This is the third and last post in this series about memoir. I would love to know if it has sparked any ideas for your own work and/or if the questions I’ve posed were useful. Feel free to hit reply, and let me know.
As I shared a few weeks ago, I started writing my memoir out of a sense of urgency, pouring out everything I had held inside for many years. Later, when I found a frame for the story, I became interested in tracking my interior changes while I was traveling around the country, chasing proper treatment for my daughter’s OCD.
Eventually, I found something larger than myself to write for and that has carried me through to the end.
I always knew I wanted to educate the larger public about OCD, to correct the common assumption that it is about being tidy and to stop folks from using it as an adjective or as a punchline to a dumb joke.
But as time went on, I understood that I was also writing for other parents, not only of of kids with OCD, but with other challenges.
I was in a visioning workshop at the wellness center where I used to work when the lightning bolt hit. We were sitting in a circle in the yoga studio, and I was talking about feeling invisible.
“I want other parents to know they are not alone,” I said. It popped out of my mouth without much forethought, but I knew I had hit it because the other practitioners started nodding their heads vigorously.
My project was not about being seen, but seeing others who were suffering.
Later, I remembered that a common hashtag in the OCD community was #youarenotalone.
As I was navigating the darker parts of the story, when my daughter was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts, it dawned on me that keeping other parents in mind could keep me going.
I knew I couldn’t offer anyone hope or the possibility of transformation if I wasn’t honest about the shit show that often accompanies severe OCD.
Maybe you’ve heard this saying, which is repeated often in the mental health community, “The only way out is through.” I think it can be applied to memoir as well.
You have to walk through the fire, put it all down on the page, if you want to show what’s on the other side.
It helps to know that you are writing it for someone else, that telling the most distressing parts of your story might serve another human being or two.
Fast forward to last summer, when the annual OCD Conference was held in Austin. I was sitting in an anonymous hotel meeting room with a group of other parents in what was supposed to be a circle, but was more of a squished oval. There must have been fifty parents packed in for a desperately needed support group.
The therapist leading the session asked us go around and share some of our experiences. Every year, it was the same horror hour on repeat — missed diagnoses, inappropriate treatment, no easy access to therapy, kids disappearing into themselves, kids unable to get out of bed, kids paralyzed by fear, kids hospitalized for suicidal thoughts.
Because of where I was sitting in the group, I was the last parent to speak. I looked around the room and tried to meet the eyes of my fellow travelers.
“I hear your stories,” I said, “and my family has lived every one of them.” I talked about our search for intensive therapy and shared that my daughter had returned from residential treatment one year prior.
“Sitting here with all of you,” I said. “I realize that over the last few months, OCD has receded into the background and is no longer at the center of our lives.”
I didn’t notice anyone’s reaction at the time because we were at the end of the hour and had to leave the room. But later, a friend sought out my husband and told him that everyone in the room was hanging on my words.
“Not a dry eye in the house,” she said. “You give us all hope.”
And this is what’s helped me write the final chapters.
As our year in hell moves further into the past, as the memories become more and more distant, it’s harder to locate that old urgency. Honestly, I feel ready to move on and do something else besides write about OCD.
When I’m having trouble getting to the page, I go back to my friend’s comment, which led me to write the following on an index card:
“Your moving on is the hope that you offer.”
keep that card on my desk and look at it every day before I sit down to write.
It also reminds me that I get to move on. That this is one story. It was important that I write it, and I’m thrilled that someone might find it meaningful. But there is more living and more writing yet to do.
A few more questions for you to ponder:
1) As you bear witness to your own life, can you imagine anyone out there who needs to hear your story?
2) What is the hope you offer? Not that it
is mandatory to offer hope. I don’t want to make this into a Pollyanna post.
Some stories are dire and those need to be told, too. But if you can, look
inside, and see what you have gleaned from your struggles.
What wisdom do you carry inside that you feel ready to pass along?