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The Bearable Lightness of Being Earnest

I will eternally detest everything about OCD, but it brought me to McLean and there I met Will. Consequently, I not only gained the tools to live free of OCD's constant grip, but also to just live.
01/09/2015 05:42pm ET | Updated March 11, 2015
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There's a certain honesty to be found in lies. Lies reveal the extent of moral compromise one is willing to make and the degree of guilt one's conscience will allow. In this sense, they can be regarded as a challenge to self. How much lying can one endure before it feels entirely wrong? What is the threshold before self-loathing? How long until lines are blurred and one starts to find it difficult to discern what was lie from what actually occurred?

For me, lying became the default norm. I had to do it to cover up my worsening OCD and justify the increasingly odd behavior I engaged in. I lied to others and to myself. I lied to people I knew very well as well as people with whom I'd have a fleeting encounter, meaning where lying wasn't even necessary. Again, the act became something I just did, by default, so regularly that it was reflexive, almost involuntary. I lied so much I grew numb to it. That allowed me to tolerate myself. I was sick and I was sad. I felt I had to hide those facts and since the emotions attached to them were all consuming, I lied about everything. My life was one big lie, which made me feel like a bad cliché, which felt rotten.

I hated everything about lying. What it did to others and what it meant for me. It was repugnant to my conscience but now intrinsic to my character. Not easy discrepancies to reconcile. However, I had other things to occupy my thoughts besides conscience and grandiose disappointment. I had severe OCD and as long as I had that, it would rule my thoughts and so the lies had no foreseeable end. Even after seeking treatment for severe OCD at McLean Hospital, a place I could at last be completely honest about my crippling OCD and not fear being viewed as bizarre because of it, I was still lying about other things just because I had grown into the habit. Then I met Will.

He was my roommate at McLean and above all else, he was honest. I don't mean that he was a card-carrying disciple of the truth police or anything so rigidly pious it's loathsome. I mean he was unguarded and candid. You knew where you stood with him and what he was about. He was a good person without air of disingenuous altruism. He was sociable but would plainly let you know when he needed space, and there was even honesty in that. In short, he was open and forthcoming and this made him decent. His openness about his life and conduct struck me. Hard.

Here I'd been painstakingly sustaining a façade to conceal my OCD, a progressively consuming aspect of my identity, whereas Will was living just as he was. A concept that in practice was completely foreign to me now. The more I came to know Will, the more I valued what he stood for - living honestly. In a sense all of us patients at McLean were now living truthfully. We didn't have to hide the things we guarded when we were in the "outside world." What we tried to cover up is what brought us to McLean and now became the most prominently worn badge of our personas. Our OCD was in the open.

But Will took this transparency and vulnerability to the next level. He was as honest outside of McLean about facets of his life exclusive of OCD as he was about his OCD to those of us at McLean. I aspired to be like Will and wanted to be around him as much as possible. He was refreshing and enigmatic. He was smart and had a wickedly sardonic sense of humor. The rarity of finding another person, let alone another patient, with dark, acerbic wit made us instant cohorts at McLean. Injecting brutal humor into our current station enabled us to cope with the actual gravity of it all.

We were also at the opposite spectrum of OCD symptoms which allowed us to keep each other in check. Will could grab the doorknob to a grimy bathroom at a hazardous waste facility after accidentally cutting open his hand without giving it much thought. His OCD was more metaphysical and focused on behaving in the "right" manner. It wasn't so much about scrupulosity as it was about how things should properly play out with moral certitude in the transcendental sense. He needed to make decisions and live in the best possible way so as to sustain good karma and ethical justice. He was obsessed with this and ritualized so as to better ensure its likelihood.

As with all severe OCD, it was completely irrational and he knew it. Acute self-awareness was another characteristic that bonded us. Like me, he knew the absurdity of his rituals and illogic of his OCD, yet was still compelled to ritualize so as to avoid the irrational fears of consequences. I grew rather close to Will during our time at McLean. I felt I had found a kindred spirit who also happened to have OCD. This was almost too perfect a coincidence. It was almost as if Will came into my life for a reason and, as outlandish as it may seem, so too did OCD.

I will eternally detest everything about OCD, but it brought me to McLean and there I met Will. Consequently, I not only gained the tools to live free of OCD's constant grip, but also to just live. In simply being true to myself and honest with others about who I am, no more hiding the OCD or other aspects I had mistakenly felt ashamed about, I could be free. And as I released myself from the lies, those heavy, burdensome chains did indeed fall off. That's a cliché I could happily live with.

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