Whenever I sit down to write one of my blog posts, they usually feel pre-written. I’m often able to just sit down and knock out the writing, make a header, then post. Usually this happens because I have had the idea in the back of my head, simmering, for a while. I process the idea past the point where it’s basically mush and end up with the honed core of it, which comes out in one go. This post is one of the rare few ones that comes more off-the-cuff. I have overthought the concept, but little about what I want to say about the subject because this subject feels like opening the scary void of my head and sharing it. Introducing Art Rewind:.
Art Rewind: is a new blog series where I post a deep dive into my art of yore, reflecting on why I made it and how I feel about it being shared with the world now.
I have thought about doing Art Rewind:, a series, for a while now. This started when I reflected on my Endometriosis comics in my blog post I’m Fucking Flawed: A Farewell to Social Media. It took me a while to admit that I regretted making that comic about my endometriosis experience despite it being a “success”. But that’s an Art Rewind: story for another day. To kick off my Art Rewind: series, I am starting with my first “I’m So O.C.D. That…” comic series. It’s OCD. Awareness Week this week and my anxiety about sharing why I made old work is high… so it all seems very fitting that I should push through that anxiety with a little exposure, just like one has to do with so much anxiety in OCD therapy.
To make art about your own experience with mental illness is terrifying. 5 years ago I posted the “I’m So O.C.D. That…” comics and even to this day, I am worried if someone were to see these comics they would choose not to hire me for a job or think I was not capable. It was authors John Green discussing his OCD on Youtube and Emery Lord tweeting about therapy that directly empowered me to feel like I could talk about my mental health. However, making these comics was something I felt I had to do to sort through this large life event I was experiencing.
I knew I had OCD since I had started watching Monk in middle school. The flawed, but heartwarming, depiction of the Obsessive-Compulsive Adrian Monk made my understanding of everything happening inside my head click. I had exhibited signs of OCD since I was a young child and as I grew up I had only become better at finding ways to hide my compulsions as they got worse. I knew it wasn’t normal to do my routines and when I verbally asked why or what I was doing, people said my answers to their inquiries didn’t make sense. So, I realized it was better to not have to explain how my brain wouldn’t stop screaming at me until I followed through on a compulsion. If I explained it, I was weird. If I just… hid what I was doing, I seemed perfectly normal and no one was the wiser. I don’t think I got away with it. People noticed and sometimes joked about my particular routines and I laughed with them to shrug it off and avoid further questioning.
I am being vague on what these thoughts, routines, and habits are on purpose. I don’t want to get into what I did and why I did it, especially after listening to John Green’s reflection in Anthropocene Reviewed about an invasive interview that questioned and compared his OCD experiences to his character’s in Turtles All The Way Down. That is a nightmare scenario for me. Just because I have ben open about having OCD doesn’t mean I want to discuss in-detail what I experience. Those of use with obsessions and compulsions don’t need to explain what we do… we are not our obsessions and compulsions. Our life already feels ruled by them, we don’t need outside observers to judge us by them either.
When I made this series of “I’m So O.C.D. That…” comics, I had just started intensivive therapy for OCD. I had previously been diagnosed informally by a medical Doctor, but then I started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the whole diagnosis was laid out for me clearly by a Psychologist after an exhaustive intake session. I had just left my life in LA where my OCD had gotten so out of control, I wasn’t caring for myself. I moved home with my parents and entered into intensive OCD exposure therapy – sometimes spending several hours a week with my doctor and taking trips out of her office with her to experience the world around me. It was hard. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Not many people can tell you they have faced their fears straight on and lived. They have looked the things they were certain would kill them in the eye, have cried, had panic attacks… and yet they survived. It takes immense strength to combat OCD. OCD is the way your brain works and if you choose to live your life differently than the way OCD has programed your brain to be, you have to fight your OCD daily. With time, the fights become less terrifying and more managable. But you are still rewiring and retraining the way you think on a moment-by-moment level. This is monumental and exhausting work on behalf of the person with OCD. People with OCD are fighters and those who have gone through CBT exposure therapy and learned to retrain their brain are survivors.
I don’t like admitting that I have OCD because I also have anxiety, depression, chronic illness and am in chronic pain. It feels like a regular daily disaster going on at all times in my body. This is something I feel ashamed about almost constantly. This is also something that being more open about has made me feel a little less. Sharing my experience with OCD was the first thing “wrong with my body” thing that I shared and sometimes I wish I had stopped talking about my OCD after these comics. These comics were started as a way to process my “wrong-ness” and process how the world around me interpreted me as a person. I had no idea that since sharing these in October 2016, my body and brain wouldn’t be on a straight path to health. I assumed once I got my OCD handled, life would make more sense and the pain I was in would be gone. When you have OCD, many Doctors put you in a box labelled “Hypocondriac”. Its a neat easy box, but often it’s not the box we need… OCD can be a symptom of other health issues, something I am learning now with new answers by more competant doctors.
All these things are much more competent ways of saying that… when people flippantly use the word “OCD” to describe quirks or neatness, it upsets me. How could it not when I just laid out how horrible OCD feels?
I also thought at the time of making these comics that this was the only way to express to my surrounding circles why I had disappeared so suddenly from my life. Texting or calling up friends to explain a mental health crisis to them felt like an insurmountable hurdle. It felt like all the things I had internalized about mental health – like I was seeking attention if I admitted to this failure of mine. Having OCD is of course not a failure, but sometimes, it really feels like it.
So I did what I often do to process how I feel, I made some informational illustrations. The introduction one starts with a summary of what OCD is.
With time, space, and more mental health issues arising, I realize how interesting it is that I thought the only way I could tell people who cared for me what I was going through was to share a series of informational illustrations. I could have just told my friends without blasting it online; however, at the time I had no tools to explain how OCD was not the cartoon fictionalized Monk-esk issue we have learned it is through popular culture. These comics helped me gained the tools to talk about my mental illness and they have helped educate others after being shared online many times by others. I think I did the best with the tools I had at the time and part of doing the best I could means creating and sharing these images. I am more thank okay with this, because I think these images are effective at delivering the information. I don’t think that they are the most beautiful or anywhere near my best illustration work, but they have value for a lot of other reasons.
Before this comic series I had made one illustration about OCD, but these were the first images that I shared on a larger platform with more understanding of the mental illness. They helped me understand how to talk about having OCD and provided a launching pad for me to make more work about OCD. I have a book coming out in the future with First Second called Exposures. The main character of the book is a young girl with OCD. Exposures has been postponed from it’s original planned release because, as you can only imagine, it has been emotionally difficult for me to work on. Despite it being fictional, I connect all too well to my main character’s pain because her story arc is inspired by some of the worst moments of my own life. Despite that emotional connection, I am not the main character, and she is not me. I have to put myself into the shoes of someone else feeling pain similar to what I have experienced, but not exactly the same. If only John Green could know how much he has helped me make that book through his videos and podcast… and how much he helped me advocate for taking a break from making it on someone else’s schedule. If in the most wild chance he happens to read this, thank you John…
We are all built differently on a cellular level and many of us carry burdens no one can even see. OCD is one of mine.
Thank you for listening,
Art Rewind: will have more posts coming soon. If there’s a piece you want me to talk about more in detail, drop me a comment below.