“Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.” (IOCDF)
“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” (NIH)
“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). Although people with OCD may know that their thoughts and behavior don’t make sense, they are often unable to stop them.” (NAMI)
I remember when I was in preschool or kindergarten, my mom used to pick out my clothes before school the next day. A normal thing to do, yet the next morning, I could not bring myself to wear said outfit. Maybe it was no big deal, just a four-year-old having a temper tantrum. But as I entered into the fourth or fifth grade, I started to notice that I wasn’t like the rest of my classmates. Thoughts would enter my mind and I’d have no idea where they were coming from. Things like “the front door was left unlocked and if you don’t check it, someone will come in and murder your family.” Things like “don’t let anyone touch you or your things or they will be contaminated.” Irrational thoughts. Irrational thoughts I couldn’t control. They led me to perform a series of actions like scratching away at areas touched and orchestrating my room into perfect order. I struggled in my classes and was made fun of by my peers. I remember crying a lot after rough days at school and isolating myself in my room, where everything was perfect. I grew to harbor fears of social anxiety and worry over what people thought of me. I stress ate and struggled with childhood obesity. I argued a lot with my parents and began to believe that ‘me and my OCD’ were a burden to my family. I saw how draining all of it was on my parents, so I made myself small and tried to be less of a problem. It would be okay for a while, but OCD would come out of nowhere and the cycle would, yet again, repeat.
Life was very dark. I hated myself. I wanted anything else than to be who I was. I questioned God over and over, “Why would you do this to me?” “Why do you make me feel this way?” “I feel so alone” “How come no one understands me?” I was severely anxious, depressed and angry. I wished I had never been born. I didn’t trust God nor did I trust those around me. Yet, I had a silver lining. A friend in a TV screen. Someone like me, with lots of issues, who had friends, a job, and a purpose.
Monk, airing from 2002-2009 for a total of 8 seasons, is a knockout show that is hilarious and tear-jerking at the same time. The show portrays the life of Adrian Monk, a former police detective of San Francisco, who lost his wife Trudy in a tragic car bombing. After her death, Adrian works as a private consultant—solving cases that the Police can’t—all while looking for the murderer of his beloved wife.
You ask, how could that be anything but sad? Well, you see, Monk happens to suffer from OCD. In each episode, Monk’s quirks are revealed, as is his list of phobias in Mr. Monk’s 100th case (S7, E7). Amidst his genius for solving crime, Adrian can be found touching lamps and light posts, wiping his hands with baby wipes after handshakes, and drinking only Sierra Springs (Summit Creek, post season 6) bottled water even while severely dehydrated (S2, E2). He’s seen crying in the middle of a garbage strike (S5, E2), hobbling around in a construction zone while temporarily blind (S5, E4), and even fangirling over square tomatoes (S7, E11). What I love most about Monk—however—is that despite his OCD, he has moments in which he’s able to put it aside to do what’s right.
“It’s a gift and a curse” may be one of the most iconic comedic lines of the show, but it also happens to be true. As someone who has lived with OCD, I can honestly tell you that in the brightest of days, OCD sucks. Having OCD is like living in a prison in which you know the (obsessive) thoughts you have are irrational, yet you succumb to them (compulsions) anyway. OCD is getting up in the middle of the night to check the door you know is locked from the 5 times you’ve already confirmed it. OCD is squirming away from your family every time they touch you and it’s scratching at the place fingernails tapped on windows and wooden tables. OCD is singing the Menard’s jingle in your head before you eat your vegetables and OCD is taking pills, going to counselors, psychotherapists and doctors.
OCD is all of those things, but it’s not only those things. OCD is learning discipline and self-control and OCD is having compassion for others, because you’ve been there yourself. It’s seeing the small details and knowing the consequences of every action before it happens. OCD is feeling the love of both family and friends after thinking you were all alone. It’s having faith and trusting God through the depression, the worry and the anger. And its lessons learned of endurance, persistence, determination, and resilience.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
In every episode of Monk, new and old characters are introduced to the annoying compulsive behaviors Adrian exhibits, most often leaving him misunderstood. However, in the second to last episode of the series, Captain Stottlemeyer shares a drink with Lieutenant Disher, expressing sentiment of his long-time friend, Adrian Monk:
“I had him all wrong. I know that now. I always thought that Monk was not all there. Like there was something missing, like he was less than human. But he wasn’t missing anything, he was seeing more than anybody, he was feeling more than anybody. That was his problem. He was too human. If we had more like him, we’d be better off.” (S8, E15)
I, like Leeland, thought I was less than. That I was missing something. And I longed to be like the other kids who didn’t have OCD. I wanted to be normal and go to high school dances without worrying what everyone thought about me. I wanted to be seen like everybody else.
I’m learning now that my OCD is not only my greatest weakness, but also my greatest strength. Had I not experienced all that I did in childhood, I would not be as strong as I am now or able to withstand all that I withstand through Him (Philippians 4:13). I would not have the compassion required to care for my patients and their families. And I would not understand what it means to be a member in the body of Christ or be able to come alongside a brother who’s suffering.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:26
How freeing it is to know that despite my obsessions and compulsions, God has a place for me. I am not “less than human,” but am made whole in Christ. I am not “missing” anything, because I’ve been gifted with His grace. After years of self-doubt and questioning, God is teaching me to have faith and trust Him, because he has provided all my needs. So too, will he provide them in the future. After years of believing my identity was found in disgusting, gruesomely ugly OCD, I now know is formed in Christ. And all that I am is who He made me to be.
One of my favorite lines; one of the last lines of the show is this:
“You have a gift…It’s not a curse, it’s a gift. Can’t you see that? Maybe that’s why I’m here. To remind you.” (S8, E16) And remind me, it did. From Monk, I learned a great deal about life. I learned to laugh at OCD. I learned to let go and how to cope with loss. I learned to cherish moments and the people you share them with. I learned to live every day in the present, not worrying about tomorrow, nor obsessing over the past. This is why Monk will always be my favorite show. Because it accurately depicts what it means to struggle with mental health and makes you feel understood when you thought no one could. Monk, for the ‘normal’ folk, is a glimpse into what life with OCD and depression looks like, while still permitting you to laugh at its absurdity. It’s a story about life you won’t want to miss. The next show on your watch list. And I promise you, “you’ll thank me later.”
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-Disorder.
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml.
“What is OCD?” International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), iocdf.org/.