‘OCD Knows Best’: Mental Illness & the Family Unit

By Morgan Ryan

I cannot recall a point in my life where I have not been impacted by OCD, as my mother has struggled badly with health-related OCD for a large proportion of her life. As with many mental illnesses, there is a strong genetic component, and I have been demonstrating symptoms of OCD for several years, alongside my five-year battle with anorexia nervosa that is far from over.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, my mother’s rituals were frequent, but there has been a huge shift in recent months: any deliveries or outings are not without huge tensions for the whole family, dictated not by logic, but by fear. To quote the Disney film, ‘Tangled’: ‘Mother[’s OCD] knows best,’ it seems.

I am certainly sympathetic to my mother during these times: once, a bad cold spread around my Sixth Form, and I behaved in a way very similar to my mother now, terrified of being ill. The rules and irrationality of OCD and anorexia are strikingly similar. However, this sympathy does not prevent her OCD from impacting me significantly.

My mother and I are both considered ‘control freaks,’ to use the colloquial term, and this is where the problem arises: my mother’s OCD demands that my family also submit to her rituals, and thus demands control of us too, but my own anxieties spike when I am not in control of my own actions. The coronavirus has only intensified this game of tug-of-war: control is the prize.

The increase in awareness and research surrounding mental health is refreshing, but the impact of this on family members continues to be a blind spot. Nobody can be truly untouched by the effects of mental illness.