I Bet It’s Exactly Like That!

[Trigger Warning for descriptions of violent thoughts of self harm]

Oh, by now, faithful readers, you know where we are about to go. We are about to go on a little journey into my mind, the scary place that it is, where I open the floor to discussion about the ways that, once again! Stars and Stripes has managed to get so much so wrong. Because tonight, gentle readers, as I clutch the place that might be close to where my duodendum is and sip my Korean Red Ginsing tea, which the lady at the market told me might help my indigestion, I am reminded once again that I am my mental health are nothing but a metaphor to be co-opted at someone’s convenience!

Let me give you a little background here, because the only online version I can scrape up is this e-version of the print edition, and while WAVE found no accessibility issues with it, I am not going to guarantee that it will be accessible to everyone or accommodating of everyone’s needs. It is, however, a way around their habit of not putting all of their content in their online version (and also allows deployed troops to access the daily paper as well). The front page has the story’s picture, of a white male soldier in Army Green uniform: a light green collared shirt, black tie, green jacket with various awards and pins, a black belt, a black beret, holding a rifle with a bayonet affixed to it. The text on the photo says “Model soldiers [break] Every detail counts when you’re trying to join the storied Old Guard”. The actual article starts on page 4 if you are so inclined to read.

The Old Guard is a ceremonial guard that headquartered out of Fort Meyer, VA, and performs most of its duties in Arlington National Cemetary, similar to the Navy’s Ceremonial Guard, in that they perform many military funerals daily with the cleanest of precision. Their military bearing is expected to be above and beyond that of any other in their branch of service. Their uniforms are expected to be ridiculously perfect, with exquisite attention to the finest aspects of the details, not missing a single loose thread or even a speck of lint. A scuff on your shoe could set you back a week in training. They stand grueling hours at “attention” (The Navy’s Ceremonial Guard does this while holding the business end of the rifle and keeping the butt parallel to the ground for hours, I do not know about the Army’s Old Guard. Full disclosure: I once and briefly dated a guy from the Ceremonial Guard). Everything you know about military bearing is wrong when you arrive for duty, and it is re-taught to “look better”, including the way you turn, march, stand, dress, and press your uniforms (you are even issued special dress white uniforms that are made to withstand the repeated ironing in the Navy Ceremonial Guard).

Do you see what I did there?

I was able to give you some brief background on the very strict regulations of the Old Guard and the Ceremonial Guard without using ableist language. I didn’t once have to compare soldiers or sailors who are required to iron their uniforms exactly right, or who are trained to notice when their medals are one sixteenth of an inch off from the proper dress line to someone who actually obsesses over things like drinking bleach or shoving cork screws in her eyes. Or what it would feel like to jump from a fifth floor balcony.

Because these, my gentle readers, are actual obsessions. They actually intrude on your thoughts and disturb your life, and are really very upsetting, I can assure you. They make you do things, like pull out your hair, burn yourself with a curling iron, wash your hands again and again, and pick at the little imperfections on your skin. Yes sometimes you even iron your uniform again and again and again because you just can’t get it right and double creases are the End of The Universe as We Know It, but it might be because you are certain that if you stop then you are going to iron your hand, not because your Leading Petty Officer is going to chew you out (or your whole division, I mean, does the article expect me to believe that the entire Old Guard has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Because that is not on the application!) but maybe because you recently thought that you might do something very harmful to someone you loved if you stopped holding that iron very tightly. Even if your LPO has put the fear of Cthulhu in you.

Being part of an elite military unit who is honored to be charged with memorializing the fallen and handing flags to their loved ones* or escorting the President or guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a pretty powerful thing, I am sure. The end result of the intense training, of the weeks and weeks of repeated inspections and physical demands, might very well leave some people with OC tendencies or maybe even OCD outright I suppose — I am not a doctor I don’t know and I don’t pretend to know every experience — but it isn’t the same as living with a condition that sometimes (OK, often) inhibits your day to day ability to live, interact, and (here’s the important one) do your job because you are busy carrying out compulsions to get the damned obsessions out of your head.

Yeah, getting worked up over a uniform inspection? I bet it’s exactly like that!

Only, I’ve been there and done that and bought the cheap t-shirt (hell, I’ve been the OC girl who has had to prepare for uniform inspections!).

It isn’t anything like that at all.

