On Separating Yourself from Your Illness


mirror.pngOn the combox of the post, “The Healing Property of Tears,” Beyond Blue reader Elizabeth wrote:


How would you respond to someone who sends you an e-mail that says something like …”maybe you shouldn’t focus so much on your OCD. I mean you aren’t just your OCD.” 

I feel rather insulted since it is only within this last year that I have begun to really deal with this overwhelming disease I have suffered from my whole life. In therapy I am learning to become aware of all my symptoms and deal with them… to focus on my OCD to learn to cope.

Yet, I got this e-mail from a friend who said I shouldn’t focus so much on it and I feel …oh, I guess I feel cut down or something. It has really bothered me and I want to respond but I am not quite sure what to say.

I do know exactly what you mean because I’ve been told that I am too attached to my illness, and maybe if I didn’t concentrate on it so much, it would go away.

Well, Elizabeth, now I can say without a doubt, that by ignoring your OCD and submersing yourself into a totally different environment (like a consulting firm) does not make it go away. And the therapy and the cognitive-behavioral techniques and everything else you do to try to get a little distance from your illness–but which requires confronting it face to face–is crucial to LIVE instead of SURVIVE.

Although I know your friend or sister is trying to be helpful, I can totally appreciate your feelings. I mean, that’s great advice. But it is only great advice coming from a person who has been there, at that EXACT spot as you are, and has succeeded via detachment. But so few people dispensing recommendations these days for mood disorders have actually dealt with the crippling thoughts that you fight on a daily basis.

While I do try to separate myself from my illness, I have also learned that sometimes–and especially when you’re struggling or feeling vulnerable–all you can do is shrug your shoulders and tell yourself, “They just don’t get it,” a post I wrote awhile ago and garnered a lot of sympathetic comments.

From that post:

William Styron wrote his memoir, “Darkness Visible,” as a response to the public’s reaction to the suicide of Primo Levi, the Italian-Jewish writer and chemist who had survived the Holocaust. The scholars who admired Levi wondered how he could have endured years of torture by the Nazis yet break under depression.

“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it,” Styron wrote. “To the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.”

Like Styron, I was both enraged and saddened that friends and family were shocked to hear that two doctors sliced me open–before full anesthesia kicked in–to save little David’s life in an emergency C-section. Yet when I voiced the desperation of depression–which made the knife cut feel like a knee scratch–they often brushed it off, as if I were whining to win some undeserved sympathy votes.

But I should know better. Most people don’t get it. And the day I get that through my head I’ll be less disappointed.

Hang in there. We know you are trying as hard as you can. Until you think she gets it, I would just say something like, “Okay. Thanks for the advice.” As you make some kind of gesture to tell yourself that you are fine the way you are, thank you.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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