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For my whole life, I’ve been the mom friend. Lots of people describe themselves this way. I’ve long been the good influence friend, the alcohol and drug free one who obeyed all traffic signs and only crossed at the crosswalk. It’s said that with every mental disorder, there is a degree of sensibility, and the real problem is the degree to which the disorder interferes with one’s life. This is perhaps one of my most fatal flaws, and in this I sympathize with Harry Potter himself; I have a destructive “saving people thing.”
This summer, someone I loved with my whole heart vanished. He left in his wake the impression that he was being quarantined and punished. I felt completely responsible for his pain, and decided that I was the only one who could make it better. He’d long been telling me that I was the only person on Earth who did him any good, and that his parents were actively abusing him, so when he vanished, I made the choice to believe him.
I embarked on a quest to find him. He has a summer house in the Hamptons, so I took a train there and walked up and down on the beach for hours, with no water or sunscreen. I had to trespass on a beachside home to access their water hose, just to get a hot, sandy drink of relief. I was at the most fragile and frail that my eating disorder had ever rendered me. I was stumbling, stars were in my eyes, I tripped and fell twice. In my head, though, there was only one thing that mattered. I was to save this poor boy from his abusive parents.
Had I not been so intent upon saving him, had all of my heart and soul not been directed towards wanting him to feel loved and as if he was not alone, as if he didn’t deserve to be punished or deserve to be afraid of his parents, I would have seen the red flags. It was all an elaborate, cruel trick for sympathy. But my desire to save someone, my desire to be the antidote to someone’s suffering, was so great that any other possible motive flew out of my mental window. I WOULD save him. It was a farce that I was blinded to.
That’s what OCD is, to me. It completely takes over my brain, hijacking any other form of reason or rationality in favor of its loops. This type of OCD is called having an “inflated sense of responsibility,” and it comes in several forms.
It’s a form of self-importance, of grandiosity, in a way. I hold myself responsible for fixing everyone’s problems, healing everyone’s pain. I see myself as uniquely competent and able to do so, and try to take control of situations that I can’t possibly fix.
Last year, around prom season, a girl invited herself to my friend’s prom party. This girl had hurt my friend and I, as well as my date, in the past. She hadn’t been invited. Instead of letting my friend break the news to her, I decided to be the one to do it, so she wouldn’t have to. I wanted to fall on the sword. Anything to smooth my friend’s path. So I told her that she couldn’t just show up to a party to which she hadn’t been invited. She promptly joined a group of girls who had been bullying me, a group that made my life so miserable that I missed the last month of school.
My boyfriend at the time was having an issue with a fellow student. The student was, apparently, facetiming him at all hours of the day, all calls going unanswered but never relenting. As far as I’m aware, my partner never reciprocated or indicated that such contact was okay. I took it upon myself to be the assertive one, do all the fixing and patching up, that should never have belonged to me. My job should have been to be supportive, but the moment I knew my partner was uncomfortable, something inside me insisted that I had to be the one to clean it up. Just me and my supposedly superhuman abilities.
This really bit me in the ass when I was at a therapeutic school, full of mentally ill kids for me to fawn over and try to heal. I saw that the staff at the school were doing an awful job at helping, so I tried my best to be there for everyone in all of their ill glory.
For one, I had a brief relationship with a boy at the school, around Christmas. I later learned that he’d had a girlfriend that he was desperate for me not to know about. I was shocked and hurt, but immediately switched into caretaker mode. Sure, I’d been swindled, but it wasn’t about me, it was now about poor boy who was disempowered from breaking up with his girlfriend, the poor thing! I doted.
Looking back, it’s absurd what I’ve put up with in my attempt to be the hero. But I hadn’t been able to help it.
When I’m in hero mode, I see myself as responsible for everything that needs help, big or small. I pick up trash that others threw on the ground right in front of me. I hold my friends by their jackets to stop them from crossing the street where there is no crosswalk. I’ll listen to any problem, big or small.
Recently, the same girl I referenced above, the self-inviter, was posting about being suicidal. This girl has badly hurt me in the past, and done so multiple times after bogus apologies. A rational person would have steered clear. But the moment I saw it, I swelled with self importance. I unblocked the girl and reached out to help her.
I was quickly reminded of why she’d been blocked. She began harassing my Instagram account when I had her counselor alerted to her suicidality. Apparently, I should have known that she wouldn’t really do it, or something. All I knew was that if someone is at risk, I am always going to fetch the proper authorities.
But that shouldn’t have been my job at all. She really harmed me in my past, and caused much suffering and anguish on my end. I should never have wanted to help her in the first place. But I considered it my job, and only mine, to help her.
It’s not only my biggest weakness because it hurts me, however. Sure, I’m well versed in therapy and am, admittedly, quite mature for my age and developmental stage, emotionally. However, I’m naturally limited by virtue of being fresh out of teenage-dom, and having had no formal therapeutic training, alongside a host of emotional issues that I deal with on a daily basis. I’m hardly a superhero. I often will have no idea what the right course of action is, in terms of helping someone or remedying a situation. It’s overly hubristic of me to assume that I can fix everything. It comes from a good, riptide of a place, but it causes unnecessary suffering all around.
In order to release myself from this urge, I’m going to have to bring myself back down to Earth. I can’t be in charge of everything, and that’s okay. People with this form of OCD often hold themselves accountable for all kinds of things, ranging from my manifestations to being under the impression that their “impure” thoughts might hurt others, that mundane actions they perform may cause outsized harm, and everything in between.
I’ll be blunt; it’s extremely painful to feel as if I’m in charge of everyone’s comfort. When I fail at my job, I feel like an utter disappointment of a person. My identity is taken from me. This summer, when I learned that there was nothing I could do, it felt like my heart was being ripped slowly into eighths. My personhood, my identity, my self image, my dignity, all were snatched from me.
I’ll be damned if I let that happen again. I’m trying consciously to remind myself that I’m only responsible for myself and what I can control. Shouldering others’ burdens for them does no good for anyone, in the end. As it’s an OCD urge, rather than a simple tendency, it’ll be thrice as hard to shake. I can do it.