Throughout literature, Shakespeare and other writers had a mental illness.
Some survived, and unfortunately, others did not. In another article , Anxiety: Similar For Hamlet and Us, we discussed how Hamlet suffered and eventually died because of his anxieties. For this piece, we will be talking about another Shakespearean character, Lady Macbeth. She also had a form of anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters and the most apparent obsessive and manipulative characters. Over and over again, she poked her husband, Macbeth, into killing King Duncan, the king of Scotland. Throughout the play, she is obsessively washing her hands while sleepwalking due to her guilt.
OCD involves unwanted and disturbing thoughts, images, and or urges (obsessions) that intrude into one’s mind and cause a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Then we try to reduce by engaging in repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). Not only does OCD affect Lady Macbeth but others as well. Different results, but OCD nevertheless.
Her thoughts about atrocities enveloped lady Macbeth that she was ridden with fear of being discovered. Her compulsive behavior dealing with her obsession is the repetitive or constant washing of her hands. When Lady Macbeth was washing her bloody hands, she saw the bloody bodies of her husband’s victims in the mirror. Naturally, there was no blood because she had already repeated this several times before.
The phenomenon was now called the “Lady Macbeth Effect” due to many individuals suffering from OCD. Is it possible that actual cleansing might alleviate or eradicate some of these obsessive thoughts and actions? Probably not, but worth a try…
Induced by a feeling of shame with little or no remorse, a response to a cleaning cue….
I beleive Lady Macbeth was ‘likely more’ susceptible to gain OCD symptoms, she often sleepwalked because of guilt and non-regrets.
Invariably, she proceeded to scrub her hands until they became raw and bloody, like she was washing her conscience clean from the crimes themselves.
Even now, people wash our bodies over and over again. Possibly this occurs because we feel guilty about something we did, and we need cleansing. OCD manifests in many different ways. For me, it is my thoughts that ruminate in my head or sometimes go by so fast; I don’t even know what the idea was. My time in therapy and medication helped me lower and slowed down these thoughts.
However, this does not always work for me, like most techniques don’t. It remains in my toolbox because I use different ways to get through the day. The more I have at my disposal, makes it easier for me to deal with my symptoms. Life is not perfect, so I use my tools to make things. Positive thinking is critical for me.
Howard Diamond is a frequent contributor to Mental Health Affairs. Also, he is a New York State Certified Peer Specialist. Please check out the website for a variety of writers.