Devoted to Disorder
On the repetitive similarities between OCD, love, and trauma.
When we were growing up, my brother and I were reticent. Since we couldn’t say it aloud, we expressed our love for others in attempting to become fluent in what they already knew best. A crush on the son of a Ukrainian oil magnate was followed by a sudden fixation on learning Cyrillic. Interest in a handsome composer resulted in the meticulous transcription of his life’s work. We wanted to win affection by being measurably excellent. Perhaps this was the immigrant’s lot: assimilating one’s interests in hopes of being better understood. In that case, we were especially, by necessity, precocious.
Earlier this year, I made the questionable decision to visit Boston during a news-making cold snap; both my best friend and my brother had relocated there to study. The day before my departure, my GP prescribed me some anti-neurotic medication, insinuating that my noncommittal request for help had come as no surprise. I recalled that my brother had been awarded a similar prescription earlier this year – a fact that I gleaned not in any sort of earnest confession but by accidentally sitting on the little slip of paper, riding shotgun in his car.
Over-ordering plates of dumplings at a popular Cambridge eatery, I initiated a line of conversation about what I could now acknowledge we had long shared. When he mentioned, smiling, that he might try a run of lithium (“like Carrie Matheson”), he was expressing not only an affinity with a smart, manic character, but a self-aware pride in diagnosis. The latter was a phenomenon I had consistently noticed across the board, from contemporary writers that I admired to my hardworking peers, the whole pharmacological lexicon tunnelling down the great American throat. Was it that we struggled to parse mental health out from mental illness that made us stubborn in the admission of the latter? (We do not desire to hold on to pneumonia out of sentimentality.) I had been aware on some level that mental illness affected our ability to love. Now, I considered the possibility that how we thought about our disorders was a kind of love in itself.