Published Feb 2, 2021
How Star Trek Helped Me Accept A Trying Truth
Barclay served as inspiration for one fan to accept difficult circumstances.
By Jay Stobie
Despite having openly discussed the ways in which Star Trek has helped me cope during my struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety in “Engaging My Collective,” I recently came to the realization that I’ve still been deceiving myself regarding my mental health’s true impact on who I am as a person. Unsurprisingly, Star Trek (specifically the episode “Hollow Pursuits”) played a vital part in my decision to make a very personal admission to all who are reading this. I’m neither an expert nor a medical professional, but I must accept that my clinically diagnosed OCD is a mental health disability that often impedes me in my daily life. I hope you’ll indulge me as I explore this revelation, and perhaps we can foster awareness of the individual challenges we all face.
Reaching Out to Reginald
Before I report on my discovery, let’s look back on its Star Trek connection. In “Hollow Pursuits,” Reginald Barclay was portrayed as a nervous and unreliable officer whose obsession with escaping reality in the holodeck inspired ire among the senior staff, most notably Riker and La Forge. After characterizing him as an outsider, Riker and La Forge’s compassionate demeanors were replaced with frustration, as the two casually adopted the disdainful and insulting nickname “Broccoli” as a way to demean Barclay. While their displeasure with his work is understandable, the pair did not try to observe the universe from Barclay’s perspective.
My own situation does not precisely parallel Barclay’s experience, as I’m often seen as a dedicated and resourceful person with a strong attention to detail. Public speaking and social interactions do not instill me with dread, and I’m regularly able to conceal the obsessions, compulsions, and anxiety-ridden thoughts that plague me. However, certain behaviors that set me apart from society do manifest themselves and cause serious harm to my daily activities. I’ll dive into those details in a moment, but let’s first finish highlighting Barclay’s role in energizing me to speak up.
Although fans typically remember Captain Picard erring and accidentally referring to Barclay as “Broccoli” in an unfortunate slip of the tongue, my most vivid recollection centers on the U.S.S. Enterprise-D’s commanding officer standing up for Barclay in the ready room. Meeting with Riker and La Forge, Picard insisted that his subordinates try to understand the junior engineer, find ways for him to make positive contributions, and cease using the derogatory nickname. Picard recognized that we must embrace our differences and, to Riker and La Forge’s credit, the two eventually accepted and befriended Barclay. For someone who typically dealt with strange new worlds, Picard astutely advocated for a fellow human’s well-being.
Correlating the Confusion
I catalogued my phobias in “Engaging My Collective,” but I did not examine the repercussions that radiate out from my obsessive and compulsive behaviors like ripples on an unsteady pond. When attempting to communicate with the Sheliak in TNG’s “The Ensigns of Command,” Picard and Counselor Troi mulled over the way people can derive divergent meanings from the same action. Holding up a cup of tea and speaking an unfamiliar phrase, Troi wisely pointed out that a person could translate the wording in a multitude of ways: liquid, clear, brown, hot.
While the Sheliak dilemma is not an exact equivalent to my situation, I’ve learned that I perceive things in an eccentric fashion. I sense that my statements are frequently lost in translation, and I fail to accurately interpret other people’s intentions. This often causes me to obsess over whether or not I will accurately convey the true meaning behind my words and actions. I may become laser-focused on completing a certain task, yet to an outsider I might appear to be impatient or overbearing. Assembled together, these traits have resulted in more misunderstandings than I can count and harmed numerous friendships and professional relationships.
Compounding my internal chaos, I am driven to do everything in my power to try and right a wrong when I feel as if I’ve made an error. The more severe the blunder, the more devoted I become to correcting it, inevitably worsening the situation. Of course, this does not absolve me of my gaffes in any shape or form. I constantly endeavor to learn from my interactions with others and seek to view the world from their perspective, yet - regardless of therapy, medication, and personal growth - my OCD will always be a part of who I am. I must recognize that truth, but I will not avoid opportunities where I can hope to better myself.
Coming to Terms With the Term
Placing the events of “Hollow Pursuits” into the context of my own life was not difficult, but learning to accept my mental disability proved challenging. As someone who is fortunate enough to have their sight, hearing, and mobility, I felt it would be disrespectful to use the term “disabled” to describe myself. As a straight, white, cisgender male, I worried that my mind had subconsciously sought out a way for me to be unique. After all, I’m not Melora Pazlar bravely adapting to new circumstances in DS9’s “Melora” or Worf confronting a serious injury in TNG’s “Ethics.” Am I merely looking for attention or attempting to supply excuses for my mistakes? I fought with those questions for a very long time.
Ironically, my breakthrough occurred when I began to consider how I would react if someone suffering from the same issues as I do came to me for advice. If I wanted other people to see the world through my eyes, why shouldn’t I also shift my outlook? I pondered the way Picard offered his support to Barclay in the ready room, recognizing that I would also react with empathy and understanding. I could never envision categorizing someone’s mental troubles as unworthy of my compassion. Nevertheless, even as I write this article, you may notice that I qualify my disability as a mental one. I’m clearly still wrestling with the idea of equating my own struggles with people who endure physical impediments. Perhaps one day I’ll come to terms with how I define myself.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
Quite frankly, I’ve never been as unsure about articulating something as I am at this very moment, especially in regards to the portrayal of mental health in popular culture. I’m a straight, white, cisgender male, which is a category that has historically been overrepresented in our nation’s positions of power. While mental disabilities transcend race, gender, and orientation, I believe it is crucial to point out that women, BIPOC, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized groups who suffer from the same conditions as myself are ostracized on an even greater scale. The intolerance and bigotry embedded in our society amplify the obstacles that those citizens encounter to an extent that I will never be able to comprehend, nor could I ever claim to speak for them.
In addition to those concerns, I genuinely fear that divulging this medical information will cause potential friends and future employers to be wary of socializing or collaborating with me. It is not unheard of for people to publicly offer their support while privately contemplating whether they wish to “deal” with someone’s differences. Then it dawned on me. Concealing this would be tantamount to demonizing the condition and everyone else who faces it. I may waver when it comes to empathizing with myself, but I will not shy away from showing benevolence to those who can relate to what I have written.
I must once again stress that this is neither a scholarly article nor an expert analysis, as I can only explain these events from my own viewpoint. I strongly encourage that anyone dealing with OCD, anxiety, or other mental health situations seek professional medical treatment. Last but not least, if you run across a Reginald Barclay at some point in your life, take a breath and try to choose kindness over hostility. It may seem like a small step, but it will mean the world to that person.
A Timeline Through the Star Trek Universe
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who has contributed articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and the official Star Wars website. Jay also serves as a part-time assistant and consultant advising many actors and creatives who work on his favorite sci-fi shows and films. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.