Dev Patel in ‘The Green Knight’ Helped Me Manage My OCD
Many times I could have said the same as Gawain, terrified in the face what was to come, “I’m not ready. I’m not ready yet.”
With OCD, the most respected treatment strategy asks you to write out the worst possible scenario, to imagine that your worst fears are all correct: You’re worthless, the worst of people; you deserve only punishment and shame. And you’re supposed to read it until the fear it brings is something you can bear. Like Gawain, I have seen the worst-case scenario unfold in front of me, ending only in ruin.
But here’s where everything changes, and this is where I found myself weeping at the film, certain that it had understood something I could share in and live. It was a parallel with my own life that I couldn’t articulate until this moment, a feeling of being seen and understood in a way that was harsh but deeply fair. When Gawain opens his eyes to find himself still at the Green Knight’s feet, in the moments before the blade falls, he’s seen all his cowardice could do—all the misery that running would bring him and those he loves. He undoes the belt around his waist that promised a cheat to beat death’s blow.
“Now I’m ready,” he says. “I’m ready now.”
The Green Knight kneels to face him. He cups Gawain’s face in his hand.
“Well done, my brave knight,” he says. “Now, off with your head.”
The film ends there. Will Gawain live or die there, at the Green Knight’s feet? We don’t know, but that’s as it should be. He’s already done the thing that matters. He’s faced his worst fears with something that reaches toward honor. He’s accepted the terrible fate he cannot change, and, in doing so, he’s avoided the worse one.
OCD is often called “the doubting disorder.” It’s a cycle of fear and compulsion whose aim is to stave off ruin through the obsessive performance of rituals that are, at the end of the day, empty. But the only way to beat it is to let in the voice that taunts you and say, “Maybe, maybe not.” The only way to face it is to exist in uncertainty, to allow it to cup your face in the moment before the screen fades to black.
What recovery asks of you is what feels most impossible: to accept the uncertainty about the worst possible outcome. You have to accept that the worst may be true, may happen, and live your values anyway, strive to be good anyway, believe enough in yourself that you can face the worst pain of the condition. I had to learn to let in the possibility of ruin and heartache, dwell in that in-between place, knowing that I might die at the next breath but believing that I am brave enough to take off the belt and face it anyway.
I let out a sigh from my heart at that moment, the ringing chorus of the score singing, “Be merry, sweet lord,” and rose from my seat. I could face it, I thought. Though Gawain’s and my story part from each other here, his leading toward death and mine leading into a life I can’t predict, the journeys have run parallel. Though I don’t have the certain doom of death facing me, I can face my life, knowing I already accept the possibility of the worst. I can face the shame and the guilt, the certainty that I am nothing, and know something more dear and real. We may not always be the people we want to be, we may try and fail, we may shudder and quail at danger, at the demand to make something great of ourselves.
“But why greatness?” Gawain’s lover asked before he embarked on his quest. “Why is goodness not enough?” And so we live anyway, believing that though we may never reach the golden things we strive to be, something in us is refined by the attempt, and we are transformed.
Mishka Hoosen is a writer and researcher from Johannesburg in South Africa. Their work has appeared on the Ploughshares Blog, and in Bare Fiction, Plume, Illuminations, Rolling Stone South Africa, The Missing Slate, and others. They write extensively on perfume, madness, and the body. They are currently working on a novel, "Through Smoke", which will examine perfume as an embodiment of desire and remembrance in the postcolonial city.