Too Much, Or Not Enough?

TW: Abuse, medical imagery, trauma/PTSD

Spoilers for Fire Emblem Three Houses: Black Eagles Route.

An interesting debate rose in a group of new friends from DragonCon the other day: should a potentially triggering story in a video game be censored?

It started when we were discussing a recent update to Fire Emblem Three Houses, a video game for the Switch that brought us all together. In the update, one character’s dialogue has been changed to remove some details from a story of childhood abuse. When the issue was first brought up, my friends were outraged at the idea of censorship.

Someone provided evidence of the change to Bernadetta’s tale about her father (spoilers for B support) - the dialogue went from "To train me to be a good, submissive wife, he'd do things like tie me to a chair and leave me there all day, challenging me to stay quiet." to "To train me to be a good wife, he'd do things like tie me to a chair." As soon as we saw the evidence, several strong opinions began to form.

Some people said it weakened Bernadetta’s story, making her seem dramatic or like a “crybaby” for showing such strong effects of what now seemed like a weaker trauma. (In the game, she is paranoid about others’ motives towards her, terrified of social interaction, and prone to hiding in her room.) Other people said it was a slippery slope that would lead to “ruining” several other stories, including those at the center of the game’s plot. And then, in a separate chat, my best friend brought up the fact that such a specific story of abuse as was presented in the original line could be triggering to people with a history of abuse.

As the debate evolved, I wondered: what is the line between telling a story that people might identify with or might be used to further understanding of mental health issues, and a story that could damage the very people it’s trying to help?

As a person living with a mental health condition, I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for my own experiences with the game. After all, my past significantly influenced how I experienced another story in the game that connected to me more personally.

At the beginning of this game, a player must choose between three houses, each led by a student from a different land. I didn’t have a particular leaning towards any of the house leaders, but since my friends were beginning with either Claude or Dimitri, I decided to start with Edelgard to see what was different.

I progressed through the game, until I reached Edelgard’s first cutscene (spoilers for C and C+ support): the player is walking through a hallway at night, only to hear the unmistakable sounds of someone having a nightmare or night terror. When the player checks up on Edelgard, she hints at trauma in her past. Later, she reveals the story of how, when she was younger, she was subjected to a series of painful, bloody, experimental surgeries, which lingered in her mind just as the physical effects remained in her body.

I was absolutely floored. The language she used - “waiting in the darkest depths for a glimmer of light,” “cutting open our very flesh,” “lives devastated” - reminded me so much of my own trauma from seven years ago that I was shocked. When I found out that the surgeries she endured were called “blood reconstruction surgery,” I felt even more of a connection.

Of course, there are differences between the story of a fictional Imperial princess undergoing a fantastical version of a surgery and my own experience, but the similarities couldn’t be ignored: surgeries that I remember and was awake for, where I felt enough pain to recall it vividly years later, that gave me nightmares and flashbacks and much worse things afterwards.

At that point, I wanted to see her story through. She quickly became my favorite character, much to the chagrin of my friends who played the other routes. She was an antagonist there, and even though she made some pretty poor life choices later in the game, I couldn’t help but appreciate her motive of using her power to create a world where no one would have to endure an experience like that again.

Even with these poor life choices in mind, I still loved seeing Edelgard in action. I loved how she used her past experiences to make her stronger, and how she fought to stop her past from controlling her present with varying success. I might not agree with the means she used to reach her ends, but I greatly enjoyed the idea of her working towards a world where this sort of trauma would not harm people.

It inspired me enough to make a last-minute change to my DragonCon cosplay roster and purchase an Edelgard cosplay, something simple yet incredibly fun to wear. I ended up getting into so many wonderful conversations with people about the game, acting out favorite scenes, and taking plenty of photos with new friends. I couldn’t have loved my cosplay experience more, especially since Edelgard fits perfectly into my favorite archetype of characters - morally ambiguous people in power who are the heroes of their own stories but villains to many others.

