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Senior Column: Bird poop heals

Does self-advocacy justify violating societal health norms? Would only a sick soul think so? If so, Dr. Grant Holland, a psychologist who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), is one sick dude. But twisted brilliance can create a beautiful result.

Nothing is quite as uncomfortable as having something integral to who you are being insulted, chipping away at an essential stone in your existential foundation. The very worst is when they knock even a fragment of that foundation away permanently.

My OCD has eroded a chunk of my foundation. It puts me in cold sweats, traps me at the bathroom sink for eons at a time, forces gallons of tears from my weary eyes, and leaves me gasping for fresh chances.

My OCD, in its most brutal form, began after summer camp in the lush Texas Hill Country. It was a lawless land, full of sweaty boys just like myself. What should have been paradise instead was a gateway to hell, especially when a stomach virus erupted. The seeming lack of basic sanitation drove me literally crazy. Even when home safely, I couldn’t relax. Certain words would trigger my hand washing compulsions, and my hands became very bloody.

But, I’d like to think my OCD has helped me. I feel I finish each day with a new resilience, new pride, new hope. Daily, I run my hands through my hair hundreds of times, chew on my shirt ferociously, and carefully maneuver doorknobs to avoid strange stains. I’ve been told of the idea of being an “upstander,” standing up for someone who is being beaten down by someone or something. Sometimes I feel I am “beating” OCD, being an upstander for myself against myself and the little monster lurking inside me.

But I’ve only truly been an upstander once, and that involved help. I was at Dr. Holland’s office, his nose twitching gleefully as I nervously learned about my new “exposure” program.

“Ever dug through a trash can?” he inquired, eyeing my chafed hands.

“No,” I scoffed.

“Touched a toilet, then licked your hand and rubbed your face?”
“God, no.”

“How about with bird poop?”

“I don’t think so…”

And so we did all these things and more. It was thoroughly nasty for anyone—and especially for an OCD patient. My highly-recommended psychologist experienced it with me: rubbing toilets, digging through garbage, picking at bird poop and, then licking our fingers, enjoying the savory remains. That is being an upstander: facing the fear and kicking it square in the jaw.

OCD will always continue to pick at my foundation. It will probably still chip some pieces loose. But I’ll know what to do. I might take my treatment a step further, and make sweet tea with toilet water. Take that, OCD!

But it is almost impossible to stand up to yourself by yourself. Fortunately, I’ve always had support. I have friends who give me loving grief, parents who love and support me and a psychologist who uses some effective, if questionable, methods. Now I want to do things for other people, maybe encourage people to embrace the peacock poop. On second thought, let’s not.

Originally published in the February 2018 print issue

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