What OCD is Not

OCD’s unusual in that a lot of people who don’t have it, think they do. We’ve all heard someone describe themselves as being “so OCD.” Maybe you’ve said it yourself. You’d never hear someone who doesn’t have cancer claim to have cancer, yet that’s kind of what people are doing whenever they equate their fastidiousness with having a debilitating mental disorder. I know, I know: it’s not exactly the same and language evolves and blah blah blah. But it’s also illustrative of how we diminish mental illness, like when people claim they’re depressed after their favourite team loses.

OCD isn’t about being fastidious. Allow me to illustrate:

  • Person A: “I like being organized! Organization makes me feel calm and in control. I don’t do well amidst chaos.”
  • Person B: “I have to be organized, because if I don’t arrange things just so my family’s going to die in a fire.”

Spot the difference? To be sure, some people who do have OCD like being organized, just like some people who have OCD are left-handed or eat a pescatarian diet or listen to Blue Rodeo. Some people have OCD and couldn’t care less about being organized; I am one of these people. But don’t think I’m exaggerating about Person B: that’s an actual example of an obsessive thought, the kind that get stuck in a loop inside our brains and make OCD so debilitating. I’ve never had that particular thought, but it wouldn’t take long to find someone who has.

I think it’s also important to mention that OCDers don’t necessarily have comorbid (or simultaneously occurring) depression. Some do; I’m among the lucky ones who don’t, or at least hasn’t yet. It’s easy to say “choose optimism,” and I know that’s a tough thing for some people to do. But if you can then cling to it: optimism can be a powerful recovery tool.

So OCD isn’t depression, and it’s not a quirk either. One thing OCD is, at least in my case? A positive thing. I’ll explain in my next entry.

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Gratefull

My OCD’s at a point where it hardly ever affects me: I haven’t had a flare-up since last October, if not last July, and while that doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or anything (since there is no cure) it’s still a wonderful development.

I wrote that on Thursday, May 18, shortly after learning that Chris Cornell had killed himself. A few hours later I was in the initial throes of what’d turn out to be the worst OCD lapse I’ve had in years – if not ever.

Cornell’s death was the the triggering incident – the McGuffin, if you will – but the real culprits were me messing around with my medication and, more broadly, becoming complacent with my recovery. I hadn’t had obsessive thoughts in so long I was starting to let myself think that maybe, just maybe, I’d kicked OCD once and for all. Which is difficult to do, if not quite impossible: OCD’s a chronic illness, and even if it’s been dormant for a long time it’s liable to rear its head at a moment’s notice (like, for instance, when your favourite singer dies by suicide). Moreover, I’d been doing great on 15 mg of Trintellix, which is the antidepressant I’ve been taking since January. It seemed logical therefore that I’d do even better on 10 mg. My doctor agreed. Of course, neither of us could’ve anticipated the McGuffin.

So that’s how the lapse began. But something else happened, too: I got pissed. How dare OCD force its way back into my life? How fucking dare it? And so I got pissed, and then I started fighting back.

This is part one of what’ll be a series of entries about my latest recovery from OCD. It might not be the last recovery – but two months in I’m feeling (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating) better than I’ve felt before.

Like, ever. I feel better than I’ve ever felt before. There have literally been times this week where I’ve sat back and marveled at just how good I’m feeling. (I am now knocking furiously on wood.)

I’m also working harder at my recovery than I’ve worked at almost anything. It’s been all-encompassing and my commitment’s been total. And each day the work starts as soon as I wake up and doesn’t end till right before I fall asleep with things called gratitude meditations. (This is the earth-y part of the process.) They’re a great way of starting and ending each day; plus, gratitude’s been shown to stimulate serotonin, which is also what antidepressants do.

Gratitude meditations are short and simple. In the morning I give thanks for…

  • My bed
  • My senses
  • The rest of my body, including my brain
  • Sam
  • My family
  • My friends; this’ll often expand to incorporate my broader community, including neighbours and co-workers

At night, meanwhile, I give thanks for three things. Sometimes they’re big (my fiancée!). Sometimes they’re not (dark roast coffee!…scratch that, dark roast coffee’s the best; once, though, I gave thanks for an aircraft that’d passed overhead earlier that evening, and while I do love to fly that one particular plane wasn’t especially meaningful to me). By enumerating things I’m grateful for at night I’ve begun finding all sorts of things to be thankful for during the day. Cumulatively, gratitude meditations have turned into a simple technique for appreciating my everyday life and being more aware of all the awesome in the world. Because when you’re looking for it, you’ll find it almost everywhere – sometimes, even, in mental health recovery.

This morning I’m grateful for light roast coffee, the British Open on TV, deliberately adding a second “l” to words, and the chance to share my recovery strategies with you. Have a gratefull day, everyone.

No One Sings Like You Anymore

Today, for the first time in exactly two months, I was able to listen to Chris Cornell’s voice and remain relatively unaffected. I knew it’d be tough; I honestly didn’t think it’d be this tough.