For me, the fact that I thought about my own story when I read Edelgard’s dialogue helped me enjoy the game more. But I’m also over seven years removed from my experience, and have undergone years of therapy and CBT to overcome the symptoms of trauma. The details of my memories are less sharp, the pain feels more distant, and unless I’m having some sort of problem with my leg or the metal inside that requires me to go to a doctor, I can forget it even happened at all.

But just as I can’t speak for the whole mental health community, I also can’t speak for others who have gone through trauma - and just because it was empowering for me to see a character who’s dealt with challenges like mine doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be triggering or even harmful for others.

I do like the idea of a character like Bernadetta whose personality is almost entirely shaped by the abuse she endured, but there are plenty of players who could have experienced abuse close enough to hers that it would be upsetting to them.

At the same time, however, I could understand what some of my friends were saying: the majority of people don’t have trauma like this, and censoring traumatic stories makes them feel even rarer and perhaps even stranger. Without more stories like Bernadetta’s in the world, it can be easy for people to never learn about trauma or its aftereffects. It can perpetuate the stigma that mental illness should be kept secret, which is also very damaging.And yet, it’s not worth it to harm people just to educate others, or for the sake of a good story - so what can be done?

There is no perfect answer to this question. It depends on the type of story involved, how common the trauma is and thus how many people it would affect (the story that connects me to Edelgard is likely far rarer than parental abuse), and how it’s presented. It’s a complicated balance between educating people not living with mental illness and protecting those living with it. And even at the end of our long discussion, no one had any concrete answers.

The best compromise we could think of was to add a trigger warning for abuse, like I did at the top of this post, to the game. With its current warnings for blood, violence, and suggestive themes, a potential player with trauma in their past wouldn’t know that there’s a story here to avoid. If they knew and chose to avoid it, they might miss out on something others find interesting, but they also have the option to protect themselves from something harmful or at least prepare for the possibility of negative thoughts cropping up.

In the absence of such a warning, I can understand why some of the language dealing with specific types of abuse was removed from the game. It feels like the best compromise that could be done after the game’s release to tackle the most severe incidents like this, while still leaving other stories like Edelgard’s intact.

Navigating problems like these are part of what makes talking about mental health so difficult, but it’s my fervent hope that as more time goes by, society can reach a greater understanding of this balance and come up with solutions to suit everyone in the best possible way.


Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.



A Germy Victory

A few weeks before DragonCon, I learned that one of the five host hotels - the Sheraton Atlanta - had an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease.

I’d never heard of Legionnaire’s before, but a quick Google search told me that it was a rather unpleasant disease with potentially lethal consequences. Even though I’d felt nothing but excitement for DragonCon until then, I began to feel nervous.

It was the legacy of the days when the thought of germs occupied my mind all day, even if no one around me was sick and I felt perfectly fine. Often, I felt the need to ask an adult - usually my mom - if she thought I was sick, or if my forehead felt warm, or if this cough sounded like it warranted attention.

Online, dozens of people in my various DragonCon Facebook groups started making Legionnaire’s memes and posting every update from the hotel and the CDC. For a while, the source of the disease was hard to find, and we assumed the hotel would be closed. It was a comfort to think I could simply avoid it, but a week before the convention, the hotel reopened.

Like many people I saw online, I wasn’t convinced that the disease was eradicated from the hotel. I was relieved that the source was found, but the source was the air conditioning that would definitely be turned on high. And there was no way to avoid it entirely, as it was my job to pick up my badge and Dad’s while he was at work, and the badge pickup was at the Sheraton.

Briefly, I imagined the germs that might still be dormant in the air conditioning of the hotel, spraying out into the crowd. People coughing, sneezing, getting worse, having to go to the hospital. It was just plausible enough to worry me, although I’d accepted that I’d just have to do it.

I arrived home a few days before, mostly to enjoy the company of my mom, Nana, and dog (who ran over with his tail wagging when I showed him my new cosplays), and when I got home, I saw that Dad had the very amusing idea to put a Giant Microbes version of the Legionnaire’s bacteria on my bed.

The gift meant a lot more to me than the dad joke it was intended to be. I understood that he had faith in me to go to the Sheraton and pick up our badges and be fine mentally as well as physically, and I took this token of faith with me to downtown Atlanta on Thursday afternoon.

