By Cantor Mike Zoosman, M.A., BCC….O.C.D.
How’s that for an epitaph? On my more difficult days, that pretty much sums up how I feel – the pathology defines me. With years of therapy and meds, and a whole lot of mindfulness, I’m getting better at reining in those moments, but…everything’s a process, I suppose?
The truth is, it took about three years of therapy for me to be okay with the idea that I was in therapy – the same again when I began psychiatric meds. Looking back on two decades of treatment, I wish I could say now that this was all on me. My own insecurities and doubt certainly have played no small part in this anxious dance, but an equally culpable party is – as many readers of this blog already know – society itself.
I don’t claim to have any new insights here. I’m sure many of the contributors to and viewers of Mental Health Safe Space are well-aware of the throw away lines that we often hear like, “John is so O.C.D.” and “Jane is just insecure.” I imagine that I’m not the only one out there who gets irritated that individuals who make these well-intentioned statements likely think that John’s “O.C.D.” merely refers to excessive hand-washing, with perhaps some hypochondria thrown in the mix. I doubt (OCD is called the “Doubter’s Disease” after all…) that people who make these comments consider that John’s condition could be just as often characterized by intrusive thoughts – which are compulsions in and of themselves – stultifying self-doubt, perfectionism or disorganized thinking (including stilted, run-on sentences like this one). Likewise, I imagine I’m not the only person who fears that the would-be diagnosticians of Jane’s feelings of “insecurity” may attribute them solely to some inherent lack of confidence or character fault on her part. But, then again, maybe I’m just making paranoid assumptions, right? (Oy.)
Having provided you a window into some of my own circular thinking and second-guessing, perhaps you’ll have a sense of how difficult it has been for me to summon up the chutzpah to write this blog post…or to get anything done for that matter.
In fact, I initially hemmed and hawed over whether I had anything worthwhile to contribute. In addition to the familiar self-doubt, one particularly stunting thought was the fear that individuals from my professional life might find this post when they google my name. (“Hmm…let’s look up this so-called Mr. Zoosman. Wait – what’s all this? OCD?! An epitaph?!”) You’d think that realizing that I was feeding into the same stigma by not coming out would have been enough to see me through this fear. It wasn’t. In the end, it was only reviewing the posts of the other commenters on this blog that put me over the edge and motivated me to type this up and send it out. Their courage and commitment laid a firm foundation that got me off my tuchas and in front of the keyboard. As for those who might be taken aback by what I’ve written, I – respectfully – would decline the request of their company…
So, in this missive from the weeds of OCD, I’d like to take a moment to thank the writers who bravely have crossed the Internet Rubicon and shared their testimonies, as well as the founders of this blog. The more safe spaces we have, the closer we get to a society that better understands and supports individuals like me. Thank you.
– The Cognitively Departed
Mike Zoosman received his Cantorial Investiture and Master of Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2007, and became a Board Certified Chaplain through Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains in 2014. After serving in the pulpit and as a chaplain in prison and psychiatric hospital settings, he began his current post as a multifaith chaplain for pediatrics, mental health and infectious disease units at the National Institutes of Health – Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. He and his wife Molly live in College Park with their aging, but loyal cat Pusspuss…whom he did not name.