Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Neil Hilborn's "OCD" : A view from the other side

If you've had a pulse and been on the internet in the last week, you've almost certainly seen, or heard about, Neil Hilborn's heart-wrenching poem "OCD".  If not, here it is to get you up to speed (or refresh your memory if you've seen it).

I reacted very strongly to Hilborn's poem when I first saw it, and the several times I have watched it since then.  Perhaps more jolting for me than the poem, however, is the immense reaction I have seen to the poem; and the - jokingly or not - demonizing of the woman Hilborn is talking about in the piece.  We do know that the work is based on real life, as Hilborn hosted an impromptu Ask Me Anything on Reddit when his poem suddenly went viral (after having been performed for over 3 years).  Indeed, the tics in the performance reflect Hilborn's own tics from when his disorder was at its worst, when he was a teenager.  

As someone who dated a man with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for over a year, I was shocked to see people react to this performance and say things like "how could she leave him?!" or how lucky she was to be "loved so much" and was foolish to give that up.   The thing is, most relationships that end, do so blindsiding one member. Often we break the hearts of someone who loves us fiercely.  Hilborn himself acknowledged that while OCD played a part in the breakup, that the pair broke up for the normal reason: they just couldn't make each other happy anymore. 

I find myself thinking that people who condemn someone for getting out of a relationship that wasn't working for them, have never been in a similar situation - or simply aren't thinking about the situation as being not really so different from any other relationship that doesn't work out.   I remember so vividly the difficulties that dating someone with a severe anxiety disorder brought not only to the relationship, but to my own life outside of it.  I have to think that these people who would speak against this woman, they just don't know what they're saying.  They don't know what it's like to know that you will always be asleep long before your partner makes it to bed, because all of the doors, windows and ovens in the house must be checked three times before they can go to sleep.  They don't know how frustrating it is to have to circle the block every time we hit a pothole, to check and be sure that we hadn't hit a person (never mind that I would be SCREAMING if we had hit someone).  They don't know how it feels to beg someone to see their therapist because you see them slipping, and it somehow seems that you want them to be well more than they want themselves to be.  They don't know how helpless it feels to know that you cannot help someone you love; that you cannot make them feel at ease, you cannot give them the peace that they need.  That you cannot make them happy anymore.  That they need something that you just can't give them.  

Like Neil Hilborn and the unnamed lady, my relationship broke apart for many reasons. In all honesty,  when it came down to it, I couldn't really imagine those quirks becoming part of my every day life.  I, like the woman in the poem, told my partner that these things didn't bother me, but over time, I suppose that we both just lost our tolerance to them.  At some point there was a shift, and those quirks seemed so much bigger than they every had been before.  Even now, years later, the word quirk just seems too mild, complication too severe, annoyance too hurtful.  It's a terribly conflicting way to feel about your partner.  Just like any other reason to end a relationship, it isn't really for others to condemn or condone.  We all live with what we can, and we don't with what we can't.  When we have the freedom to make the choice, we should make the one that makes us happier.  I'd hate to think that because of the circumstances of that relationship, that anyone would think less of me. But then, he wasn't a(n internet) famous poet.



  1. I love your views on this poem and getting to know more about the "other side". Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks Remi.
      It's such an odd and difficult thing to talk about, even after so long. OCD gets thrown around so much these days, and few people really know just what that does to your life. It's a rough time!



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