The week he died I erased almost all my Chris Cornell and Soundgarden related writing in a fit of grief-stricken pique – a decision I now regret. I won’t erase this. It’s hard listening, but dammit I won’t lose this man’s music or his voice from my life. And so I’ll continue to listen, continue to mourn, until I’m able to forget how he died and remember instead what he gave me and millions of other people while he was still alive.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in Toronto

Set:

  • Rockin’ Around (With You)
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • Forgotten Man
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Free Fallin’
  • Walls
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
  • It’s Good to Be King
  • Crawling Back to You
  • Wildflowers
  • Learning to Fly
  • Yer So Bad
  • I Should Have Known It
  • Refugee (which, alas, didn’t really turn into a Mike Campbell firework display; his playing last night, while brilliant, was understated)
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream

Encore:

  • You Wreck Me
  • American Girl

Next up: Blondie (with Garbage!) and X.

U2 in Toronto

Set:

  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • New Year’s Day
  • Bad
    • Suzanne [Leonard Cohen] (this was superlative; also, in the name of full disclosure, for the second straight time the opening notes of “Bad” reduced me to tears)
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)

The Joshua Tree:

  • Where the Streets Have No Name
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • With or Without You
  • Bullet the Blue Sky
  • Running to Stand Still
  • Red Mill Mining Town
  • In God’s Country
  • Trip Through Your Wire
  • One Tree Hill
  • Exit
  • Mothers of the Disappeared

Encore:

  • Miss Sarajevo
  • Beautiful Day
  • Elevation (surprisingly awesome!)
  • Vertigo (surprisingly really awesome!)
  • Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
  • One

…and then Bono shouted, “One more!” and…

  • I Will Follow

It wasn’t quite Moncton or Vancouver 2015…but it was damn close, and The Joshua Tree live was incredible top-to-bottom.

Tool in Hamilton

Better late than never, it’s the setlist from last week’s killer Tool show at Copps Coliseum FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, where I’d previously seen them (along with Mike Patton’s penis) in 2002.

Set:

  • The Grudge (first time since that aforementioned 2002 show!)
  • Parabol (ditto!)
  • Parabola (ditto!)
  • Schism
  • Opiate
  • Ænema
  • Descending (an instrumental song which, apparently, represents new Tool music?)
  • Jambi
  • Third Eye (highlight of the night; I was not expecting this, especially not in the back end of the set)
  • Forty-Six & 2

Encore (the band left the stage after “Forty-Six & 2” and a neon “Intermission” sign was lowered):

  • Drum solo
  • Vicarious
  • Sweat
  • (-) Ions
    • Stinkfist

The visuals alone were worth the price of admission. Now about that new album…

There’s Just One Thing Left to Be Said

Chris Cornell is dead – those words still don’t make sense – and I’ve hardly stopped thinking about him since I got HLP Paul’s text (which read, simply, “Chris Cornell,” followed by the shocked emoji) and became catatonic early Thursday. At first I avoided his voice (and music in general), then actively sought it out: I listened to Temple of the Dog, which helped, then “Seasons,” which didn’t, before moving onto Audioslave for the first time in ages. The thoughts about him haven’t been coherent, which I guess is inevitable when someone who’s been in your life for twenty years, suddenly passes away.

One thought, though, has stuck, and that’s the awful image of his final moments on this earth: Chris Cornell – husband, father, beloved rock star, and my favourite singer of all-time – dead in a casino hotel bathroom. He changed the world; he changed me. And he died alone, by his own hand.

I’ve never been suicidal, so I can’t imagine the sort of hell Chris Cornell must’ve been occupying in order to consider ending his life, let alone acting on those thoughts. His lyrics offer the best clues (see “When I’m Down” from Euphoria Mourning, for instance), but beyond empathizing with his plight we can’t know what he was thinking or feeling when he arrived back at the MGM Grand Detroit following Soundgarden’s concert at the Fox Theatre.

However, when someone kills themselves, especially someone rich and famous, someone else will almost invariably offer the opinion that he (or she) shouldn’t have been depressed because he (or she) was rich and famous. That opinion is bullshit. And that’s because mental illness doesn’t. give. a. shit. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Chris Cornell was a rock star who’d literally just finished performing in front of 5,000 fans. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Robin Williams was funny. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Kurt Cobain had been crowned as the voice of his generation; it used that against him, actually. Mental illness didn’t care about those men; it didn’t care about their wives or kids or careers or money. It doesn’t care about me. And it doesn’t care about you, either.

That, to me, is the lesson to be drawn from Cornell’s death. To borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda: mental illness doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. Thinking that it does is how stigma metastasizes. Rich Larson, who wrote a far more eloquent Cornell eulogy than mine, nailed this point when he wrote:

Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

Chris Cornell was sick. In some cases, depression is little more than a blip in a person’s life. In others, it can be fatal if left untreated. Please: don’t let it get to that point. Reach out (or reach down, if you prefer). Don’t assume mental illness can be outrun, because in a lot of instances it can’t. But it can be managed, and that starts with a single conversation. If there’s a silver lining to Chris Cornell’s death – and I have to believe there is – it’s that it might help one single person open up. And that’s something to cling to, even as we continue to mourn.