My mother called them “antsies,” a cute derivative of “anxiety” meant to squelch the doom component of the bastard feeling we all know and loathe. Recognizing I may meander down a path of clichés here, I must submit I knew I was “different” when I was six-years-old and living in Oahu, Hawaii, sandwiched between a younger sister and an older brother, both of whom depicted relatively reasonable behavior.
I, on the other hand, was handcuffed to an emotion I knew nothing about— anxiety, a fickle bitch.
A-N-X-I-E-T-Y. It sounds like a Latin demon.
At that age, during those sticky Hawaiian nights, I would find myself saying “I love you” to my parents a half-dozen times before slipping into a series of Zzzs. Every night, after being tucked into bed with all the love a parent could muster, I would make sure to dutifully cover every holiday wish in vocal form, lest I wanted to stay up, fueled by anxiety, crushed by “antsies.” Before I knew it, I had become a broken-record boy.
When I got older, I discovered that those “antsies” were really reactions driven by a mental disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder, or “OCD.” In many ways, OCD is a lot like jean shorts…it’s terrible to own, but a lot of people have it. Ever since I was a child, I have been dealing with OCD in myriad ways. I’ve obsessed for years about the worst things imaginable (suicide, murder) during the worst ages of youth imaginable (13-16); I’ve fixated for months on mental roadblocks I knew were untrue and unfounded, but served as barriers nonetheless (what if no one loves me, what if I never amount to anything); and I’ve poured enough energy behind my compulsions to keep a Burmese village running for months. OCD, in many ways, sucked and sucks … and I only have a small bit of it. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I learned something life-changing: OCD is valuable.
Let me paint you a picture with my small hands:
Imagine convincing yourself you have cancer for 30 days out of a 31-day month—you’re lathered in turmoil and fear and emotional pain—only to find out on the 31st day that you don’t. Oh, joy! Life is golden, colors are brighter, flowers smell more, well, flower-y. Every part of you feels rejuvenated, and you’re reminded of just how beautiful life is! You’re alive. You’re going to kick boredom’s ass and make something of the day, week, month, year, lifetime. That’s a little like how OCD words, at least from an obsession standpoint, at least for me. You tend to fixate on something for so long that it bores a hole in your spirit, only to eventually discover that your obsessions were bullshit and, well, you now have a new lease on life. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You’ve done gone and created a habit, which crafted a sense of perspective, which fuels a new approach to life.
For a majority of my 34 years on this blue marble, I’ve obsessed and fixated and worried and had anxiety and made everything a Chernobyl event in my mind … until something else came along to replace it. It was always something. And that something always had a way of anchoring me down, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered something of immense value:
OCD has cultivated a mindset that I cherish.
This once-unbearable chemical imbalance has fueled my positive focus in life. What was once a psychological tumor has become a grand gift capable of honing my focus, fueling my feelings and shaping my general approach to life. I can’t tell you the last time I was mad, nor when I felt despondent or unequipped to tackle life and its many challenges. A feeling of extreme thankfulness has tattooed itself onto my brain … because OCD showed me, through obsessions, what my ground floor looks like. And that’s invaluable. And that drives momentum. And I’m not going to take my foot off the pedal.
For the first time in my life, I am typing these words: Thank you, OCD, for making me, me.