Trigger warning for discussion of mental illness and brief mention of suicidal ideation.

Five or six years ago, for a short time, I knew this guy in his early 30s. He was polite, articulate, and good-looking in a former-frat-guy kind of way. He had been married a couple of years and loved his wife and baby daughter very much.

He checked himself into a psychiatric ward because he could not go five minutes without fearing he would do something violent to his baby. The horrific images in his head traumatized him. He struggled with a strong urge to kill himself in order to keep his daughter safe.

Many of us have occasional intrusive thoughts – hey, what if I did this monstrous thing? – but we’re able to brush them away. Somehow, his brain decided it would be a good idea to play them on an incessant loop.

I suffered from this particular kind of obsessive thinking for a few months as a child, and I had a shorter bout with it as a grad school student. I don’t know why it happens and I don’t know why mine stopped. It seems to me like a survival instinct gone haywire, warning against nonexistent threats.

For lots of people, this and other terrible forms of obsessive compulsive disorder are very difficult to treat. I have a friend whose teenage daughter is in this situation. Because both my friend and her daughter are brilliant writers, it’s not for me to say too much about their story. I will say that Literary Lacquers is doing a gorgeous nail polish to raise money for the International OCD Foundation in honor of her. You can check it out here.

In my novella coming out this fall, Wicked Garden, my hero’s OCD is mostly under control, but it crops up now and again. He’s avoided close romantic relationships because his mental health struggles ruined his early attempts at having a girlfriend, and because he’s ashamed of it.

Heroes with mental illness are rare in romance, but my hero in Wicked Garden is sexy, kind, intelligent, and charming. You can have any kind of health issue and still be all of those things and more.

Anyway, I cringe a little when I hear somebody say something like, “I alphabetize my books by title – I’m so OCD.” Nobody means any harm by that, obviously! I’m sure I use some unfortunate expressions because I don’t know any better.

People used to say anal, as a shortened form of the questionable Freudian term anal retentive: “I can’t stand bad grammar. I’m so anal!” I’m so anal always sounded like a very personal disclosure apropos of nothing, so I wasn’t sorry to see it go.

Sometimes OCD does include compulsions about neatness and fears of germs. But if you’re just tidy or organized, there are other great words for that, like “tidy” and “organized,” and also “fastidious” and “particular,” not to mention the delightful “persnickety.” Depending on the situation, you may even have to own up to the fact that your positive quality is actually a positive quality: “I color-coded the folders, because I have my life together.”

If you have experiences with OCD or other mental health issues, and/or if you’re super organized, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!