September 10, 2011

Guest Post: Kissing Doorknobs and OCD

Zahida from Musings of a YA Reader is dropping by the blog today with her guest post for Psychtember on Kissing Doorknobs!

Thanks for having me on your blog today, Danya!

Growing up reading The Babysitters Club, I feel like I’ve been exposed to characters with various disorders from a young age. Remember Whitney who had Down syndrome and the girl who Kristy babysat who was an autistic savant? The first time I truly grasped that these characters had minds or brains that worked differently however was after reading Terry Spencer Hesser’s Kissing Doorknobs. Years later, I wouldn’t remember the story but would remember that the protagonist did odd things like kiss doorknobs when a family member – let’s call her X – suddenly began to take multiple showers every day. Her diagnosis by a psychiatrist after my parents realized that there was something wrong: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – just like Tara.

Classified as an anxiety disorder, OCD typically manifests in adolescence and affects both genders equally. It is characterized by repetitive, unwanted and distressing thoughts (i.e. obsessions) and repetitive, stereotyped behaviours that individuals feel compelled to perform to reduce or prevent anxiety (i.e. compulsions).

Now that I’m more familiar with the disorder from a personal basis as well as having learned about it in pretty much every abnormal psychology course I’ve taken, I thought I’d re-read Kissing Doorknobs to see just how accurately it portrays the experience of someone with OCD. Really well, apparently.

Drawing on her own experience, Hesser realistically shows how compulsive rituals can change over time (e.g. from counting cracks to praying) and how debilitating life can become by having OCD. Imagine having to touch your front doorknob with your fingers a certain way and then kissing them, and doing this exactly thirty-three times before you can open the door to go out or for someone to enter! It seems so far out there and yet I know better, having heard stories about people with OCD who can’t take showers because their rituals are so complicated or who believe there are demons in their toilet and have a tough time going to the washroom.

Through the character of Sam, Hesser also shows that the symptoms of OCD can vary. Much like Sam, X’s main obsessions revolved around germs. Therefore, her easily noticeable – to her family anyway – compulsions meant that she took multiple showers, cut her hair to keep it short and wouldn’t let anyone touch her clothes after they were washed. Sam also demonstrates that OCD is something he and Tara will battle for the rest of their lives, and that there is always the chance for relapse. Though you would never know that X even has OCD, during periods of stress like exam time, it’s quite obvious to us that her symptoms worsen.

As well, Hesser does a great job depicting the impact of OCD on a family. There is a stigmatization against mental disorders and the fear along with anger and resentment were definitely emotions we went through as a family.

What’s interesting is that unlike schizophrenics, people suffering from OCD are aware that something is wrong with them. It’s impossible not to empathize with Tara as she wonders whether she is going and/or is insane or cries while performing her compulsions because of how humiliating some of them are. But, she still does them because it is the only way for her to untie the knot in her stomach.

For a relatively short book then, Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser is a good choice to read if you’re looking for a fictional novel about a character with OCD. Since it is older though, Tara is misdiagnosed a few times – which in a way is positive because sometimes it takes time before you can be diagnosed correctly. However, I’d like to think that psychiatrists and psychologists are better informed about this disorder now and would diagnose it correctly more often than not.   

Zahida blogs as A Canadian Girl at Musings of A YA Reader. Originally planning to major in genetics, she decided to take the first year psychology course offered at her university as an elective because she figured the subject material would be interesting. After having a terrific professor and not being bored at all in lectures, she decided to become a psych major instead and supplement her knowledge about the mind with knowledge about the brain by also majoring in neuroscience. She thinks it turned out to be a good decision because not only was the genetics course that she took in second year really boring; but also, cognitive psychology and neuroscience are becoming areas of burgeoning research.        

Thanks for stopping by, Zahida! It was very interesting to read your thoughts on the accuracy of Kissing Doorknobs, given your experience of having a family member with OCD.

1 comment:

  1. This is a book that I've been interested in for a long time, especially now, when I feel like so many books have been misusing/exploiting OCD.


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