This is how I got the idea to write a graphic novel about my experiences in treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Staff of the OCD Institute, at the end of my treatment:
You should write a graphic novel about your experience in treatment.
It’ll be no surprise to you that the process of writing the book is a bit more complicated than that. In fact, as soon as I began, it became apparent that telling “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” would not be feasible.
In particular, I’m concerned about keeping the identity of other patients at the OCD Institute well-concealed. My way of doing that has been to partly if not wholly fictionalize patients, by taking one or two elements of an actual person and transplanting them into a character that otherwise doesn’t resemble them in any way.
It would also be easy to exploit patients’ symptoms to heighten the strangeness of the OCD Institute’s environment. It’d be like winking and saying to the reader, “Imagine living with these people for three months.” I wouldn’t have to exaggerate. All I’d have to do would be to report simplistically about my fellow patients, without allowing them to be well-rounded characters. Actually, they were full of talent, ingenuity, resourcefulness, courage, humour, and generosity. These and so many other qualities shone more brightly than their illnesses and this is integral to my vision of the book.
The biggest challenge in truth-telling I’ve faced is how to portray myself in this book. I’ve made one or two changes to my appearance, such as leaving out my glasses (which I decided to do so that I could draw my facial expressions with more nuance). I also realized that I’d dropped a few pounds from my girth. It wasn’t intentional but I haven’t gone back and fixed that. So be it.
It was much harder to decide how to portray my own symptoms. If you’re up-to-date on my blog, you’ll know that my experience of OCD was marked by intrusive thoughts I had about hurting children, how much those thoughts terrified me, and how much shame and self-hatred I felt because of them. I genuinely believed I was a monster. In Dinosaur, my character is grappling with intrusive thoughts of physically harming children, whereas in real life, the intrusive thoughts were about molesting them. From where I find myself in wellness now, I know that I don’t deserve to be blamed for having such thoughts. Still, I don’t think I’m ready to include illustrations of them in my book. I very much want to bring readers into my head to share what went on in there. I don’t want to traumatize them, let alone myself, with the ghastly kinds of things I’d imagine because of OCD. There could be nasty legal consequences to any kind of sexual depiction, too.
My compromise is to depict myself in the book as someone who fears harming a child, while being candid in other forums about the kinds of thoughts I actually had. When I was dying of shame (and I mean that literally) because of OCD, I was convinced no one else had experienced such thoughts unless they were a paedophile. Sufferers of repugnant OCD intrusive thoughts understandably do not want anyone to know what’s going on inside their heads. The consequence, though, is that we continue to suffer in isolation, silence, and shame. I think it’s very important to reach out to others who may recognize themselves in my story, especially since it seems so many have thought about killing themselves.
Now I wonder, after all this, can I still call my work non-fiction? autobiography? memoir?
If you missed it in my last post, here is a very good fact sheet about violent and sexual intrusive thoughts in OCD from the International OCD Foundation website.