Every so often, while either researching something for a novel/short story (or just generally wasting time on the internet), I stumble across an interesting case that I can’t get out of my head.
George and OCD
At the age of 19, George was depressed.
In fact, that’s an understatement.
George had been plagued with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for years, spending hours every single day washing his hands, taking four-hour showers, checking doors and windows were locked, and checking his wallet for cash. As is common with OCD, he was tortured by intrusive thoughts of horrific scenarios and terrible images – all tailor-made by his own mind to be as disturbing as possible. The subsequent rituals and compulsive behaviours he developed to mitigate the impact of the thoughts soon became their own reward, strengthened over and over again through a lifetime of repetition and a feeling of relief when carrying them out. Operant conditioning in full effect.
As the character Nick in my novel Victim Mentality says:
Giving in to anxiety becomes its own reward, so you become less able to deal with it when it comes. OCD, in a very real way, feeds off itself. Imagine having a constant slideshow of trauma in your head, with each personalised scenario more horrific than the next. There’s only so much you can take before you give in and just count the bloody numbers to make it all stop.
(And yes, this was the novel I was researching when I came across this story about poor old George.)
As things continued, they got so bad for George that not only did he drop out of school, he also quit his job. The combination of the intrusive thoughts, the compulsive rituals, the knowledge that he was being completely illogical (as is common with OCD), and now the triple loss of social life, further education, and income, became a perfect storm of conditions that tipped George over the edge.
Falling into the black hole of depression and finding himself irresistibly crushed on all sides by it’s darkness, he told his mum that his life was so “wretched” that he just wanted to die.
Her response – which possibly took her out of the running for Mother of the Decade – was that if his life was so bad, he should just go and shoot himself.
So, one night in 1983, he did.
George, OCD and a Gunshot
Using a .22-caliber rifle, he went down to his mother’s basement, aimed the weapon at his head, and pulled the trigger.
George didn’t die, obviously. This would be both a very short and very bleak story if he did.
What did happen is that the bullet lodged into his brain – in the left frontal lobe.
He was rushed to hospital and worked on by surgeons, who managed to remove the majority of the bullet but were unable to remove every little piece.
Three weeks later, George – who as we know had been plagued by OCD so severely that he saw no alternative to suicide – was cured. He was no longer obsessive. No more compulsive hand-washing, no more four-hour long showers, no more incessant checking and re-checking. Nothing.
Interestingly, for over a year prior to his suicide attempt, George had been treated on an ongoing basis by psychiatrist Dr Leslie Solymon. He had undergone IQ tests and various other assessments of his mental capacities, which helpfully gave a huge amount of data with which to compare his abilities after the suicide attempt.
Comparing the data, Dr Solymon saw that George hadn’t lost anything, except for his OCD.
George went back to college and excelled in his studies, got a new job, and basically lived the life that he had always wanted to.
George, OCD, a Gunshot and… a cure?
Historically, an extreme treatment for OCD was – and sometimes still is – surgery on the sufferer’s left frontal lobe. (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, possibly in combination with medication, is the preferred treatment for obvious reasons). Even though the surgery would sometimes be successful, it often came with horrific side effects, such as massive personality changes, paralysis, and cognitive impairment.
For some even unluckier souls, they didn’t survive the surgery at all.
Of the successful cases, the OCD symptoms wouldn’t just disappear either. In most cases they would be improved after the surgery, and then gradually get better and better over time, which makes George’s total and immediate ‘cure’ even more incredible.
By accidentally aiming at exactly the right spot, at exactly the right time, and with the exact right ‘tool’, George had performed surgery on himself.
He’d given himself an accidental lobotomy.
And it had worked.
(Just to be clear, I’m not advocating self-surgery here, and especially not with, y’know, a gun.)
It’s difficult to know what to make of all this. If there is a moral to this story it’s hard to know what it could be. Attempted suicide might help in unexpected ways? You can cure yourself of OCD? Sometimes a gun will solve your problem, but only if you aim at yourself?
Realistically, there is probably only one message to take from this story:
Always listen to your mother, kids.
Even if it does sound like she just wants you dead.
Victim Mentality is a crime thriller about stand-up comedian Nick and his life with OCD, with comedy audiences, and – worst of all – with a criminal named Gideon Matthias…