Okay, so let’s get this out of the way: I’m an adult human in my 30s and I love the children’s show “Steven Universe.” No shame.
I started watching it because I’d heard a few things about the science fiction storyline that intrigued me. What I didn’t expect was to relate so much to some of the characters and episodes, not just because they’re fantastic and all the songs are catchy, but because it really, really feels like someone with OCD is writing for this show.
I’m not the only one who’s made the connection. I’ve seen people on Twitter point out the minor character Peedee, who occasionally makes statements like, “Odd numbers just feel cleaner.” Pearl, one of the main characters, can be very compulsive about symmetry, though she’s a bit more on the edge. Her need for order isn’t quite to the level of a disorder. Amethyst, another character, shows hoarding tendencies.
But what really convinced me that someone on the “Steven Universe” writing staff is one of us is the episode “Future Vision.”
A quick summary for those who don’t watch the show: Gems are a sentient alien species that are, unsurprisingly, a gem-based life form. They have powers and abilities that we would consider magic. Steven is a young boy who is half human and half gem, and the main character of the show. Garnet is a gem and one of his adoptive moms, with the ability to see various futures and the actions that will lead to them, as well as the potential futures a single action might cause.
In the episode “Future Vision,” she tells Steven about the ability. For Garnet, this ability is just something she deals with. It allows her to make more informed decisions, but it doesn’t create an obstacle that prevents her from living her life and doing what she needs to do.
For Steven, though, knowing Garnet has this ability gets him thinking about possible consequences to his actions and not in a good way. He begins imagining futures in a way that really resembles intrusive thoughts — he can no longer picture good outcomes, only all of the ways something can go wrong and all of the dangers that could harm him. (And some really do resemble intrusive thoughts in that they make no sense at all, such as two giant wasps attacking him.)
At one point, Garnet walks in on him trying to make himself a sandwich. He’s wearing a bicycle helmet, and pours an entire jar of mayonnaise on the bread because he’s too terrified to pick up a knife. He ends up huddled in the house in the dark during a storm, afraid to move.
And then, like in exposure and response prevention, he faces his fears to get away from them. “There are millions of possibilities for the future, but it’s up to you to choose which becomes reality. Please understand, you choose your own future,” Garnet tells him.
The episode really clearly shows how OCD catastrophizes, turning the normal thoughts and worries everyone has about themselves and what they might do, possible dangers they may face, and the future in general into a prison. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen on television — outside of news shows — that really, truly shows what having an anxiety disorder is like. Steven gets past it, but even then it shows how difficult it is for him to face his worries, and how frustrated and tired he was before he did it.
So now that I’ve spent my Saturday evening writing about a children’s show, what is your favorite media portrayal of OCD? Book, movie, TV show, whatever.
Photo by dgoomany at Flickr.