In the past few months, an unusually high number of well known celebrities (well known in the UK at least), have died. It feels like every other day that I go onto Facebook and find new pictures of the recently deceased posted by friends in mourning. I understand that people die all the time, people who go unreported, people nobody mourns on Facebook because they weren’t “well known”, were just a nameless number in some horrendous incident in a different country that people care far less about because they don’t relate to it as much. I understand that all these celebrity deaths are not in fact a rise in the number of people dying overall, but still I can’t help but feel something has changed, something to cause it, and that that something is me.
When people have OCD there are various things that drive them in their rituals. Some simply carry them out until they “feel right”, whatever that “right” feeling is, but many, myself included, carry them out because they are fearful of what will happen if they don’t, that not carrying the tasks out is not just distressing but dangerous to either themselves or the people around them. Whenever I talk to professionals about this (professional people in the world of psychiatry I mean, not general professionals like professional penguin keepers who I feel would be less interested in my mental health problems), they call it having “an inflated sense of responsibility” a common symptom of OCD.
This symptom is pretty self explanatory from the name of it, but basically it makes sufferers feel as if their simple actions, like opening a door, are far more significant than they are, can control the world in irrational ways, that individually they have some great power which can cause events and impact the world. It can feel like tiny daily tasks have a ripple effect out onto the universe, like sitting down in a chair incorrectly will cause a totally unrelated event to happen elsewhere, such as an earthquake or tsunami. Of course when something “bad” happens that the sufferer wrongly blames themselves for, they are just connecting two totally separate things that coincidentally happened around the same time, but still it can be and is really frightening.
This sense of inflated responsibility is one of the reasons why OCD tends to get a lot worse for people when they are in stressful situations, things with a debatable outcome that they desperately want to have some control over or impact in favour of a positive result. In a way it is a comforting thought to think that you can influence things as if by “magical thinking”, even “sane” people without OCD do it all the time, like when musicians might wear their “lucky pants” with the aim of ensuring a good performance. The problem is that with OCD, this responsibility never seems to correspond to good events or making positive things happen, you can’t tap a door knob and “cause” yourself to win the lottery or anything, even to the irrational OCD, that idea is just silly. Instead, this power people feel they have can only do evil and not good, which when you think about it is quite possibly the worst superpower to feel you have of all time. I think I would rather feel I had powers like spiderman with the ability to spout webs all over the place, and I don’t even like spiders. Or close fitting lycra suits.
I remember sitting in the exam hall at school during my maths GCSE 8 years ago and being in a massive dilemma, a dilemma caused by this inflated sense of responsibility and not just a dilemma everyone faces when they are sitting before a maths paper.
In my world of OCD I had, and continue to have, both lucky and unlucky numbers, and for one of the questions early on, the answer was one of the unluckiest numbers to exist in my eyes. I can’t even write it here because it scares me, so I am just going to pretend the answer was “X” for the purpose of this post because that is what you are supposed to do in maths when you can’t write the number (cheers for that algebra). I knew 100% that the answer was X, I had checked it and rechecked it multiple times but still I could not write it down. I feared that if I wrote “X”, that my parents would die. I knew that in terms of maths, to write anything else would be wrong and I wouldn’t get the mark, but that seemed like a far preferable outcome to losing my loved ones. You might be wondering why I had this sense of a dilemma when obviously if the choice was ever “lose a mark or kill your parents” everyone would lose the mark, but whilst fearing this, I knew it was “just” my OCD freaking me out. My psychologist at the time was always telling me to challenge the OCD, to go against it because only then could you prove that all it spouted was lies. I wanted to do as she said, ignore the OCD and write “X” anyway because writing numbers doesn’t really have the ability to kill your parents, but I was too terrified, so in the end I had to write the wrong answer on purpose. This dilemma came up several times during the course of the exam (a surprising amount of my “unlucky numbers” came up in the 2008 GCSE maths paper), and every time I purposefully wrote the wrong answer. It was infuriating and I wanted to scream, but annoyingly that is something you are not allowed to do in a GCSE exam, as “no screaming” is in fact the rule just after “no mobile phones”, so I just sat there being controlled by this inflated sense of responsibility and importance I felt my maths answers had.
This influx of celebrity deaths has triggered me so much that I genuinely feel the need to apologise to everyone reading this for murdering these famous people of whom so many people are fans and are upset about. Nevertheless, I wanted to try and find some kind of positive or useful outcome from this trigger which is why I am writing about it to hopefully explain a bit more about this aspect of OCD. Now I guess the task is to just try and not let this impact my rituals more than it already has…I am just scared as to who my actions could hurt next.
(Just incase you don’t get it, the picture above is literally an inflated “sense of responsibility”…this probably doesn’t need any explaining and is nowhere near as clever as I think it is but just wanted to point it out because I was pretty proud of that little pun…It’s hilarious…no?…Ok never mind I will leave now so you can get back on with your day)