My life is largely a balancing act between two mental health issues. On the one hand is my social and generalised anxiety, and that drives me to be a people pleaser. On the other hand is my obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and that drives me to be moralistic and a perfectionist. Those two parts hate one another. The people pleaser finds the perfectionist strict and intolerant; the perfectionist thinks the people pleaser is too tolerant and conciliatory. Both are right (they are disorders after all) and both are wrong.
I have long reconciled this duality through silence – I feel things and then keep them to myself. In situations of conflict, I find myself stepping back to breathe and reassess, then looking for diplomatic, peaceful, and de-escalatory ways to help the situation. As someone with OCPD, you can bet that I have strong feelings about a lot of things, but racing to share them is not something my social anxiety will allow.
Then Putin invaded Ukraine.
More specifically, Putin invaded Ukraine while Republicans/ conservatives/ evangelicals in the United States blamed Biden/blamed NATO/suggested the Putin “isn’t all that bad.”
Being an American, I do not have much sense of culture. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense – part of what makes the United States so great is the whole melting pot thing. We have massive populations either direct or descended from people all around the world. Whenever I look at culture, I don’t see anything distinctly American so much as a tapestry of all these other cultures.
My sense of identity wanted something specific, so I began to explore my ancestry. Italian and Irish. Not only did my Irish ancestry speak to me on a spiritual level, but there was also some conflict between the two and the Irish always won. I will write to that in a moment.
What I learned is that my family, the Keenans, appear to have “originated” in County Fermanagh, which is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom today. They provided service to the Maguires of the region (the family with some of the most power and influence in the region).
Brief history – this is also part of the Ulster portion of Ireland. They were some of the most independent Irish to inhabit the island during early British rule and fought a nine-year war against British rule. While they were away fighting and, in the period immediately after, southern Scots and northern English moved from their lands to the Ulster Plantation, bringing with them their respective flavours of Protestantism (to help further quell anti-British sentiment in Ireland by taking land from the most independent-minded Irish).
Fast forward to the famine, which affected most of Europe but was exacerbated in Ireland by Britain’s laissez-faire governance, and some of my ancestors emigrated to the United States via Liverpool. The United States, a country where Anglo-Saxons arrived, drove out the indigenous populations in the name of religious freedom, and then began to treat all of the non-English residents like garbage. This was also at the time when the nation split because the Southern part still wanted the right to own human beings. The Northern part, who was already moving away from agriculture towards industrialisation, was no longer economically dependent on slavery and fought to preserve the Union (not because they were woke).
I don’t know how many, if any, members of my family remained in Ireland or what happened beyond the broad history of occupation, partition, independence, and The Troubles that would follow. That was Ireland continuing to fight against British rule and for self-determination for years before they agreed to split the island into what became the Republic of Ireland (Catholics and Republicans) and Northern Ireland (Protestants and Loyalists). Remember, at this point the southern Scots and northern English of the 17th century had resided there for generations – populations who arrived loyal to British rule.
As far as Italy – my examination of Italian heritage got distracted from my specific family to the troubled history of the Italian state leading back to the collapse of the Roman Empire. What was once the greatest Empire in the world had struggled ever since. Part of what I found interesting about that exploration was the relationship between the Romans at the height of their power and the fledgling Anglo-Saxons of Northern Europe. The Romans introduced quite a lot to them prior to their spread onto Great Britain.
It’s not that I harbour any ill feelings towards the Italians (nor even the English – I’m quite fond of most of them actually as no nation is a monolith and none of this happened directly to me). It’s the idea that at some point my Italian ancestors taught the people who would oppress my Irish ancestors. More specifically, Imperial Rome taught the civilisation that became the British Empire.
The theme is that in exploring my Irish ancestry and discovering all of the wonderful stuff that comes with that, I also discovered the recurring theme of imperialism: Rome, Britain, the United States. The Irish are a culture thoroughly identified with being on the receiving end of imperial oppression. Lots of cultures are, but I’m not as attuned with them as I am the Irish.
Like Steve Rogers in the first Captain America film, “I don’t want to kill (i.e. hate – I’m quoting the film) anyone. I don’t like bullies.” I don’t like a British royalty deciding to send its people to Ireland to calm the resident dissent. It’s not their island to pacify. The solution was to stay out of Ireland and work diplomatically for peace (but literally none of the world worked that way – might makes right in history).
I love my country, but we had no right to displace the indigenous peoples here for religious freedom. It’s a point so strongly identified with Americanism that we fought a war against the British Empire to rid ourselves of their influence. The United States rose from thirteen colonies of English who would exterminate and marginalise an entire continent of indigenous people deciding that their right to self-determination meant the imperious English crown had to go.
And then kept the slaves, marginalised immigrant populations, and withheld suffrage where “all men are created equal” – everything I am discussing extends to racism, sexism, ableism, and all other types of privileged discrimination. Sometimes the empires simply are not countries.
The United States would then go on to become one of the most imperial nations in history, inserting itself anywhere its interests were at stake and ignoring conflicts where it had none – which is why I reject the idea that we only get involved for the sake of peacekeeping. We have ignored many conflicts as “not our business.”
