Lots of times people people ask me tough questions. Sometimes these are questions about mental illness that I’m not qualified to answer. Sometimes these are challenging personal questions, like ones about my personal OCD symptoms, or “why don’t we have grandchildren yet?”
People never ask me the questions I have good answers to. For instance, people never ask me: “Fletcher, what is the total nadir of human creativity? What is the single most vile object to pass through the bowels of mankind’s collective imagination?”
Because it is not reality television, or YA supernatural erotica or fanfiction thereof, or secretly evangelical horrorcore rap produced by men dressed as clowns.
Everyone, my family and I will be participating in the IOCDF’s One Million Steps For OCD Awareness event in June. The IOCDF does great work, so please consider donating – they’ll really appreciate anything you can contribute.
Here’s the letter I wrote for the IOCDF, explaining how the disorder has affected my family, and how the organization helps sufferers:
“OCD is the pathological intolerance of risk, however minute, and the surrender to protective ritual, however unbearable…As an OCD sufferer, I did any number of asinine, irrational things not because they would protect me, but because I thought they might,and I’d be darned if the one night I failed to properly pray the lord my soul to keep was the night I died before I woke….”
Not a lot of people get this about OCD. People associate repetitive behaviors such as hand-washing and counting with the disorder. In reality, most of the action is actually happening inside the sufferer’s head – the physical (or mental) rituals are a way to ward off the ceaseless, cyclical thoughts that torture the sufferer.
I’ve suffered from OCD for as long as I can remember, but wasn’t diagnosed until I was twenty. My particular variant of the disorder involves uncontrollable, intimately disturbing intrusive thoughts, with no visible compulsions. OCD severely impacted my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. It wasn’t until I was properly diagnosed and received appropriate treatment at the McLean Hospital OCDI and The Anxiety & OCD Treatment Center of Philadelphia that I found myself on a path of learning to manage this insidious disorder.
The OCD Foundation is doing critical work on the frontlines of the battle against OCD using the most powerful weapon we have: education, both to raise public awareness and to instruct treatment providers in diagnosis and care. Sadly, there are still many areas of this country where no one is trained in the appropriate treatment modalities for addressing OCD; there are many areas of this world where clinicians have little familiarity with its diagnostic definition. I’ve met friends in treatment who battled undiagnosed OCD, not just through college like I did, but for most of their adult lives. The IOCDF is working to change that, and I’m walking to help them out.
Please consider making even a small donation – the website is simple to use, fast, and totally secure. If you’d like to create your own page and join my team, Team Triggered, I’d be happy to have you. Also, if it isn’t too much trouble, please post this on Facebook and pass it along to anyone who you think might want to donate.
Thanks for your support. I really appreciate it.
It’s a bit short notice, but I’ll be participating in a conversation this afternoon on HuffPost Live about colleges and mental health care with Dr. Jenny Hwang of Stony Brook University and Allison Prang of the University of Missouri. We’ll be taking questions and comments on air, so definitely check it out if you’d like to be part of the conversation.
It’s been a busy few weeks for me, though it’s been pretty quiet around these parts. It seems like a good time to kick the cobwebs out of the ol’ WordPress and let you guys know what I’ve been up to.
- I have a new column up today at Psychology Today about things high school students with mental disabilities should look for in a college. Not quite as jokey as some other stuff I’ve done recently, but I know I’ve spoken to a number of young people about the difficulty of balancing mental illness and college life, so hopefully some of you will find it useful.
- Titling the scale from “serious,” zipping past “funny” and careening headfirst into “horrifying”: I published another article with Cracked.com recently, this time about the 5 most soul-destroying attempts at videogame marketing I’ve ever seen. Not safe for work, unless your workplace condones mutilated body parts, breastfeeding zombies, and crudely illustrated bits male anatomy.
- I’ve been very busy over with odds and ends at my new Tumblr account. Over the past few weeks I’ve covered rejected Republican convention performers, Andrew WK’s sex body spray, a hypothetical fandom RTS game, and most recently a rap battle between NBC comedy titans Ron Swanson and Abed Nadir. Tumblr’s a fun outlet for ideas not quite worth expanding into a full essay, so I suspect I’ll be busy there for quite some time.
