There are certain science fiction books I just love, and UnWholly by Neal Shusterman is one of them. Unwholly is the second book in the Unwind trilogy, a series of books about a future U.S. where kids between the ages of 13 and 18 can be “unwound.” Unwinding is the science fiction version of donating your organs, but unlike modern day organ donation it’s not 1) the choice of the person doing the donating and 2) done after you are already dead. In the series, parents can essentially kill their teenagers legally by having them unwound, for any reason.
A black and white world
The world Shusterman has created is one governed by black and white thinking. Kids are either bad or good, and bad kids are unwound. In fact, one of the characters in the book, Miracolina, sums up the prevailing sentiment nicely on page 316: “The bad are bad, the good are good, and being caught in between is just an illusion. There is no gray.”
Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like OCD.
OCD loves black and white thinking
Now, I’m not saying unwinding is part of OCD, but black and white thinking definitely is. (In fact, if you have OCD symptoms of worrying about harm coming to others like I do, reading the part of Unwind where a kid does get unwound is pretty much an exposure exercise!) OCD thrives off of black and white thinking because living in the gray means living in uncertainty, and OCD cannot stand uncertainty. OCD is only happy when it knows 100% for sure that something is either clean or dirty, good or bad, straight or crooked, yes or no, moral or immoral, right or wrong….you get the picture. And of course, it’s almost impossible to know whether something is absolutely one way or another, which is how OCD gets us stuck in an endless loop of checking or analyzing or asking for reassurance as we try to obtain the unobtainable: certainty.
For people with OCD, black and white thinking doesn’t just occur with OCD-related thoughts. It can become a way of thinking and of life that unfortunately supports OCD because it forces us to be worried, frantic, and stressed because we are searching for certainty.
Choosing to live in the gray
I have found, in my own recovery from OCD, that working to embrace uncertainty has been a better strategy. For instance, I recently received a letter from my health insurance company saying:
“We are writing to let you know that the health plan that you are enrolled in will close