By Youngji Son
PLEASE NOTE: This blog post includes mention of suicidality. If you are in a crisis, or you are ever feeling suicidal or unsafe, please go to your local emergency room, or call 911 or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing “988” (you can also access online at www.988lifeline.org.) Hope is available for all members of the OCD community, only a call or a click away.
When I was 16, I was first diagnosed with OCD. OCD during my adolescent years ruthlessly ruined my life. For example, I worried about a house break-in obsessively and checked the door locks again and again. I just could not live a normal life. The obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors left me in despair, and I finally took an overdose of the pills for OCD in a suicide gesture.
Although I still have the disorder in my forties, I am now much more comfortable with my life with OCD. I even think of my life with OCD as meaningful. To get to the point, the practice of writing and sharing my personal narratives has helped me to develop the positive attitude toward my life with OCD. More correctly, the practice of sharing my personal narratives, rather than the practice of writing itself, was substantial for me to be positive about living with OCD.
During my adolescent years, I made personal notes. The purpose of the notes was an outlet where I could express my thoughts and emotions secretly. The notes were mostly self-criticism about my unreasonable fears and behaviors and a self-portrait of my weakness and weirdness. As the notes were supposed to be secret, I ripped them out or crossed the sentences out right after finishing them.
The thing is that the practice of writing the personal notes and keeping them secret did not work effectively to relieve my stresses and pains. I realized that expressing myself through the personal narratives did not calm my nerves and soothe the symptoms of my unreasonable fears and behaviors. It just made me better aware of my devastating life with OCD. It did not help me to move beyond the self-criticism and self-awareness of OCD.
During my doctoral study, I came to engage in another type of practice related to personal narratives. My academic work for my doctorate was personally oriented. The autoethnographic narratives were about my family’s experience as immigrants in the United States; the series of autoethnographic work included my daughter’s identity struggles (Son, 2021) and my own struggles as an immigrant and a father of immigrant children. Although my personal narrative in the autoethnographic work was not directly related to my OCD symptoms, the thoughts and ideas presented in the work were developed from my life that OCD heavily influenced.
The practice of writing the “academic” personal narratives was different from the personal narratives I kept during my adolescent years in that the academic personal narratives were shared with others. They were read by my committee members and scholars through their publications. The fact that my thoughts, ideas, and feelings would be read by others made me feel valued. I just felt great that my personal accounts counted and contributed to community and society like this posting about my OCD experience for the OCD community.
Keyes (1998) claims that social dimensions substantially inform an individual’s well-being as he or she remains embedded in social structures and communities. Social contribution, one of the social dimensions, heavily influences an individual’s well-being. Social contribution indicates how greatly individuals perceive that they are valued by others, are used as social resources, and contribute to others’ well-being. According to Keyes (1998), if an individual feels that what he or she does in the world is valued by society and contributes to the commonweal, the level of his or her well-being is supposed to be high.
As I felt that I contributed to society by sharing my personal narratives, I could be more positive about me. As I felt valued, I could concentrate on them more. Although I felt exhausted because of the symptoms of OCD, I felt ok with them as I knew that I would be recharged by the practice of personal narratives. The sense of satisfaction from making social contribution was strong enough to endure the despair from OCD. Sometimes I even took advantage of my OCD to work on my academic work that I had procrastinated. For example, I exposed myself to environments where my OCD symptoms are normally exacerbated, such as shopping centers. After coming back home, I could work harder on my writing to compensate the drained energy with the feeling of being valued. Further, as I was already accustomed to thinking deeply through living life with OCD, I could deliver my thoughts, ideas, and feelings quite easily and logically. In this way, I found that OCD in my life had its own meaning.
My doctor during my adolescent years suggested I should find something to focus on to forget about the obsessive thoughts. Although I did not find one at that time, I think I now have found one that I can mentally focus on. Thanks to the feeling that I make a social contribution through the practice of personal narratives, I can control myself better in my life with OCD. If you are suffering from OCD, I strongly recommend that you should try sharing your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Posting your personal narratives in this blog could be a good start. The fact that your thoughts, ideas, and feelings will be read by others and contribute to the OCD community would help you to mentally focus on the writing practice and have a feeling of being valued. The feeling of being valued then helps you to be yourself with OCD.
Visit Youngji Son's OCD Writing Community
Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social well-being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2), 121-140. https://doi.org/10.2307/2787065
Son, Y. (2021). A Korean immigrant child’s identity negotiation in multicultural book club and critical dialogue as third space. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/15427587.2021.1949597
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