- For anyone following my annotations for Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck, I started a second Tumblr dedicated exclusively to the project. I’ve put up some excerpts from the annotations, as well as a few attempts at fan art. I’ll be putting up my (mammoth) annotations for Act 5 Act 2 of Homestuck sometime over the next week – probably after the hubbub over the rumored 4/13 update dies down – so keep an eye out for those as well.
- Finally, I’m going to be a keynote speaker at the Parent/Professional Advocacy League‘s upcoming Conference and Celebration at the end of May! They’re a great organization, and I’m thrilled to be working with them. The conference will be in Marlborough, MA, so check out the links and think about swinging by if you’re in the neighborhood.
Another Tumblr post that kinda blew up past its original perimeters, so I decided to repost:
I got a txt msg from my younger sister in Chicago asking if I’d seen the last episode of Girls. I hadn’t – I like Girls, but it’s also uncomfortably accurate in it’s depiction of self-absorbed privileged kids in their late twenties, and I have limited patience for television that reminds me why I hate myself.
But sister told me this episode was about OCD, and I figured, okay, this one I should probably watch.
Visualize the majestic giraffe, hierarch of the serengeti, elegant yet absurd; confident yet precarious. Imagine it reaching out for delicious acacia leaves with it’s ink-black tongue.
And then imagine, if you will, the giraffe suddenly revealing it is not a noble beast but a robot in disguise, a heroic transformer dedicated to the eradication of evil on earth. It begins its transformation, gears grind and pistons pump, and the panels of spotted hide unfold to reveal the robot warrior within.
And yet… well, the end result is… not elegant. Bony giraffe legs hang over the shoulders, the spine contorts, the guy just sort of has… giraffe parts, everywhere, just these gangly-ass limbs splayed out all over the place, because they’re way too long and there’s really nowhere to put them.
Completely unrelated: I’ve started doing yoga to help manage my anxiety, and have chronicled my misadventures at Psychology Today. The imagery above may or may not assist you in visualizing this as you enjoy the article.
In recognition of Valentine’s day, I’ve put together some of my writing about dating into a new column on the challenges of finding a date while coping with an anxiety disorder. I mean, I’m not any kind of expert myself, but maybe I can give you a little push in the right direction? Also, many thanks to the good folks at Creative Commons for the illustration; up to this point, a really discouraging percent of my earnings for the column has been going to terrible clip art.
(Trigger warning for suicide, self-harm, eating disorders, trauma – basically most mental health stuff that necessitates a trigger warning. This is a nasty, uncomfortable piece. It’s an attempt at satire. Please keep in mind, if you’ve been affected by any of the problems I’ve listed, you are not the target of this satire, and I don’t mean to cause you any harm. If you choose to read it I hope it doesn’t hurt you.)
In the aftermath of the recent spate of mass shootings, we’ve seen a great deal of spirited discussion about the cause of the violence. Some believe we need stricter gun control, limiting ammunition purchases and banning more dangerous weapons. Others blame violence in the media, and argue that trained, competent gun owners are best equipped to prevent further tragedies.
Only one proposal seems universally agreed upon, and included in proposals by those across the political spectrum: the need to reduce access to guns for the mentally ill. The American people have realized that most of these media-enticing serial murderers suffer from extreme and dangerous forms of mental illness, and that the best way to prevent massacres like Aurora and Sandy Hook from interrupting their television viewing and forcing them to have sad feelings is to stop these troubled men from acquiring guns.
That idea is an atrocity. That is literally something that Hitler did. Even suggesting it is an infringement on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the gentle, peace-loving, self-hating mentally ill. Ask yourself: are we so hellbent on preventing a handful of crazy people from inflicting violence on innocent children, that we’re willing to prohibit innocent crazy people from inflicting violence on themselves? Are we really that far gone?
A study on gun control in Canada determined that suicide is five times more likely to occur in a home with a gun. That’s a statistic that should give any proponent of gun control pause: if we take away guns, as many as five out of six suicidally-depressed people will find themselves without the constitutionally-guaranteed instrument they need to pursue their personal vision of happiness. Check your sanity privilege, readers: maybe you’ve never tried to kill yourself with a firearm, but that doesn’t give you the right to stop 19,392 law-abiding American citizens every year from doing so.
What will happen to these decent, constitution-loving, suicidal Americans once we take away their guns? Will they be forced to poison or suffocation, less-effective methods that leave their suicide vulnerable to interruption by some interfering “good Samaritan”? Will they toss themselves off buildings, requiring clean-up and even more big government spending? Keep your government out of my brain, Mr. President. The only thing that belongs in there is a bullet.
