About four years ago, I stumbled upon an article that changed my entire experience of life. I cannot recall the precise moment and origin of my stunned discovery. It may have been a result of another exasperated search-engine attempt to comprehend my mind’s madness. However, I think it was in fact a headline from The Guardian that served as an algorithmic godsend to my Facebook newsfeed. Although my memory is splotchy, the moment was serendipitous, and I can attest that everything in me sighed at once. I had been severely struggling to accept a continuous loop of negative thoughts and sentiments surrounding sexual perversity as my reality. Since its earliest visits in 7th grade, I knew one thing and that was that if I did not understand it, I would not understand myself, or, at least, the story I tell myself. That story, the story of my identity with mental illness, was starting to make sense.
Rose Bretécher was painstakingly beautiful. She possessed the specific kind of beauty that blooms in the processing of pain. I think I would have loved her even if she was not fighting the same fight as me – although perhaps not as though my life depended on it. She was vulnerably pale and posed against a white wall, and she wore very minimal and artfully applied makeup. To me, she was saying, I am going to tell my story, even if it kills me, and I will look chic doing it. What she did not have was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or nympho written on her. I saw only grace, sophistication, even a calm centeredness I felt I lacked. I thought, if she is the poster woman of this, whatever this is, then I have nothing to fear.
I felt a ping of shame return to me upon reaching the article’s close, where the disappointing statement remains: “Rose Bretécher is a pseudonym.” I immediately worried the portraits were instead of some self-sacrificing no-name, which left the real Rose in hiding. I could not envision my patron saint being so disgracefully disingenuous following her deepest psychic revelation. Even in the moments I type this, Rose’s story remains the single relatable account I have crossed in relation to intrusive thoughts or sexual obsessions, which, like her, have haunted me for over a decade. She helped me know that I am somehow not alone.
Along with other brave OCD sufferers and fans of her prose, I went on to contribute a small share to aid in the crowdfunded publication of her book. She filmed a censor-less, stylish promotional video which nourished me until the book’s much anticipated release in the latter part of 2015. Now when I visit my therapist, I proudly ogle the copy I so joyously gifted them years ago.
Pure is the title of this life-changing book. The word is referencing, with wonderful irony, the expression of OCD that intrusive thoughts is sometimes categorized under. The regarded term, Pure O, means purely obsessional. OCD specialists now recognize that this thought disorder does, in fact, possess both obsession and compulsion, or the adverse reaction, in thought form*. Therefore, the mental health and OCD community should not be misguided via special differentiation. Rose pointedly addresses this confusion, along with other false claims surrounding one of the most shunned disorders.
Rose spells out the biggest difficulty with the disorder as she explains, “It’s another of OCD’s tightly bound knots: because most people don’t know that the disorder can encompass themes like sexuality, pedophilia and violence, obsessives stay silent for fear of others’ incredulity – an incredulity they even feel themselves”**. The cycle of obsession and compulsion is exacerbated by society’s deafening silence surrounding mental illness as well as the same stigmas OCD can center on. The puritanical underpinnings of the Western world do not help.
How does one seek certainty in a world that frowns on anything less, while in a reality totally and forever uncertain? OCD develops at the crossroads of collective-meets-personal phobias, all of which are riddled with shame and moral confusion. Now, at least the aforementioned is for certain because knowledge, in my case, has been my power and my medicine. There is a comfort in knowing not only that I am not alone in the struggle but that my struggle itself was born of an immense desire to avoid fears we all share. I have consciously relieved the pressure of cracking OCD’s code and, instead, continue to embrace, with love and a natural reluctance, the light and shadow of my being. OCD has shaped me and I could not be more proud. Anyway, who would I be without it? Certainly less strong, less capable of deep, profound love, and, yes, less beautiful.
Written by Allison Conroy, June 2018
Allison happily resides in Seattle, where she studies natural medicine and dances burlesque on aerial silks. She hopes to combine her passions for mental health, natural medicine, and sexual education and celebration in her near future.