I do, however, think it’s important to acknowledge American imperialism in this context because it’s also morally wrong.
That said, the United States is no Putin (I say United States to reflect a wide range of terrible politicians, but Putin because “Russia” is too monolithic and it’s largely his doing). When I say the United States is wrong for its imperialist tendencies, that should not imply moral equivalence with what Putin has done.
The Tipping Point
Then it happened: Putin sent Russian forces into Ukraine after recognising Luhansk and Donetsk as independent. It caught my attention because one of the stories for years has been how terrible the Ukrainian population in the west was to the largely Russian population in these eastern regions. That felt wrong. One cannot simply exert force against a minority in their country.
But after reading more and more about Ukrainian history, I started to recognise Luhansk and Donetsk as the Ukrainian Ulster. These were Ukrainian regions close to Russia where Russia had set up camp, especially during the Soviet era. Ukraine established independence in the 1990s, but those areas remained populated by people loyal to Russia – a post-Soviet Russia whose leadership had brought suffering to many of the people in former Soviet states.
The majority of the country were Ukrainians living on Ukrainian lands who wanted the right to determine what was best for Ukraine. I do not agree that the United States should coerce or otherwise persuade nations to join NATO for our benefit, but if a democratic nation, particularly one with reason to fear Russian aggression, chooses to apply for NATO membership – well, that’s their call.
I began to get annoyed with pre-invasion coverage that continued to frame the escalating situation in terms of what it might mean for the United States, how it would impact Russia, how it would affect the UK. Very little coverage seemed to focus on what Ukraine thought or wanted, though it was already clear that the cost of escalation would be paid in blood by Ukrainians.
Then Putin ordered the invasion. That alone was enough to spark anger because it was such a blatant act of imperial aggression. His claims of peacekeeping and “de-Nazifying” Ukraine reeked of anti-Semitism and early coverage went to the role of the United States and NATO. Did the US provoke this by entertaining Ukrainian membership? Was Russia making a reasonable decision to defend itself against NATO expansion?
I’m not a foreign policy expert. What I will say is that I do not give a shit about the implications of two imperialist nations when another country is the one paying the price. It’s not Ukrainian military – it’s Ukrainian citizens. People just trying to live their lives in peace. Whatever the “reasoning” or who is at fault, it’s not the Ukrainians. It’s a handful of powerful individuals and bystanders pay for it.
History is full of this sort of thing though, so why did Ukraine feel like it broke something?
Well, as Putin began his invasion something interesting and not altogether unexpected happened in the United States. Republicans, Conservatives, and Evangelicals began blaming Biden, NATO, and Ukraine for not preventing it, and ranging from downplaying to praising Putin.
This is the same population that threw support behind wannabe autocrat Donald Trump, the same population spewing racist and sexist garbage, outlawing abortion, criminalising LGBTQIA+, claiming that removing Confederate statues is censorship, banning books, banning topics from classrooms, trying to introduce the Bible and Christianity to classrooms, promoting gun ownership, denying climate change, complaining that kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic, storming the Capitol and assaulting federal officers, hosting “top-rated” “news” shows to talk about how they’re being silenced, and whining that wearing medical masks to curtail a virulent pandemic infringes on their personal freedoms.
My policy, as someone with social anxiety, was to remain somewhere being quiet and diplomatic about various issues. The OCPD in me developed more and more anger, not for people having differing perspectives on the issues but for having perspectives that flat out do not give a damn about others. They have their “tribe” and anything that even smells of infringing on their absolute liberty must be destroyed.
I do not pretend to have all the answers or to be right, but I do have one guiding social principle and that is the social contract. It’s the organisation of people as a society with the agreement to establish specific limitations on our freedoms that will maximise the freedom for everyone. The only way the system works is if we accept reasonable individual restrictions (like, “You can’t kill people” or “You can’t take whatever you want”).
And what absolute smashed the OCPD button this week was hearing, in the context of an imperial aggressor invading and killing innocent people, that same “You can’t infringe my rights” crowd doing everything but condemning the man behind it. Praising him even.
It’s like the actions of the past week tipped my mental scale from “social anxiety gets to drive, but OCPD has a say in things” to “no, fuck all those people, this is flat wrong and your guilt at upsetting people needs to take a back seat to what is happening.”
My only comfort is that it’s still not hatred. I feel tremendous guilt about how angry I feel, but the level of disagreement over these things is intolerable. The OCPD part of my brain, with all its strong feelings about what is right and what is wrong, feels overwhelmed by the flood of, “You are wrong on a level that I do not want anywhere near my life. We are not discussing or debating this. Go away until your position changes.”
The typical desire to de-escalate and play the diplomat (largely from my social anxiety) is not there. It’s as though the OCPD convinced it, “You’re doing all the work reaching across the aisle. They have no intention of changing their mind and you’re wasting time and frustrating yourself with fruitless conversation.”
I’m curious – how have those of you with OCPD been feeling these past few years as we juggle all of these issues (namely the polarisation)? And I do mean anyone with OCPD. If you struggle with OCPD but have opposing views, I am still happy to hear your thoughts as long as they are honest and about your feelings. Abusive, trolling comments on the other hand will be deleted.