Yes, I'm a Needy Woman
Even if I'm not allowed to be.
Illustrations by Ashley Goodall
This article is part of That Feeling When—a partnership between VICE Australia and youth mental health initiative headspace.
There's more to OCD than what's typically seen through media. It isn't just things like compulsive hand-washing or cleanliness – there are many complex and varied symptoms of OCD that can affect men, women and young people of all ethnicities, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Obsessions – recurring thoughts that become unhealthy patterns of behavior – and compulsions – acts performed to alleviate or reduce the thoughts – can first present in childhood or early adolescence, but may appear at any time throughout someone's life. It's really important to know that OCD is treatable and seeking professional support is the first step towards recovery. If you've noticed any of these difficulties or you're concerned you might have OCD, you can talk to your GP or speak to someone at your local headspace centre about support and potential treatment options.
Vikki Ryall, Head of Clinical Practice at headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.
I'm a needy woman.
Needy to the point of no return. My neediness is theorised on misogynistic dating forums and men's advice columns. You-said-you'd-call-me-at-five-needy. A bumbling mess of tears, insecurity, and hot cheeks-needy. An almost clinical representation of needy—the sort of needy that embodies the "51 Traits of Needy Women That Turn Men Off".
But my neediness—which is really an uncomfortable desire for reassurance—is the product of something far more sinister: my OCD. I live with "Pure O," which is an unforgiving vein of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so my behaviour is often dictated by paralysing fears. I respond to those fears by engaging in equally paralysing behaviours. I fear the unexpected death of loved ones, or worse still, being abandoned by them without warning.
So rather than washing my hands or meticulously checking to see if my straightening iron is off, I send frazzled messages: Have you arrived? Are you safe? Do you still love me? And relief—albeit passing—comes only when I have been met with a reply. Or better yet, a love note. A majestic gesture. And until then, I remain a victim to my own made-up, tired, monotonous grieving. I remain needy. As fuck.
But the relief I seek—the sort that looks like a seen 8:18 PM receipt, or an active now sign, and an answered call—never feels absolute. I'm a walking trope: a woman who doesn't know how to just have fun. A crazy, neurotic tale of obsession, over-thinking things and tears. A meme, even.
By the time Gone Girl had graced cinemas everywhere, I was on my second script of SSRIs, had undergone hypnotherapy to assist in fixing my unreasonable demands, and had been described as "crazy" more often than not by my boyfriend at the time. Despite his being unable to speak for months after a psychotic episode—one spurred on by a magic-mushroom-shake, body paint, and a two-week Thailand extravaganza—he willingly declared me a "weird bitch" as if it were his duty to do so.
Admittedly, when the two of us saw the film together, "Amazing Amy" frightened the hell out of me. I, too, wasn't a caricature of crazy. I did normal-people-things. I went out for coffee, watched reality television ironically, and had a gym membership. I even had a fucking bob. And while no tyres were slashed, no numbers were blocked, and I didn't sever Neil Patrick Harris's neck with a box cutter, my relationship unravelled in toxic and abusive ways.
But perhaps that is what always exacerbated my OCD: the pressure to suppress it. Ruth Bankey described this as something of a panic disorder experienced by women in and of itself—or, in other words, "fear of the hysterical image." Women aren't given permission to have needs—especially not needs that look like romantic reassurance, emotional sustenance and countless cheap captions such as "what do I do about my clingy gf?" on Reddit threads. And if our demands rise to an ugly head, we are described pejoratively: crazy, needy, and psychopathic. We are taught to fear and loathe ourselves as much as the men who describe emotional women as a man's worst nightmare do.
Western medicine has long feared the feminine. It has responded to women's pain and mental disturbance as if "crazy" is somewhat of an inevitable diagnoses. As if women are made up of some dangerous, erupting lava that only lays dormant for so long—an unstable, bubbling, hysterical mess. While it's not as if anybody has thought it appropriate to slap me across the face with an oscillating vibrator mid-panic-attack, remnants of that sort of ethos are prevalent, at least in how mental illness is seen to be experienced by women.
Even in the context of an abusive relationship, I was the one who took active steps to avoid my apparent madness. Whereas outbursts of his were violent, outbursts of mine were demanding. Hormonal, at best—and robbed of any rationality. And yet, ironically, OCD has been coined the sort of mental plague where the sufferer's mind is only ever half mad: the frustration lying in the sweet spot between being paralysed with fear, and anxiously pointing fun at the fears themselves. It looks like pacing hallways, and keeping an eye out for signs of danger in presumptuous song lyrics. But it also looks like muttering "you are being ridiculous" to yourself in the process. OCD almost requires rationality: it demands its sufferer make sense of the irrationality of her fears, only to then hate herself for giving into them.
It's easy to point the finger at the subject, and to assume that mental illness is entirely individualistic. Inheritable. Like a tired hand-me-down. And while this may all be true, as a woman who is mentally ill, navigating "crazy" will always feel political.
Feeling the hot gaze of my partner—a man who watches on in confusion and fear—on my crying face after a heated argument; one where I expected "too much" and my neediness got the better of me, echoes Martin Charcot's display of hysteria once-upon-a-time. In the 1880s—amongst a room of inquisitive men—there he stood; pointing his finger at a mentally ill woman. That was all hysteria was: a woman in mental anguish. Emotional, tired, and overwhelmed.
Rather than considering how gender inequality pained the writhing woman, all hysteria intended to prove was how emotionally incapable women were. How devoid they were of the toils and troubles of daily life. And even today—amongst a sea of misogynistic advice columns and tired self-help suggestions—the needy woman is scorned.
It's not that neediness is comfortable for me. Or necessary. It's not that I should be able to relish in my hurt, and squirm around on the floor of my lover's bedroom in a pool of slobbery tears… proclaiming feminism. Expecting my mental illness to abide by feminine standards is no easy feat.
I'd just like the freedom to sit across from my psychologist (and her immodest collection of fake plants) and say almost indignantly that "It's just that he hadn't responded" or "It's just that he said he'd be home at midnight."
Or plainly, "It's just that I'm needy in all of the ways women aren't allowed to be". Without feeling like some sort of predictable plot twist in a reality television routine.
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If you are concerned about the mental health of you or someone you know, please contact your local headspace office , or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. A listing of similar helplines in other countries can be found here .