sleepyhollowjacks asks: I was reading your chain of tweets about Paxil and had a question. One of the conditions that medicine is reported to treat is OCD (I have that). But isn’t OCD a productive tool for the highly creative types? Weren’t you afraid it might hinder your writing process?
I struggled with mild OCD and not-so mild paranoid ideation for decades; it was especially bad in the year or two around the publication of HORNS, a paranoid book written by a paranoid and unhappy man.
For a long time I was determined not to get help, because I was very afraid that if I took a pill, or saw a therapist, it would destroy me creatively. Then one day I realized I didn’t give a shit about whether or not I could go on as a writer… it was far more important to find a way to go on as a person, so I could be the best possible father to my kids, and not a miserable man who couldn’t make his appointments because he had to keep driving home to see if the oven was on. A person who looked behind pictures in hotel rooms to see if there was a fiber optic video camera hidden back there. And so on.
It turned out that my paranoid idea that treatment would destroy my creativity was like all my other paranoid ideas: bullshit. My compulsions and shrill fantasies weren’t empowering me creatively; they were fucking me over. If I wrote five pages and hit save and Microsoft Word told me I had ended on an odd-number of characters, instead of an even-number of characters, I assumed the day was a failure. This is not a joke. Logic didn’t enter into it.
After Heart-Shaped Box, I wrote parts of three different novels that didn’t work, because I was scared to write anything - scared of being hated, being sued by phantom persecutors, being criticized, letting people down, looking like a fool, and on, and on. Completing HORNS, and getting it right, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a creative person, because I did it with an interior voice constantly screaming in my ear that it was all wrong, that publication of the book would destroy all the good will I had created with Heart-Shaped Box. I got the novel written - and it came out good, Goddamn it - even though I usually began my day by searching my office for listening devices.
Can a little bit of OCD be adaptive for a creative person? Maybe, to a degree, when it leads to rigorous habits and good discipline (I remain a very habit-driven person, a guy who works through a series of checklists each day). But it’s very hard to be successful as an artist when you’re flinching from imaginary terrors and on the run from imaginary enemies. It’s also difficult to get anything written if you wind up in an institution; try and type when you’re in a straight-jacket, it isn’t easy.
As an afterword to all this, I’d note I wrote most of NOS4A2 after getting on Paxil and getting into therapy and dealing with my problems. It was hard-going at first, but in the end I wrote the novel with joy and excitement. I owed it to my kids to get my shit together. If getting right emotionally has helped me to do some of my best work, that’s just a fringe benefit.