And just like everyone else at the convention, I started my journey at the Sheraton.

If I’d been in a similar situation when I was a kid, I’d have done one of several things: try to hold my breath as long as humanly possible, rinse out my mouth at a water fountain safely away from the building, cough into my elbow repeatedly even if I had no need to, and if I had to open my mouth to speak to the check-in clerks, I’d have probably spit just a little in the corner of my mouth. All of these steps would be to get rid of the germs that I couldn’t see but I would know were there, and even then, I’d be thinking about it all day and beyond. I’d carefully watch myself for symptoms, even the slightest tickle in my nose or throat or feeling of fatigue enough to send me into a whirlwind of anxious thoughts.

I won’t deny that I was a little nervous to enter the Sheraton, even though I knew that they wouldn’t be open if people could still get sick. But germs, as I knew from my compulsions, are hard to get rid of, and there were so many people packed into the room that the odds of someone being sick - from a germ at the hotel or one they brought from somewhere else - were high.

But I still did it.

While I was there, I breathed, I talked with people, and I even showed off “Leegie” the plush virus in line, who was a great hit. I got my badge and Dad’s - he accompanied me the other days, although he didn’t cosplay - and even stayed in the building for about another hour to purchase some official con merchandise. I talked to people in line, shopped, explored, and by the time I left, I wasn’t even thinking about Legionnaire’s Disease anymore.

Nor, in the ensuing days, did I think much about all the coughing, sneezing people around me. At a convention of 85,000 people, plenty are going to be sick, I’ve learned - and getting sick afterwards is a very small sacrifice compared to the joy I feel during these conventions. “Con crud,” as it’s commonly known, was something I expected, and even though I don’t particularly like being sick, I wasn’t obsessing over it.

As things turned out, I didn’t end up getting sick after DragonCon. Several of my new friends did, even people who I spent a great deal of time with, but I never felt sick. Even without doing any of the compulsions I would have done as a child, or even something more reasonable like drinking extra orange juice, I didn’t get sick.

It took me many years to learn that lesson, and many more to be able to apply it to the point where I can ignore people around me who aren’t feeling well. It’s harder for me when people are nauseous or vomiting thanks to my emetophobia, but in general, I have learned to stop thinking of my potential illness ahead of my actual happiness.

After all, that weekend, I had much better things to think about - rushing to Tolkien and Fire Emblem photoshoots in my two new cosplays, shopping in a four-story mall filled with nerdy merchandise, being the first person on the dance floor at the Tolkien-themed dance party with my friends from last year, talking about an amazing new video game with new friends, competing in a Pokemon Go tournament, doing a Galadriel-themed photo challenge, and much more.

There was simply no room for OCD to ruin my weekend, and it shows me how far I’ve come - and how much farther I can go in the future, as I continue to follow my goals with the help of friends and fandoms new and old!

Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.




TW: Food, disordered eating

There were seeds in the bread.

It was a simple mistake: the server had given me multigrain bread instead of the plain for my tomato soup from Cosi. I’d even eaten some of it while I was looking at my computer screen, not realizing that it was wrong. I knew, from the bites I’d already taken, that there were no nuts in the bread, nor was there anything else that would make me sick.

And yet, it still became an ordeal.

I tried to be brave and finish the slice. I usually thought the portions of bread were too small, but this one felt gargantuan. I made it through a few bites, noticing all the different shapes and textures of the seeds until I finally decided to stop torturing myself and go back to the restaurant. I left with a slice of plain bread in hand, which I promptly devoured.

I knew, in my head, that there was nothing wrong with the multigrain slice, and I should have eaten it rather than wasting the half-slice I had left. But with food, my OCD fights back the hardest, and some days, the fight is too hard to win.

My OCD manifested as emetophobia (the fear of vomiting) as far back as I can remember, which meant that anything unexpected in my food - like seeds in bread - was completely unacceptable. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have let this mistake happen out of the degree I inspected my food, but even now, it still causes panic in me if I eat something I didn’t mean to by accident.

