The (Neat and Orderly) Ramblings of an Obsessive Compulsive

Colin Wall

I am incredibly excited that J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is set to be a BBC TV series starting from Sunday 15th February. I absolutely loved the book; Rowling’s ability to create intriguing and complex characters to whom many of us can relate never ceases to amaze me, and her stories are so rich and captivating that they seem automatically to lend themselves to adaption for the screen, big or small. As soon as I read Rowling’s first book for adults I knew that it was going to be a hit. But one of the main reasons that I loved it so much was because of her character Colin Wall, a headmaster with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

This character excited me so much that I actually wrote to J.K. Rowling after I read the book (yes, I am a massive fan girl) and even received an automated response! Ok, so it wasn’t actually from Jo herself (I like to imagine we’re on first name terms) but it came in an envelope with the Hogwarts coat of arms on the seal and it was the best day of my life. Anyway. Colin Wall is such an important character because he shows a true depiction of OCD and how it affects sufferers and their families emotionally. It was so refreshing to read a realistic portrayal of my anxiety disorder rather than the usual referral to it as simply a superstitious little quirk, a tendency to be ‘neat and tidy’. Rowling’s character suffers with distressing intrusive thoughts, and these are a major component of OCD.

Intrusive thoughts are negative and upsetting thoughts that plague the sufferer and make them feel compelled to carry out rituals in order to prevent an imagined frightening scenario from happening, or simply to make the thought go away. Intrusive thoughts seem to come from nowhere, niggling away at sufferers in their day to day lives. People who do not suffer with OCD can get intrusive thoughts too, however they are better at dealing with them than OCD sufferers; they are able to acknowledge the thoughts but then ignore them and carry on with their day. Have you ever walked past a group of people and suddenly heard a burst of raucous laughter and assumed that they were laughing at you? Somebody who does not suffer with an anxiety disorder such as OCD would probably think this for a second and then brush it off: ‘So what if they were?’ , ‘They probably weren’t, it was a coincidence… now what am I going to have for tea?’ Whereas an OCD sufferer would be more likely to fixate on this thought, maybe even for the rest of his or her day: ‘Oh my god, they were laughing at me. Why were they laughing at me? Do I look stupid? Has somebody told them something about me?’ Often these thoughts can escalate wildly and irrationally: ‘What if someone had taken a stupid photo of me in class and they were laughing at that? What if somebody puts it on Facebook? What if they blackmail me? Oh my god, I need to raise bribery money…’ And so on.

Being a headmaster of a secondary school, Colin Wall has distressing thoughts that he will be accused of sexually harassing his students. You may think that this is a silly thought for him to have, but often OCD sufferers get intrusive thoughts about things that they would never want to happen, therefore because this imagined scenario causes the sufferer so much anxiety OCD feeds off this negative energy and uses it to torment the person. Colin often has to seek reassurance from his wife that he has not committed such acts and his anxieties take their toll on her too.

Although very upsetting, the scenes involving Colin and his family are crucial to understanding OCD and the emotional effects it can have not just on the sufferer but on their family too. Rowling’s depiction of this widely misunderstood illness is spot on and I am eagerly anticipating the BBC’s interpretation of it.

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