Late one night I was thinking of what I could ask Mara Wilson for our Q&A, and I had what felt like such a profound thought: Mara was in Mrs. Doubtfire. OCD is the doubting disease. Having OCD feels like being engulfed in flames of doubt…
But I spared Mara from this observation—it was less mind-blowing in the light of day—and stuck to questions she could actually answer. I am thrilled that she was willing to do just that!
Thank you, Mara, for taking time out of your busy life to share some thoughts with my readers—and for everything you do to spread awareness of OCD.
I attended the International OCD Foundation conference five years in a row, and of course the first year I couldn’t make it you were there! Fill me in: What was it like to give the keynote and be among so many people who actually get OCD?
It was an honor! I always love when I’m around other people with OCD. I had the feeling there that no matter what I said or did, nobody would ever think I was weird, and that is a rare feeling! One of my favorite moments was getting to joke with fellow OCDers and OCD therapists about the wildest things we’d ever done because of our fears. I never thought I’d be in a place where I could share some of my strangest compulsions and darkest intrusive thoughts, and be able to laugh at them.
When were you diagnosed with OCD, and how did you realize what you’d been going through might be OCD?
I’d heard the term OCD growing up, but I only knew the stereotypes, like neatness and handwashing. I thought it was a quirk or a personality trait (although one I might have had), not a full-blown disorder. It wasn’t until I read a book called Kissing Doorknobs, about a girl with OCD, that I realized all of my anxieties, superstitions, and compulsions had a name. I remember crying when I read it, because it felt like my life finally made sense.
Some people find the diagnosis a relief because they finally have answers, and others feel ashamed and don’t want to feel labeled. How did it feel for you?
I was about twelve, and it was definitely a relief for me! Some people worry something is wrong with them, but I knew there was something wrong with me. It had been four years of anxiety and misery. I felt relieved that I could finally give it a name, that I could get help, and that there were other people out there who understood.
Have your OCD symptoms affected your professional life, whether as an actress or as a writer? If so, how did you overcome any obstacles they created?
I definitely think my perfectionism, which has always been one of my primary OCD symptoms, has definitely affected me professionally. Both acting and writing require a lot of making mistakes and learning from them, but there’s always been a part of me that’s frustrated (to say the least!) when I can’t get things right the first time.
You’ve used your platform to increase awareness of OCD and call out stigma when you see it. How did you decide you’d start writing and speaking about OCD? Did you have any hesitations?
I think I wanted to from when I was first diagnosed, actually! But my parents and friends didn’t think it was the best time to do so—I had enough pressures on me at that age—and I trusted their opinions. I am glad I waited, because I feel like the world was less understanding twenty years ago. But I was open about it from the very beginning of my re-emergence on the internet, as an adult. I’ve found that being open about it and owning it has made it seem less like a big deal, both to me and to others.
Imagine someone approaches you and says, “Mara, I love how open you are about your OCD. I want to share my story, but I don’t have a big following like you do!”
There are many people out there who are sharing their stories in many different ways! There are all kinds of podcasts, like OCD Stories, that interview people with OCD. And there are many great organizations to work with, such as Not Alone Notes, where you can write notes to people who are also suffering with OCD. There are ways to help and find others like you, no matter who you are.
If you could give just one piece of advice to someone with OCD, what would it be?
You’re not your thoughts, you’re not going to always feel like this, and you’re not alone.