I was so anxious during my childhood that I was only able to eat the same exact thing every day: plain cereal for breakfast with milk on the side; a plain bagel for lunch with some snack mix or an apple after school; plain pasta with canned vegetables and a scoop of strawberry yogurt for dinner. If I had to deviate from my routine for even a single day, I got anxious - and if there was any chance of my food being contaminated or not what I was used to, even if it was as simple as butter on the pasta, my anxiety soared.

It took me years to start trying new foods in earnest, and even more to work with a nutritionist to try a diet where I was getting the necessary nutrients for my body. I’m proud of my accomplishments so far, but there’s still something inside me that craves my old routine and misses it if I eat something different even for a day.

After my work with a nutritionist, most of my easily-visible food anxiety has departed. But I can’t seem to shake my anxiety at a common discussion starter: “Where do you want to go for dinner?”

When I was younger and someone said this, not knowing about my habits, I would panic and demand to go to a place where I could eat. Now, I keep those feelings on the inside with some carefully formulated phrases in case people want to go somewhere I can’t muster the courage for: “I had a big lunch.” “I’m just coming to hang out.” “I’m happy eating later.” “I really don’t care.” 

Truth is, I do care, but I’m afraid that if I express my rigid eating habits, I’ll find myself friendless. After all, many people are willing to eat foods I like the first time, but for people who find repetitive food boring, their interest wanes over time - in both the dinners, and me.

Last weekend, I stayed silent as my friends tossed around ideas. Korean - maybe I can deal with that, there’s rice and noodles and vegetables, right? But no, they’re moving on to Greek, where I don’t know what’s vegetarian, and then burgers, which definitely aren’t vegetarian except for veggie burgers and I don’t like them, and then to so many other options that my head is reeling. I practically cried out in relief when one person suggested pasta, and everyone went along with her suggestion as my heart rate went back to normal.

“Why don’t you like trying new foods?” another friend asked at the table when I say how much I appreciate eating pasta. “It’s so easy.”

My fork with comfortable, easy pasta hovered in my hand.

“Easy” would be the farthest word from my mind as I recall the long night sitting at the kitchen table because I was too afraid to take a bite of fish sticks, the time a girl in my class held me down and forced me to take my first bite of pizza, and the panic when I found out that I would have to eat at a Mexican place on a job interview.

 It’s not what I think of when I recall working with my nutritionist on eating a single bite of a new kind of grain or a new vegetable, even if that one bite was all I had. It’s not what I think of when remembering the time I was too scared to try Persian food on my own and my best friend went out to a restaurant with me to try the new dishes piece by piece.

As an emetophobe whose thoughts cycle through my head, trying new foods is anything but easy. It represents years of pain before I could even start trying, followed by years of eating new foods one bite at a time, keeping some and abandoning others and fighting hard to learn to eat new foods and maybe enjoy them.

Every day, I find myself facing some version of this challenge. Sometimes, it’s that my bread has seeds in it, and the texture disgusts me or the thought that I’ve already eaten some and it may make me sick infests my head. Other times, it’s the days when I do end up at restaurants where I scan the menu endlessly for anything I feel comfortable eating, and decide on the fly which excuses will work best with which people. It can be the lightly mocking remarks from friendly coworkers commenting that I’m eating the same thing again or the not-so-friendly mocking from others who comment cruelly on my food choices, as if I’d choose to eat like a “freak.”

OCD is not a life of “easy.” OCD is a life of trying as hard as I can on the inside to make my new ventures look easy on the outside. It’s a huge difference, and one that I share with my friends and with my readers as an attempt to teach that what might look easy to some is most definitely not for others. Some things that I find easy, like making a phone call, petting a dog, or commuting to work, are this hard for other people. If we can try our best to be kind to what other people find hard, it’d make the world a much easier place for people like me.


Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.




It was nighttime on the first day I was going to take medicine for my OCD. The journey ahead of me was daunting, and it seemed like I would never be able to take that first step, let alone go past it. My nine-year-old mind was afraid of who I would become once I started taking the medicine, almost as afraid of who I might become if I didn’t.

