 Million Steps for OCD Awareness Walk with the International OCD Foundation. The IOCDF do great work, and I’m proud to say the walk managed to raise over $65,000 for the foundation. If you or a loved one are suffering from OCD, or you just want to read more about the disorder, the IOCDF are a great place to start learning and potentially finding treatment.
So that’s what I’ve been up to over the past few weeks. It’s all been a bit exhausting, but I now that I’m through it I hope I can get back to posting some more nonsense here soon.
I love horror. I love horror because, by definition, horror has to confront its characters with what the things they are most frightened of: whether this is as straightforward as sexy, reckless teenagers faced with the inevitability of death in the form of an axe-swinging redneck, or as complex as Jack Torrence fighting and then succumbing to personifications of his alcoholism and suffocating marriage in the Overlook Hotel. Horror is anti-OCD; horror pries away your handsoap and rosary and every other ritual you use to protect yourself against the unnamable, and forces you face-first into the filth of existence.
So when I heard about Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s new FX series American Horror Story I dove in without hesitation. Haunted house? Kickass intro with veiled brides and industrial music and pickled animal fetuses? Yuppies forced to confront their sexual neuroses by a sexy ghost maid and the specter of death in a faceless gimp suit? I’ll take tickets for two consecutive showings, please, and one of those collectable plastic popcorn buckets.
As it turned out, most of the content of the first season of American Horror Story can be sorted into one of three categories:
- Legitimately goddamn terrifying.
- Horror mash-up schlock that was usually jaw-droppingly tasteless, utterly devoid of any redeeming moral or aesthetic value, and spectacularly entertaining all at once (heartthrob school shooters, ghost abortions, Dylan McDermott masturbating out a window while uncontrollably sobbing).
- Stupid bullshit that made no sense.
I was entranced for all thirteen episodes, sometimes for the reasons the creators intended, and I will never watch them again. And I was prepared to say “thanks but no thanks” for the second season, even when I learned it would be launching an entirely new story instead of continuing from the original’s dopey finale.
But I was intrigued I learned the new season would take place in a mental asylum, a venue I myself have some experience with. I anticipated another rollercoaster wreck of a season – but would I be insulted and entertained, as I was last time? Or would the show’s presumably insulting portrayal of the mentally ill leave me offended, with a furious blog post months after the season’s finale my only recourse?
Imagine my surprise when, after shotgunning all 13 episodes over a long weekend, I realized AHS: Asylum was actually pretty good. Maybe even great.
Mind, that might be tough to wrap your head around if you just read a summary of the season’s narrative, a potent cocktail of horror and exploitation clichés: serial killers, cannibal mutants, necrophilia, demonic possession, mad Nazi scientists, nun rape, Chloe Sevigny, benevolent alien eugenicists, and Jessica Lange gleefully performing “The Name Game” for a crowd of ecstatic spastics and schizoids. This is television that is unafraid to say: “everyone knows Anne Frank died in Auschwitz. What my show presupposes is: maybe she didn’t?”
But there’s a certain logic to the show’s mad soufflé of tropes and stock characters. Monsters and horror stories catch on when they resonate with our collective fears, when they expose us to the things we’d rather forget – and AHS: Asylum deliberately samples from horror stories that toy with our primal fear of mental illness.
After all: who wouldn’t be frightened if someone they loved suddenly began behaving inexplicably and shouting nonsense? And what are demonic possession and exorcism, after all, but a cultural attempt to explain and cure that kind of psychosis? Stories about mutant and cannibals and skin-wearing serial killers fascinate us because they pretend to illuminate evil and insanity while quietly reassuring us, “you’re nothing like that, this could never happen to you or someone you love, guys like this are just crazy.” And there are times when AHS: Asylum doesn’t even need to draw from fiction, because many of its most chilling moments (briefly: forced sterilization, the treatment of homosexuality as a mental disorder, the reckless deployment of electroshock therapy, the deplorable conditions of many mental hospitals, and all the rest) are taken from the nightmarish history of actual mental institutions. From this perspective, even the series’ portrayal of Anne Frank becomes defensible – it draws a straight line from the Nazi’s systematic elimination of undesirables to our own shameful history of mistreating the marginalized.
Over the course of the season, the loopy subplots about mutants and devils are either resolved or forgotten, and the series shifts focus to a more grounded portrayal of the plight of people society has no use for. This climaxes in a harrowing sequence in the final episode, a riff on Geraldo Rivera’s expose on the Willowbrook State School, where one of our heroines (a former inmate, now a successful journalist) returns to the asylum and finds it’s degraded even more than she imagined. At the end of the series, it isn’t the monsters or the cheesy subplots that stick with you; it’s the creators’ compassion for, and outrage at the mistreatment of, the marginalized and mentally disabled.
Asylum won’t be for everyone – I’ve got a long history with comic books and videogames and pulp fiction, so I’ve got a lot of patience for the crazy plot twists the season deploys early on, but if the premise of angels and aliens coexisting makes you roll your eyes then this might not be the show for you. And I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t nearly as entertaining or, frankly, even as scary as the first season. But the first American Horror Story only succeeded when it was trying to be silly or shocking, and it’s dramatic moments missed the mark entirely. The second season manages to say something coherent and compelling and even poignant about the plight of the mentally ill.
The show is a mess and it won’t be for everyone and I doubt the forthcoming season (subtitled Coven, dealing with witches, apparently lighter in tone) will be anything like it. But for me, going in with a very particular set of experiences and expectations (I’ve come far closer to to Briarcliff than most people will in their lifetimes), American Horror Story: Asylum worked, and it worked far better than I’d imagined it could.