My OCD, My Shadow-Hero

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Although OCD has been part of my life for over a decade, there is much I am still learning about it. OCD has both effects and causes. The effects are easier to recognize and understand. The causes are more difficult to know. Sometimes, OCD’s effects on me are so frightening that I flee the scene completely, losing all chance of encountering the root causes of this phenomenon, and my own relationship with it.

If I can stay in the moment, though, I can learn and grow from OCD. For instance, I’ve learned that no matter what obsessive thought OCD brings, it remains the same basic phenomenon. When one obsession loses its power, OCD simply conjures up a new fear for me to grapple with. Its new form is the same substance; OCD has merely shifted shapes.

During anxiety attacks in which I remain fully in the moment, I can clearly visualize my OCD as a small black shadow, darting beneath a series of downturned cups. Whenever I lift one cup, the shadow darts beneath another.

Some OCD literature seems to suggest eliminating the cups one by one, until the shadow has no place left to hide in the mind. I’m not sure about this approach. I am beginning to think the goal is not to eliminate cups, or even the shadow. Rather, I must create a place for this shadow to live and be transformed. The shadow’s fleeting nature reveals a deep fear of exposure – which is something that I struggle with enormously myself. To expel that shadow is to expel a part of my own nature.

When I first began this blog, I envisioned breaking down the many forms OCD has taken in my life: Contamination OCD, Harm OCD, Pure “O” OCD, Hit-and-Run OCD, etc. This would essentially be knocking away the cups, hoping that the shadow would leave me if I exposed each one of its hiding spots. Now, it may be helpful to examine these cups on occasion, and I may do so in the future. But I won’t discard them. Instead, I’ll hold them, feel for cracks, and ask why my shadow has chosen them as particular hiding spaces. Besides, wouldn’t expelling my shadow outright be fearful and violent of me?

How different would “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” be, had all the Whos marched up the mountain and killed the Grinch and his dog? The Whos would be monsters in that story – just like the crowd in “Beauty and the Beast” who desired to kill the monster Belle loved and helped to redeem. To seek personal triumph in killing my own beast would make me like Gaston, who lost his own humanity in the process. What if Luke had righteously executed Darth Vader, instead of reconciling with him? Righteousness does not make one a hero. Only vulnerability can do that.

The whole Batman mythos hinges on Batman’s adherence to his strict rule of “no killing” of Gotham’s monsters. Batman walks the line between light and shadow, without falling into either. Batman doesn’t pull punches. He fights for justice and he fights hard. But he has the self-awareness to see that the he and Gotham’s villains have more than a little in common. The Joker and Batman are both orphans, aren’t they? Batman also recognizes that those Gotham citizens demanding a clean, sanitized city are often the people in danger of destroying it – like the League of Shadows who vow to “purify” Gotham regardless of how many innocent civilians are killed in the process.

No, I won’t solve the mystery of my OCD through violent intolerance of it. Instead, I will occupy the space between light and shadow in my mind. I will grow comfortable in the gray areas. I will construct a place for my shadow to reside (which is what this blog is for, after all). I will hold my OCD accountable, but I won’t kill it unjustly.

After all – my OCD hasn’t killed me yet. And why not? It certainly has the power. It can hold me captive, paralyze me, and torment me. Yet far from destroying me, OCD has re-generated me – forcing me to come to terms with myself and inspiring creative action. This has been a tremendous gift which I am grateful for.

If I continue to respond to OCD in the right ways – sharing in its incredible creative energy, and honoring it instead of exterminating it – then OCD may just become my shadow-hero.

-M.C.

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