Creeping through the kitchen, I made my way to the bottle of liquid Paxil and took the phone in my other hand. I needed to know that I wasn’t making this journey alone, that there was someone beyond the four walls of my house who would love me no matter what happened when that orange liquid made its way down my throat.

I called my Nana.

Nana - my mother’s mother - was 72 then, and when she picked up the phone, just hearing her voice calmed my racing heart and jittery hands. She told me that she knew what I was going to do and it was so brave. She was so proud of me for taking that first step. And when that wasn’t quite enough, she told me that she was about to take her mental health medicine too, and if I wanted to take it with her, I would have to start on the count of three.

The idea that she took medicine too strengthened me, because I knew who she had turned out to be: the most loving person I’d ever met, someone who had endured the long-ago loss of her husband with bravery, someone who would take as much time as was needed to help children with various types of disabilities eat their lunch at her job in a local elementary school cafeteria. She was someone who I looked up to since the day I was born, and the very idea that she could do what she did while being on medicine – and that the medicine could have even helped her with it – made me tip the little cup down my throat, giving me the strength to begin my own journey.

Nana has been there for every moment before and since.

She helped me get over my anxiety to go on a school trip to Israel when I knew I’d be in a foreign country with no friends. We did everything from talking seriously about the problem to coming up with jokes about the trip that could make me laugh when I was away, giving me a smile even when she couldn’t be there.

She was there for me seven years ago, when I was in the hospital and terrified that I wouldn’t live to see the next day, and her voice kept me as calm as possible as I figured out next steps.

She listened as I poured my heart out to her years later, suffering from endless negative thoughts and desperate for anything that would help. When I needed to come home from school to seek more help from my therapist, I remember stretching out on her couch with my head in her lap, finally calm enough to just breathe.

She comforted me all those times just as she did when she held me as a baby, and when she learned that maybe that perfect baby wasn’t so perfect after all, she still loved me just as fiercely. I’ve never once had the feeling that she’s ashamed of me, even when I did compulsions in front of her as a child or told her all about the thoughts running amok in my head. All I’ve ever felt from her is strength, courage, and inestimable love.

And it’s not just for the bad stuff too - she’s always willing to participate in my positive obsessions. She probably knows far more about Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, and all my other fads than she ever cared to, and she still asks me questions when she knows I want to talk and reads my fanfiction even if she needs me to explain all the backstory over the phone.

She treats everything I’ve written like it’s the best thing in the world, even if it was a childish scribble on notebook paper when I was bored in school, and it was this encouragement that made me want to share my story on No Shame On U’s blog - in fact, she was the first person I called after I made the decision.

Nearly twenty years after that night in the kitchen, her help has given me the strength to accomplish a great deal more than I ever thought I would be able to. I still draw courage from her weekly letters and call her to share all the joys and sorrows of life. She picks up the phone with cheer no matter what and tells me how proud she is of me whether I’m sharing a success or brainstorming past a roadblock.

It is in large part thanks to her support that I am who I am today, someone who has not only achieved many milestones in life but who also feels comfortable sharing my story. When I write these posts, I wonder if maybe I’m helping someone like she has helped me.

From that day so many years ago until just last night, she ends all of our calls and her letters with one word: persevere. It’s a word that brings me strength every day, and I couldn’t be more thankful for Nana as she celebrates her 91st birthday.

Not just this post, but this blog, are for you, Nana - and I can’t wait to share more memories in the years to come!

Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.

The Social Price of OCD


The Social Price of OCD

My first friendship started in the sandbox, where four-year-old me was making a birthday cake for my feet and a fellow preschooler asked to help. It ended six years later at a pool party, after a huge fight, where she ended up splashing with the popular group while I sat alone and made up stories in my head.

I didn’t know to question friendship until then, but I’d always questioned social interaction. I might not have had Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) about socializing before, but I knew there was something different in how I interacted with people.

I never knew what to do when interacting with other kids, and even if I tried the same things that worked for them, I’d get vastly different reactions. Even before the actual bullying started, I felt unsure about my role in the class, and honestly, I didn’t have much time to learn how to reframe my thinking.

