Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself, and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

Being half-drunk has been so fun, I’ve come back for more.

This time, I really did attempt to get a little tipsy. The result was:

Coherent sentence…coherent sentence…bravery…secrets…adsklfjadslfkj;;easdijfewmafzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So I’m back…and sober. I just write better this way. You know, awake. And I’m ready to take on one of momalom.com’s suggested writing prompts for this week: What is your greatest fear?

This is easy. Everyone who knows me well knows that my greatest fear is to host a party for which no one shows up. It’s an irrational fear, since it’s never happened to me, but when it happens in movies or TV, I literally have to leave the room, it upsets me so much (Searching for Bobby Fischer, anyone?).

But my second-greatest fear (ok, my true first) is that at some point in time, in some epic way, I will fail one (or more!) of my children.

To explain this fear, I have to explain something about myself that very few people know. I’ve only written about it once, and even then, I was too big a chicken to make the essay fully public. So for part of this post, I‘m going to borrow from my own words written earlier this year. It’s time they saw the light of day. (This is the part where the half-drunk bit would have come in handy.)

In 1997, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There’s a long story of self-discovery that led up to this diagnosis, but it’s not important here. And over a decade later, I’m ok now. I really am. But that’s not important here either. What is important is this: I spent way too long not having a name for something that was fundamentally wrong with me.

And I am terrified of the same thing happening to my children.

See, this aspect of my life had been wrong for as long as I can remember. Irrational fears fueled by my over-active imagination and repetition compulsions became increasingly important to me as I grew up. It was a lot of the clichéd OCD stuff: I had to flip light switches with just the right section of the pad of my index finger, had to twirl my fingers through my hair a certain number of times whenever I happened to touch it, and I had to have my door left open to just the right degree when I went to bed. This would frustrate my mother to no end (understandably!) but what she didn’t know what that if the door was incorrectly set, my skin would crawl until I was to the point of tears unless I got up and fixed it.

These, and many other issues, were things I simply accepted about myself; I knew no differently. At the peak of my teen years, I was spending up to 4-5 hours per day giving in to the OCD’s demands. If I were to lie down at night without checking and rechecking a dozen things, my mind would insist, over and over and over, that I get up, again and again and again. If I was currently studying for a big test, the facts I had stored in my brain would repeat in a loop (the upside of this is that I rarely got less than an A in school). If I was reading a book I liked, I’d feel compelled to memorize large chunks of it.

Knowing that I’d feel the need to mentally repeat memorized sections of random works of literature as soon as my head ever did hit the pillow, I’d start repeating the prose in my head earlier and earlier in the day, hoping to ‘get it over with’. The trouble was, if I was interrupted (someone spoke to me, I was forced to pause to answer a question in geometry, etc,) I‘d have to start all over again. At my worst, I’d be eating breakfast while mentally reciting Frost, hoping to be ‘done’ by dinnertime. I think, if you will excuse the irony, that this bears repeating: hoping to be done by dinnertime. I am not kidding.

And if that doesn’t scare you enough, here‘s the truly frightening thing: no one knew this. My parents didn‘t even know this (at least not the full extent of it). This was not their fault. My mother wonders now if she should have known, should have guessed, should have acted, but the answer is no. She couldn‘t have. I had this nightmarish world all in my head, and that’s where it stayed. It would be years before I would question the ‘rules’ I had attached to all these demands, and why on earth I obeyed them, and then, for a long time, it would feel too late to change them.

That’s the thing about OCD: it seems to be arbitrary in its design to slowly drive you insane: you know what your mind is telling you is crazy, but you’re doing it anyway. The only thing I can think to compare it to are those types of near-wakeful dreams where you seem aware that you’re dreaming, but cannot wake yourself.

And I don’t want that for my children.

I don’t want it so badly, that I am, at times, too vigilant. Because here’s the thing: my kids are a little weird at times. Between them, they have some sensory issues, some social issues, some perfectionist issues. I won’t go into exactly what and who, because this is my blog and not theirs, and I try to limit the disclosure to self-disclosure, but you get the gist. And due to my unique perspective, I like to think I can spot all the signs, all the symptoms, and (largely) all the solutions to this particular brand of mental illness, and should. Now. Before it can hit, even.

But here’s the thing that I’m slowly learning: all kids are a little weird. All people are, in fact, a lot weird. And I can’t diagnose every single thing my kids do, waiting for them to turn into me.

Because they are them, and so they won’t.

And even if they do? Would it be the end of the world? Because I lived through it, as everyone everywhere lives through whatever particular brand of adversity they‘re handed to face. And besides: despite its determination to make me miserable, I like my brain. I like how it works. It works for me.

And theirs will work for them.
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