For many people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it can often feel like they're living with a secret, hidden illness. For this reason, documentary filmmaker Liz Smith created an art project on The Secret Illness called The Wall, where people who suffer from OCD can anonymously share their stories and experiences. To contribute, people email creator Liz Smith, who then curates the submissions and posts them on The Wall.
The Wall creates an environment where people can share their authentic OCD experiences without worrying about social backlash or "outing" their mental illness. On her site, Smith explains that when people submit their stories, they can include as much or little identifying information as they'd like; furthermore, when they attach a picture, it'll be pixelated, so their faces won't be easily recognized.
As a whole, people can be uninformed about mental illness in general, and OCD is no exception. When it comes to the depictions of mental illness in our media, OCD is one which frequently appears in a joking manner. You know, that side character on your favorite TV show who is always washing their hands? Or the romantic lead who can suddenly overcome to their obsessive need to organize their Tupperware because they finally met the right person to help them "get over their crazy"? Sure, some people who have OCD may identify with these narratives (and that's a good, empowering thing for them!), but not everyone does. OCD, like all illnesses, is nuanced and complex, and not a one-size-fits all diagnosis — and it certainly isn't just a punchline.
In real life, OCD is not a quirk people can turn off and on because they're "feeling so OCD" about cleaning their apartment or finishing an assignment for class. In fact, these depictions of OCD are more than just misleading; they're damaging, as well, because they minimilize the struggle sufferers face every day. Projects like The Wall, however, give people an opportunity to share their real experiences in a safe space, which ideally contributes to the general public's understanding of their illness.
Though it varies from person to person, OCD is generally defined as an anxiety disorder where people have unwanted, repeated thoughts, feelings, or obsessive behaviors that drive them to compulsively do something as a way to offer temporary relief to their anxiety. For people who suffer from OCD, the thoughts can be intrusive and negatively impact their jobs, relationships, and peace of mind. Dating with OCD can be really tough, as can dealing with feelings of imposter syndrome or perfectionism at school or work. Roughly 2 percent of the overall population suffers from OCD, with a whopping 3.3 million people in the United States.
The stories on The Wall are raw, real, and immediate. 30-year-old Helen from Heidelberg German, describes her compulsive behaviors and links them to her fear of causing harm to others: "It would probably have been easier just to stop straightening my hair than battling the thoughts that, through my carelessness, I would leave something electrical on that would result in a fire and, ultimately, [bring harm] to others," she writes. Zack, 22, from Missouri, shares, "My OCD was (and is) constantly changing, switching from one obsession to another, though it tends to stay in a sort of general cycle." And these are just two examples, of course — the tapestry created by The Wall is as varied and textured as the world is itself.
For more, check out The Wall over at The Secret Illness' website.