I was learning different things: how to pretend to be interested in small talk when my brain was going haywire, how to hide my interests even if they were the only things keeping me sane, how to keep my conversation partners from noticing if I was doing a compulsion, or even how to escape a conversation to do a compulsion I didn’t want them to see. I didn’t have the time or mental capacity to learn social niceties when I was fighting so hard against my own head.

As a result, social interaction was never easy.

I never had many friends as a kid. Every time someone would make an overture, I would get so excited, even if it was something small that they were also doing with everyone else. I quickly and painfully learned that “best friends forever” did not apply to me and it was easier to talk to teachers and other adults because they were at work and couldn’t be rude to a kid. (Well, most of the time.)

It took until the end of high school to form my first friendship that’s lasted more than my first, doomed friendship, and I still question if I’ve made a mistake when my friends say they’re busy or otherwise unavailable. I try to find ways to make my friends feel special to me, to give them gifts and write on important days and make sure to say hello on ordinary days too.

Some people have called it sweet. I call it the legacy of my compulsions and ANTs, a way to try to ensure they won’t abandon me too.

With that mindset, it’s no wonder that I’m cautious, especially in new situations. Especially when I first moved to Chicago, when I was starting a new life in a new city and knew absolutely no one. I couldn’t make the wrong first impression, and so I followed my rules (mainly, be as normal as possible) and did my best to feel comfortable.

Slowly, I began to make friends. It took me months, and only now am I finally feeling comfortable with my friend group outside of my work and my coworkers and boss. But it’s still hard for me when I see other new people coming in who seem to have infinite social skills and get everyone around them to like them in mere minutes.

Sometimes I wish for that easy charisma, the way these people can just swoop into a room and get everyone’s attention and respect without anything stopping them. Even when I’m with my closest friends now, people I’ve known for such a long time that I feel like I can read their minds, I still analyze my interactions with them, sometimes to the point where I feel like I’m missing out on the lighthearted fun.

And when I encounter someone who seems to have it so easy, even when I know I’m unaware of what may be going on in their own heads, I find it all too easy to get jealous. I envy the way some people can start a new job and immediately feel comfortable teasing their coworkers and boss, to the point where they become accepted instantly. I envy being the person no one forgets is in the room and the one whose conversations don’t all revolve around an awkward “what are you doing this weekend” and the one who is always appreciated, always seen.

As I devoured book after book in my childhood, often sneaking them out to the playground at recess to keep me company, I found myself gravitating towards stories where the main characters somehow find themselves in an important position. In these books, people had to include - or at least speak to - the protagonist, even if it was merely due to a social convention. As a young girl, that mostly meant books involving princesses, which I clung to secretly because I didn’t like the way it made me seem shallow.

When I sat alone at the lunch table and in the carpool line, I dreamed of waking up one day and having something about myself that would make people care about me and show me the same respect they did to their peers; to forgive my overanalyzing and treat me like I was someone special. At minimum, something that would make people have to be nice to me, even if I did a compulsion or said something wrong, and even if it didn’t lead to true friendships, at least I’d feel included on the surface. In the stories I made up in my head, many of my characters took up these important societal roles, loath as I was (and am) to admit it.

Here’s what I loved, and still love: these characters have the same inner turmoil I do, and often, even more. But they’re respected and heard and loved by their peers no matter what.

Even now, I love books where a character goes from being ostracized, ignored, or bullied to having some sort of special role that makes everyone pay attention to them. From Harry Potter to The Goblin Emperor (which I am currently loving), I love reading and rereading the part where the people who treated them poorly are forced to respect them and they finally feel included for the first time.

Things have gotten a lot better now, and days when I feel like I need to cling to these stories are few and far between. I can see what triggers me now, and what gives me the impulse to pounce on the book and flip to the worn pages usually at the front where everything gets better. I know, even now, that tomorrow will be a better day where things go back to normal and I won’t feel so bad that my OCD-ridden childhood means I lack the confidence and self-assuredness to make these instant friends on my own.

But today, on the bus back home, I’ll give myself time to dream of my favorite stories, to sink into them and imagine what could have been.

Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.