And that’s not even considering the countless legitimate uses the mentally ill have for firearms. You might argue an obsessive-compulsive would have to spend less time counting bullets with smaller magazines, but maybe you should keep your nanny-state good intentions to yourself? It’s an obsessed person’s right and his right alone to decide how many tormented hours he wants to spend counting – besides, with smaller ammunition capacity per magazine he’ll just buy more magazines and count those, you can’t stop crazy people from finding ways. Or imagine an anorexic who finds the best way to shed pounds is to take a literal “pound of flesh” with an assault rifle. Imagine a self-mutilator who decides razors aren’t enough, and who can only get relief from the unrelenting emotional numbness the unrelenting by blasting holes in her forearms (or thighs, if she wants to be discrete).
People like to say that the constitution is not a suicide pact. Maybe it’s not. But it is a pact between the American government and its people, and it explicitly guarantees our right to the tools of suicide. This nation was founded on belief in the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and some of us are afflicted with a tragic condition that means we can’t be happy until we’re not alive. This is America, my fellow patriots. Live free and die.
I was really happy to learn of this thoughtful and empathetic essay by Swarthmore associate dean for academic affairs and Education prof Diane Anderson, regarding Triggered. Here’s an excerpt:
I urge every college professor and dean to read Fletcher Wortmann’s compelling memoir, because learning how to unlearn and relearn is a serious metacognitive feat required of students with chronic illnesses. In Wortmann’s case, in spite of the burden of this mental illness, he learned humility and new habits of mind, how to be socially engaged enough at McLean to qualify for the OCDI, and how to live with his illness and its manifestations.
He eventually learned how to be a student with OCD at Swarthmore by taking a lighter academic load and making time for stress reduction and maintaining the perspectives that the OCDI provided. To live in wellness and to thrive academically, students like Wortmann who carry The Fifth Course must learn how to balance their course loads, and learn, as Wortmann did, how to do Swarthmore.
You can read the whole review here. I’ve been highly critical of Swarthmore College in the past – the memoir, in particular, is pretty much relentless in its criticism of the administration, student body and culture of the school. Now, some of my invective was exaggerated for comic effect (I am adamant that making fun of drunk white kids grinding will never not be hilarious), and I’ll freely admit some was just me venting about personal challenges and isn’t really fair to Swarthmore.
But, while I can only speak to my personal experiences at the school, I need to repeat: Swarthmore wasn’t a good place to me, and it wasn’t a good place for a number of my friends and fellow students who also suffered from mental health problems (Mark Vonnegut among them). There’s a culture of hyper-competitiveness, masochism and self-immolation among the student body that the administration does not do enough to address (and in some ways tacitly encourages); the school makes demands of its students that preclude the time-consuming self-care required to manage a mental illness. And this made my obsessive-compulsive disorder much, much worse, far beyond what the college’s mental health services were capable of addressing, to the point that it threatened my life. I have a dear friend who used to argue about this with me, who used to say that I was too critical of the school, and that the pressure cooker environment actually worked for him and a lot of people he knew. I wish I’d told him: stairs work for a lot of people, too. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to build ramps.
Maybe this is just a Swarthmore thing, or maybe it’s a problem across American higher education. (That the student culture’s attitude towards mental health is reminiscent of American society’s, blaming the mentally ill for their problems and shaming them away from treatment, makes me suspect the latter.) But in either case: college is supposed to help prepare young people to enter society as functioning adults, and my school did not do this. It crippled me, and I needed to escape it before I could begin to heal.
So Diane Anderson’s essay gave me hope. She gets it. She shows that some educators recognize this as an institutional problem, and that institutional steps must be taken to address it. And, within the frequently inflexible bureaucratic environment of higher education, she suggests compassion and open-mindedness. I hope that people at Swarthmore and at other schools listen to her. If they do, maybe other kids won’t have to go through what I did.
There’s a new Psych Today column up. It’s kinda information-will-set-you-free in tone and I hope you’ll forgive me for my techno-utopianism; I think electronic communication has a lot of potential for increasing awareness of mental illness, but obviously there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a laptop is no substitute for a trained mental health practitioner.
Also, note the exceptionally creative image accompanying the article! Finding good images for cheap is tough, guys.