Co-Host, Pickler & Ben
“I want people to know that there are tons of other folks, especially in our business, who have it and are OK. You are not alone and there is help.”
I was never open about my mental health journey, because not talking about my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was part of my OCD. I thought that if I discussed any facet of my mental illness with anyone, bad things would happen. In that way, my OCD was a lot like Fight Club: The first rule of Fight Club was to never talk about Fight Club.
It was also similar because, in the end, I was just fighting myself.
Everything changed when I met my wife, who was open about her own mental health issues and encouraged me to share mine. We were getting serious about our relationship, and one night we had “the talk” in which we both admitted every dark secret — every embarrassing detail about our lives to each other — so there would be no surprises moving forward. My OCD was one of those topics. She gave me the comfort to explain my situation without feeling judged. From that point on, I have been able to talk about it openly and hopefully help people going through the same darkness that I experienced.
My dark times
When I was in the thick of my OCD, every day was a bad day. Simple tasks like brushing my teeth or folding a shirt became several hours long. I once fell asleep at a light switch because I spent so much time trying to turn it off correctly.
My coping mechanism was usually to physically run away from an object and hope someone saw me so the embarrassment would prevent me from going back. When a friend or relative would ask what I was doing, this would force me to come up with an excuse then move on.
It all changed when I found a way to cope: I essentially had to turn my OCD against itself. Before it was, If I turn this switch correctly something good will happen. Now, I think: If I don’t worry about that switch being turned correctly, how do I know that something even better will happen? Eventually, I stopped worrying about it.
Unfortunately, my OCD will never go away. There are still rituals I comply with or songs I won’t listen to out of fear, but I’ve turned the truly time-consuming aspects of my OCD against themselves.
OCD is a lonely disorder. You’re attempting to maintain control through a series of rituals. No one ever helped or supported me, and I hid the severity for more than 20 years because I was embarrassed and afraid to speak about it.
Being in the spotlight hasn’t really affected my mental health at all.
When I first started in TV it was a constant hurdle. I was worried that if I didn’t complete a ritual properly, I wouldn’t perform on camera to the best of my ability. There were many days that I wouldn’t leave the TV station until the early morning because my OCD thrived when no one was around.
I find that being on camera is one of the few times I forget about everything and just live in the moment, because there’s no time for OCD when I’m focusing on the guest that’s on or the dish I’m cooking. I’m proud to be in the spotlight with my disorder, because I can help others.
An ally for others
I always find it amusing when I meet someone with OCD and they are surprised that I have it. It’s as if someone with this disorder can’t excel because it takes total control of you. I want people to know that there are tons of other folks, especially in our business, who have it and are OK. You are not alone and there is help.
When I became comfortable talking about my OCD, I met this 13-year-old girl who had it. We started talking and I saw so much fear in her because she was in the thick of it. I remember my eyes teared up a little because I saw myself at 13, scared out of my mind with no one to talk to. I want to be that person to talk to.
Ben Aaron, Co-Host, Pickler & Ben, [email protected]