grumpy about mental illness (PBS Nature Fail)

Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD. Jesse has OCD.

I’ve been obsessed with this idea lately.

It could be that I’m experiencing unwanted, intrusive thoughts. More likely, it’s because she actually has OCD and I’m her mother and I’m just starting to comprehend how malicious and destructive this chronic disorder can be. We have a lot of work to do in the years ahead.

So here’s what I’m coming to understand about OCD. It is not OCPD (which I now pronounce oh-see-PEEE-dee). Obsessive compulsive personality disorder is what many of us actually think of when we think “OCD.” This is the one where the person is really rigid. OCPD typically involves an unwillingness to give up responsibility to others (because you’re the only one who can do things the right way) and a sense of righteousness about how you’re right about everything. OCPD peeps are fixated with rules and moral codes; they’re perfectionists and cheap hoarders.

Or at least that’s what I’ve read. So basically, it’s one of those “asshole” disorders. With my apologies to anyone I know who has been diagnosed with OCPD. I’m not judging, by the way. I’ve also recently been diagnosed with OCPD. A couple days ago, Anthony diagnosed me. He is a doctor, though I’m not sure that a Ph.D. in the dismal science translates to skills in interpreting mental maladies.

Anyway, OCPD isn’t Jesse. OCD is. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder, not a personality disorder. I’m not sure I grasp the difference fully, but whatever. What matters to me is that Jesse suffers from intrusive, unwanted thoughts that she can’t control, and they don’t have a lot to do with reality. She’s the opposite of a control freak. They seem to have everything to do with fear. She gets temporary relief from these horrifying intrusive thoughts by doing compulsive things. I’ve complained before that I don’t think Jesse is “normal” OCD, but it seems like she might actually be. The main obsessive thoughts that seem to haunt her right now — killing her loved ones, sexuality (more specifically, perverse thoughts about penises) — are apparently common obsessions for OCD peeps. And, like many folks suffering from OCD, she’s fully aware that they are thoughts that shouldn’t be there, which is pretty devastating when you think about it for too long.

Take everything I say with an enormous grain of salt, by the way. I’m not yet well-educated about OCD. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, we’re coping best we can with Jesse’s penis-and-murder obsessions. I don’t feel like waxing on right now about the changes we’re making, but I can say that they’re helping. Some schedule modifications at school, some new parenting strategies, yadda yadda. Jesse’s heading in the right direction. She’s coming back to us.

As part of these changes, we settled down the last few evenings to watch PBS Nature episodes before bed. That’s usually peaceful stuff. Sometimes animals face hardship, sometimes they die, but you know, it’s nature. We watched an episode about elephants. It seemed to be mostly about these two humans trying to get close to elephants to take pics, and also about how elephants frequently visit the remains of dead elephants and do a sort of remembrance ritual. And then suddenly in the middle of the episode OH MY GOD THEY’RE HAVING SEX AND THERE’S A GIGANTIC ELEPHANT PENIS.

I winced and begged the universe for mercy. Fortunately, Jesse was drowsing and tuned out, so she didn’t notice. I said nothing.

Then over the next couple days we watched a two-part episode about orphan animals, and that was more like it. Innocent little babies trying to survive, wonderful human animal rescuers saving their lives. Yay!

Tonight we put on another innocent episode, “Big Birds Can’t Fly.” What could go wrong? Fifteen minutes in, the topic of courtship came up; and then the narrator, with his suave English accent, started talking about penises. Most birds don’t have penises. Evolution didn’t allow them to have them because they’re too heavy. But ostriches and other flightless birds can have them. Penis penis penis. On and on it went, including discourse on how ostriches enlarge their penises. It was like a bad joke. Jesse cried out in terror. “Mommy! They’re talking about penises.

I was snuggling with Nick. “I’m sorry, honey. Penises happen. It’s okay for them to talk about it here.”

“But MOM. They’re talking about PENISES.”

It was really too late to do anything about it.  I suggested she just hang in there because they would move on to another topic soon but then OH MY GOD THEY’RE HAVING SEX AND THERE’S A GIGANTIC OSTRICH PENIS.

It was truly shocking and cringe-worthy. Jesse was completely overwhelmed. Even Nick was mortified.

Jesse cowered under the sheets. I knew her obsession was in full swing between her ears. There was a penis party going on in there.

I’ve made a scale for Jesse, like the one-to-ten pain scales. I call it the penis scale. Every day when I pick Jesse up from school (two hours early), I ask her. On a scale of one to ten, one being you never thought about penises and ten being “penises, all penises, and nothing but penises”…. how was your day? She thinks a moment and gives me an answer, and then we move on. Enough said.

(How is a person to survive without laughing at the things that hurt the most?)

Jesse’s had a great week so far. But tonight was a ten-penis night. Thanks for nothing, PBS Nature.

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2 thoughts on “grumpy about mental illness (PBS Nature Fail)

  1. Tell Jesse that I am totally with her. Ostrich penises sound utterly terrifying to me, and I’m a middle-aged woman with no formal OCD diagnosis.

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