Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift

After 30 years of hiding it, I can talk about my misunderstood and maligned mental illness.


Editorials and other opinion content offer viewpoints on issues important to our community and are independent of the work of our newsroom reporters.

Mayor of Midway Grayson Vandegrift

Mayor of Midway Grayson Vandegrift

I feel freer now to share something I’ve been hiding from the public for nearly 30 years. I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental health diagnosis that was given to me when I was 12 but started around the age of 8.

In popular culture, OCD is considered a joke. People think it’s the potty mess, or the thing that makes you want to straighten it all out. I don’t straighten anything and clean very little.

OCD is actually a horrible, complicated disorder that, at its best oversimplification, can be thought of as “intolerance of uncertainty.” A person with OCD becomes obsessed with things that are personal to them — they tend to attack the things you care about most — and cause overwhelming anxiety that the brain thinks can be resolved by performing compulsive rituals.

It’s a lie, of course. Although compulsions provide momentary relief, they actually create a harmful feedback loop that only worsens long-term obsessions.

I watched my children breathe at night to make sure they were okay, while performing a mental ritual to convince myself that everything was fine and that I could go to sleep myself.

I’ve washed a child’s spoon over and over again because I’m afraid it got contaminated and could hurt one of my children.

For eight years, I enjoyed being Mayor of Midway, KY so much that I feared I would resign – or did – unwittingly from that position. As absurd and probably funny as it sounded, the fear consumed me so much that I spent hours, days and sometimes weeks (not constantly, but the breaks in between were extremely short) checking news articles or watching my name plate at city hall again and again.

There were times when I was so overwhelmed by it that I fell into a kind of despair and anxiety that made it hard to get out of bed. One of the saddest things about OCD is that we know it’s ridiculous, and yet we have to engage in it.

The point of my speech now is that OCD, and mental health in general, is horribly misunderstood in our society. I only know OCD, but after 32 of my 40s on earth, and most of those years taking prescribed SSRIs and undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, I can truly consider myself an expert on the subject.

My suggestion to people is to stop using TOC as a punchline. We OCDs mostly suffer in silence – thank God for the family – and hearing someone use “OCD” as an adjective is extremely hurtful. But we have no community, there are no support groups that I know of, and there is no movement for people to understand this often debilitating disorder.

I even recently heard a doctor I highly respect shed some light on OCD. He talked about it as a benefit because he thought it made people pay more attention to detail. It’s actually the opposite. People with OCD have a full-time job that pays nothing, nobody sees, and creates inconvenience to health and happiness.

In my entire life, I have only known two other people with OCD. It’s alarming – statistics say that 1 in 100 Americans have it. I’ve heard a lot of people claiming to have it, almost like it’s cool, but I can tell from the careless way they talk about it that they really don’t have it and did a self- diagnosis based on their understanding of pop culture.

But there are a lot of people out there, suffering in silence. Unfortunately, they often never ask for help. Even more distressing, it is not easy to find a therapist who specializes in OCD. When my therapist retired, all that was available to me was telehealth visits with therapists from other states, or a wait list of months and months.

I manage it myself since retirement, as best I can. I got a lot of practice and I can handle it myself now, but it never goes away, and it never will. If you or someone you know has OCD, this doesn’t have to define you. My therapist used to tell me he was amazed that I chose to go into politics – one of the most uncertain things ever!

OCD can be managed to a point where it no longer consumes you. But you must have help to do so. The most recommended approach is a combination of therapy and medication that can help regulate serotonin deficiency (this seems to be the best understanding in medical science of why OCD occurs – a sort of serotonin misfire in brain not traveling to synapses as expected)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most recommended therapy, eventually leading to what is called exposure and response prevention. It’s a very difficult process, but over time it retrains your brain to ignore obsessions, rather than engaging them with compulsive behavior.

I still have good and bad days with it. Sometimes, exasperated, I tell my wife “it will never end until I am dead”. Although it’s sad that this is true, I hope more people who have this horrible thing know that it can get better and that you can be happier.

If you have OCD, I love telling other sufferers about it (well, there’s only one friend in my life who has OCD too, but it helps to tell him about his.) But I am not a therapist, and therapy and talking alone will not be as effective as a combination of a clinical prescription and talking to a licensed therapist.

I hope our culture will start taking the time to understand this mysterious and horrifying disorder and, in turn, stop talking about it so harshly. While I’ve never been mad at anyone who does this – I understand that they’ve been misled by popular culture – it’s extremely painful to see your most debilitating feature being ridiculed.

Anyway, I have something on my chest that I’ve been wearing for a long time. OCD has no cure, it offers no benefit, and it is constant. But it’s not death. It’s a challenge you have to do your best to overcome if you have it. I hope those who don’t will start paying a little more attention to how it’s talked about in our culture.

But if you hear someone mocking, there’s no need to make them feel uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not worth “cancelling” someone. The brain is a wondrous and mysterious thing, and as Milton once wrote, “can make heaven out of hell or hell out of heaven.”

Mental health is the hidden crisis of our world. Only understanding can make it better.

Grayson Vandegrift is the mayor of Midway.

#years #hiding #talk #misunderstood #maligned #mental #illness

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *