Overcoming the Dark Side

Today, I woke up from a 7-month-long nightmare. Since May 2016, I’ve battled a curious ailment of the mind—one I’d never really faced before in my short 24 years on this earth. After extensive research and recent soul-searching, I now have an idea of what this ailment is (was)—obsession, or what a medical practitioner might dub ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ (OCD). From my research however, I’ve gleaned that ‘OCD’ is a blanket term at best, and the disorder can take myriad forms, varying among afflicted individuals—all forms being vicious and debilitating, to say the least.

My ‘version’ is unique to me, and (I believe) treads the line between ‘OCD’ and ‘OCPD’ (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder). Though research on the latter, OCPD, is limited and scattered at present, many professionals agree that OCPD is distinctly different from OCD, as OCPD is a ‘personality disorder’ and OCD is generally categorized as a type of ‘anxiety disorder.’ After some deep reflection, I now believe that the terrible affliction that’s been haunting me these past months has in essence always been a part of me, patiently waiting dormant in the far recesses of my unconscious mind for an opportune moment to manifest in full vigor to steal the lead of my consciousness. And it gloated in the spotlight for months, center stage in all its glory; yet thankfully, all shows end eventually, and the curtain is finally closing for good—or so I hope.

As a 2nd deacon libra, I’ve always sought balance, and sought ways to appeal to established systems of ‘authority’ to mediate experiences throughout my life; spirituality, psychology, philosophy, science, the arts, and so forth have always governed the values, beliefs, and norms upon which I structure my existence. That being said, I always like to have a ‘plan,’ a general sense of direction to follow and hence forge my life path (one side of the Libra scale). Yet on the other hand, I am a highly spiritual individual, and thus understand that life doesn’t work out according to a manmade ‘plan.’ However having a loose ‘life plan’ has always been curiously necessary and comforting to me, though fully aware of the inherent fallacy of ‘planning’ one’s life to begin with! My life has never worked out according to any of the plans I’ve made over the years, and yet, it’s worked out all the same, and I’m happy with where I am today. I’m also a deeply reflective individual, possessing a ‘writer’s mind,’ and hence enjoy periodically reflecting on my past experiences—not with regret, but for the purpose of deconstructing ‘why’ certain experiences came about, and ‘how’ said experiences helped me learn and develop. Due to my spiritual beliefs, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and that these reasons are not realized in the moment, but may be realized and reflected upon in the aftermath. This dichotomy between the need to ‘have a plan’ and ‘knowledge that planning is futile because Fate will decide where I’m meant to be in the end’ has never really proved troublesome…that is, until May of 2016.

At present, I’m finishing up a Master’s in English Education, and am set to begin student teaching—the final step to becoming a fully certified English teacher—on January 27th. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in English in May 2015, I decided to go big or go home, applied to graduate school, and went right into my grad program in September of 2015. I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist with my academics (OCPD red-flag), yet being a perfectionist in this regard merely translates to an impeccable undergraduate and graduate academic record, which I’m quite proud of. Throughout my first year of grad school I was extremely focused, received straight A’s across the board, and by May 2016 I was totally on track to graduate and become certified by May of 2017—right on track to fulfill my ‘plans’ to be fully certified and teaching in a high school by September 2017. And then reality struck. Being a graduate student, my university employs a rather laissez-faire mindset; so I was completely caught off guard when I received an email at the beginning of May 2016 informing me that I needed to pass the ‘Praxis Core’ exams before September 1st if I hoped to student teach during spring semester of 2017. Though theoretically, I had ALL YEAR to take these exams, I’d been so focused on my coursework that I’d never bothered to check my school website for any additional ‘requirements’ I might need to satisfy prior to applying for my student teaching internship. Unbeknownst to me, my university ‘requires’ teacher candidates to satisfy three ‘stages’ of various requirements A FULL YEAR before beginning one’s student teaching internship. Naturally, I panicked, realizing that my ‘plans’ might not work out, sending my flailing mind into overdrive. After countless calls and emails (my university’s Educator Preparation Department no doubt thinks I’m a maniac) I was able to secure a waiver for the reading/writing portion of the Praxis Core exam, using my high school SAT scores (the Praxis Core exam is basically an SAT for aspiring teachers). However my SAT math scores weren’t high enough to receive a waiver—math has ALWAYS been an area of weakness for my right-humanities-brain—and I was doomed to take and pass the Praxis math exam before September 1st. Failure to do so would set me back a whole semester, and I’d end up student teaching Fall 2017 semester—absolutely NOT going to fly.

And this is where the nightmare began—a therapist might refer to this event as the ‘trigger’ which caused the underlying neuroticism of my personality to break through. At this point, I decided that I needed to buckle-down hardcore, and get my collective s*** together once and for all! I started creating manic ‘lists’ and setting ‘goals,’ but not in a normal manner whatsoever. I created ‘Ultimate Life Goal’ documents, ‘Tentative Life Trajectory’ documents, organized into folders upon folders, ‘Life/Career Plan’ and ‘Adult Life Plan.’ If anyone had gone through my laptop and read through these folders and documents, I would’ve been committed. These documents were filled with incoherent babbling, maniacal rantings, irrational plans and ‘sub-plans’ and fantastical goals, all directly in defiance to my spiritual beliefs and awareness of the futility of ‘future life planning.’ I was completely aware that these documents and lists were irrational, yet I couldn’t stop. The more I planned, the more my life felt ‘together’—yet the more I planned, the more I became frustrated with my present existence. Everything I’d ever accomplished suddenly wasn’t good enough—because it could be, should be, ‘better.’ I began thinking that if only the future would come sooner, then I’d be happy, satisfied, at peace.

I became a slave to my own mind. During the summers, I work at a summer camp as a counselor, a job I’ve always loved. Yet this past summer, my mind was anywhere but ‘at summer camp.’ Each day, I’d scribble incomprehensible notes all over my daily schedule—things I had to do, along with ‘present goals’…pass the praxis, expand my knowledge of the english discipline, read more, write more, learn more, be more. Of course when I sat down at night to actually ‘do’ these things, my mind would drift off, and I’d find myself writing more notes, revising ‘plans’ in my documents, creating new folders, new life wishes, new, new, new. I was so entrenched in planning for the future that the notion of simply ‘living’ in the present became foreign and even undesirable, for my future plans were just too important to ignore. I forgot how to be happy, I forgot how to enjoy ‘being.’ I hated the anxious wreck that I was becoming, I hated feeling like I needed to write down every thought that entered my mind—but I couldn’t stop, even though I was painfully aware that my obsessive planning was literally destroying every sense of self I’d ever had. I was completely aware that though I obsessively planned ways to ‘improve’ my situation, I wasn’t actually taking the necessary actions to translate these plans into reality. I was making plans for the sake of making plans, no follow through—just more plans! I’d make a plan to follow through on a given plan, and then when I’d get upset about not following through on said plan, I’d go and make a new ‘follow through’ plan, perpetuating the cycle over and over again! By the end of the summer, I’d taken the Praxis math exam TWICE and failed both times, exacerbating my awareness that all my planning WAS NOT working. And yet even then, I couldn’t stop planning.

In September, I FINALLY passed the exam, on the third try. Though I should’ve been happy and proud of myself, I was already leagues ahead, on to the next obstacle; now, I had to come up with a plan to pass the Praxis II, this time for English content knowledge. Though I knew this was undoubtedly MY sphere of knowledge, I couldn’t help working myself up over it—and of course planning, action plans, backup plans. And even when I passed the Praxis II on my first try in November, STILL, I felt the need to plan! By the end of November however, I was starting to get really fed up with my out-of-control obsession. I knew that I HAD to do something, that I didn’t want to live like this forever. So, I tried to ‘downsize’ all my plans. I deleted many documents, deleted large chunks of repetitive rantings, made one ‘master plan’ document and got rid of the rest (for the most part). I decided to regress back to my spiritual roots, and starting researching ‘mindfulness.’ I decided that I needed to start appreciating the present moment more, and that I needed to start ‘doing’ more—ignore the plans, and just ‘do’ the things I knew I needed to do! Yet I still maintained a ‘reminder list’ document, a document that ironically ‘listed’ all of my new resolutions…’be present, be mindful, appreciate my life, feed my mind by reading more, pay attention to ‘action’ and I am not my thoughts…I am creating my own suffering by focusing on the future which is futile because I can’t predict the future…

But yesterday, I had a revelation. I realized that basically, I need to rewire my mind. After doing some research on using mindfulness as a means of overcoming OCD, I realized that essentially over the past few months, I’ve allowed my brain to create a habit of writing down every thought, rewarding these thoughts by paying attention to them and investing in them. If I am to break this habit—and thereby, overcome this bout of OCD—I need to direct my attention AWAY from my obsessive habit. To starve my habit until my brain realizes that my obsessive recurring thoughts will no longer receive attention. By doing so, my brain will hopefully stop producing these thoughts in time, and my attention will refocus on the things that matter HERE AND NOW. I deleted my ‘reminder list.’ Now, I only have a ‘to do’ list of all the (practical) things I need to get done now, in the present. I only have one ‘document’ left, my ‘Ultimate Goals’ outlining six general overarching goals that I’ve always possessed and worked toward.

I know my purpose, I have a sense of the general direction that my life is moving toward FOR NOW, and that is enough. I can choose to indulge my imagination by thinking about ‘how wonderful’ my life will be in the future (imaginary thoughts as I DON’T KNOW how my future will pan out) or I can choose to do everything I can NOW to be my best self. As human beings, we cannot predict nor control the future. We can merely choose our mindset, choose how we mediate and process the curveballs Fate tosses our way, and choose how we spend the time that is given to us. This I have always known, yet for a while, chose to forget, chose to believe that I can somehow dictate numbers I will stake in this never-ending roulette of life. All I can do is play the numbers in front of me, and hope some of them will hit. Now that I remember, I will do my best to never forget the painful lesson this experience taught me—lest I have to go and learn it all again.

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