We’re very excited to have writer, actress, and mental health advocate Mara Wilson participate in OCD Awareness Week!
Mara, best known for her childhood roles in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder at an early age and has written extensively about her experience, most notably in her memoir Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame. Mara is actively involved in mental health awareness initiatives and has lent her voice to organizations such as Project UROK and Okay to Say. She continues to speak openly about her own mental health and challenge stigma as a public figure.
Here, Mara talks about facing your fears, how to be an effective advocate, and more. Read more about Mara in her previous blog post.
Why is it important for people, especially people with OCD, to face their fears?
I’ve said before that while many love to say “do one thing every day that scares you,” some of us don’t have a choice! Facing our fears (and mind you, doing it in a time and place and a way that feels safe for each of us) is how we get to a place where we can be more content with our lives. There’s a misconception that we like our compulsions, but I think we know that while there may be fringe benefits, that’s not true. Facing our fears, learning about them, laughing about them — this is how these fears lose their power over us.
It’s funny, many I know with OCD are also some of the bravest people I know. Maybe it’s because we spend so much of our lives preparing for the worst, but I know a lot of us are great in an emergency, or just very trustworthy, understanding people. I think when you’ve lived with all the internal fear we have, the real world is nothing by comparison.
Is there a fear that you face on a daily basis? When is the last time you had to face a fear, and what was that like?
Nearly every night for years, I have lain awake worrying about what might happen if I, or someone I loved, got into a traffic accident. I’ve thought of all the ways to avoid it, all the routes I should tell them to avoid, all the times they shouldn’t be in a car. I thought I was never going to drive.
Now, this was possible when I was in New York: I’d been living there since I was a teenager, and didn’t need to have a license. But now I’m (mostly) back in LA, and it’s hard to get around here without one, so I’ve been facing that fear. It’s taken me a long time, and lots of practice, but I’m finally at a place where I feel safe and comfortable driving, and am not obsessing about accidents every time I’m behind the wheel. It’s a bit embarrassing to be trying to get my license at twice the age most people get theirs, but I’m still proud of myself for facing my fear.
You often respond on Twitter to people who make jokes about OCD. Why is it important to respond to people who make jokes about OCD, or companies that misuse the term?
People say it’s just jokes, but honestly, the joking about OCD kept me from getting the treatment I needed. It made me think OCD was just a personality trait, not an actual health condition that I needed treatment for. I thought what I had didn’t have a name, that I was beyond help. There’s already so much misinformation about OCD out there, there doesn’t need to be more.
It’s also odd to me that it’s OK to make a joke about this one particular debilitating condition, when it just wouldn’t make sense to joke about any other condition. People don’t say “I’m so jaundice!” or “I’m so diabetes!” OCD shouldn’t be any different.
Of course, if someone has OCD, and humor is their coping mechanism, I think that’s great. But it’s important to remember that OCD takes many shapes, and what’s funny about it to one OCD-er might not always be funny to another.
How would you advise someone to respond to a friend who jokes that they’re “so OCD”?
I think it’s important to call them out on it, but it doesn’t need to be confrontational. You can say, “Hey, living with OCD is really hard, so it gets on my nerves when you do that,” but you can also just say “What do you mean by that?” When you have to make someone explain their joke, sometimes they realize it isn’t that funny after all.
Do you have a message or words of advice for the OCD community this OCD Week?
I think, if they are able to, they should embrace community. It feels so good to know you are not alone. I think of how amazing it felt to be at OCDCon this summer, knowing that so many people had been through what I had been through, and understood. Sometimes it can feel like nobody understands, but at the Con, I realized nothing I said or do would be so weird that they wouldn’t want to be around me anymore. I felt so safe and accepted! I also loved meeting people who had made friends there in years past: there were even two little girls who were so close I mistook them for sisters, but their parents said they had just met earlier that week!
When I got home, I remember thinking that I wished the whole world could be more like that. I think that also means we need to keep educating others about OCD, and encouraging our allies and supporters to do the same. I believe community will help us make a more accepting and understanding world.