*I want to also point out that the article, for those of you who aren’t able/don’t want to read it via the e-reader the requirements for Old Guard: Must be 5’10 or taller, must have combat experience, blah blabbitty blah. Nothing like another exclusionary Old Boys Club for the military, so they can sit around and pat each other on the backs about how Awesome! they all are. I might note, out of some Branch Pride that the Navy Ceremonial Guard frequently wins the Joint Service competitions and they have *gasp* women in their guard.

Oh, and those people receiving flags? Always widows. Always. Way to erase anyone else who might be a surviving loved one of a fallen troop, there S&S, Army, and anyone else involve. UGH!

5 Comments

  1. I find it astonishing how mental illness is so often treated as a cultural problem. A strict, military code might cause OCD in some, as you say, but it is not the same as OCD. A subculture doesn’t have OCD. Individualsmight have OCD, and, in those, it is probably triggered by a multitude of factors including possibly strict army regulations.

  2. Ugh, I hate, hate, HATE when people misunderstand mental health conditions and get them completely wrong! It’s bad enough when it’s just a misconception but it’s worse when people label a person or behavior.

  3. I have a VERY mild case of OCD, and it sure as hell isn’t a helpful thing that’d get me a job!

    Having to get up repeatedly to check that the door really is locked? Not fun. Having to either drive home from school/work or have the idea that the door is not locked hanging over my head all day? Not useful! (Especially not when it has on occasion caused me to forget what I was going to say in class or at work and instead get a bit of a spaced out look and say, “I’m sorry, I just realized I don’t think I locked my front door.”)

    I’m very glad that my main compulsion does not involve self-harm, as I imagine that would be even harder to deal with. Which is not to say it’s a ‘safe’ compulsion – when I’m having trouble with my joints due to my physical disability, the urge to check the door can be vary between painful and outright dangerous (depending on how bad the joints are and whether I need to go down the stairs to get to the door). And when the compulsion hits so hard that I want to throw a u-turn on a busy street and race back home to make sure the door is locked? Yeah, that’s not exactly safe either.

    Blast. Just talking about this has one of my lesser compulsions jumping up. The bookcase is a mess and out of order (first by genre, then alphabetically by author, and finally by order in the series, not order in which they were written, which throws off the boyfriend and the aide, as they do not know what order the books happen in). And my back isn’t in any kind of shape for me to spend half an hour fixing the book case. Damn it.

    ~Kali

  4. Ugh, Kali, yeah. Some of my personal compulsions are in fact “checking” things because of similar obsessions. In fact when I wrote the AWP that I linked to above I think I told one of those great stories (or more). And by “great”, I mean, “things that almost lost me my college job and/or flunked me out of college” before my subsequent drop out.

    The more severe ones? It has taken me a long time to learn to manage them, and that the obsessions that accompany them aren’t going to come true because I am not going to let that happen. But it has taken me a long time, and I was privileged enough to be able to access the kind of therapy that allowed me to work through it (even if in a disconnected manner over a long period of time).

    My partner just surrenders the book arranging to me whenever we move (holy pancake that is a lot!) and just hands me the books while I put them away. He doesn’t even try to understand it anymore, he just “gets” that if we do it any other way I am going to probably hurt myself re-arranging them later.

  5. Yeah, as I said, I’m very, VERY thankful that my compulsions are…if not harmless, certainly not as potentially harmful as they could be. I can only imagine how difficult things like self-harm obsessions must be. The most dangerous one I have comes when I’m manic, and I get this almost irresistable urge to do [ableist language redacted] dangerous things in the car, like drive off embankments and throw u-turns on the freeway and so on. Those scare the pants off me, and I usually end up getting home ASAP and curling up in a ball crying because I am so exhausted from resisting the urge.

    I’ve actually done almost no therapy on it, because…well, I tend to have bigger issues to tackle when I’m seeing a therapist. I don’t think about the OCD existing except when it’s acting up, which rarely coincides with seeing a therapist. And thus, me my mild OCD stumble along untreated, and…well, other than a lot of stress, I get by without much damage. I dunno what they’d do with me even if I tried therapy for it, as my OCD is so very mild. And oh yeah, trying to do desensitization stuff with it? It stresses me into back spasms and migraines. Hurrah for overlapping and counter-indicating disabilities!

    ~Kali