Diary of a normal madman
I am crazy. I know I am. But in a very normal way.
Okay, did I pique your interest?
Crazy is normal in the world I’ve orbited. You didn’t get the marks if you didn’t think out of the box. But in my case, I was diagnosed with a common form of weirdness, or compulsion.
I have always known that I was obsessive-compulsive. I conveniently disguised it as having a hobby, a passion, or an incessant desire to try a new sport or experience. All obfuscated by some lame excuse. And at times it was harmless—so I thought—and other times it caused a lot of heartaches and a hole in my pocket.
I went on a fencing spree, then it was sculling, buying wine, or dining at the fancy restaurants in the hopes of getting first dibs. Then there were the Cubans and the single malts at old Mandarin. And, of course, you cannot complete all this without the driving need to have a new jacket. Scarves, hats, pocket squares, sunglasses and canes were a panacea. It was an incessant desire. Oh, I forgot to mention the watches and paintings.
But that’s all gone now, disposed of to keep life simpler, and free the cash flow. There can be a plethora of excuses for this kind of behavior. Sometimes, it is no different from drugs or gambling, and as I see it, it is all the same. Judgment aside. Our UP Pysch 101 class taught us we all have basic motivations—like food and, well, sex. And for the more intense there was incessant envy and, yes, the worst of all, anger.
Can innocent hobbies be compulsions? I think so. It is the gauge of its excess that makes it so. But again, who is the judge of what is too much? Who is the holier-than-thou figure? Well, it takes a strong-willed person to accept when “much” is “too much.”
Is a home wine cellar no different from having a cabinet full of harmful meds? I am no expert. But what I do know is that we all feel this unexplainable urge to engage in the irresistible—like a shopping spree, that is—engaging in compulsion.
When I do something stupid or crazy, I realize it’s done in desperation to break a chain. It brings a moment of joy. Where a part of me says it’s wrong, the other says I will always sort it out. But I have come to that crossroad where I can no longer manage these compulsions and bipolar moments. My work keeps me focused and I avoid events to prevent triggers—like drinking, which is my number-one bane.
My doctor says that compulsion can be as harmless as someone who reads, tweets, cleans, blogs, shops, checks social media, eats, etc., not only frequently but with that maniacal urgency of one who is not fully in control of their behavior.
And, as explained, this behavior is a response to anxiety. I know this—as I grab onto anything that offers a moment that, even if illusory, allows me a sense of control. Every single day I face the social tectonic shifts that have become very fragile to accept. But I never lose hope. And if I make a mistake, I take it on.
I used to view life-altering compulsions with the deepest fear. The type that raises your blood pressure and causes tension headaches. I was actively behaving to allay anxiety as a deep and ancient impulse. Even more of us find ourselves in the grip of a compulsion that falls short of something that is disabling enough to qualify as a mental disorder—in fact, some compulsions are adaptive, helping us lead our lives or perform our jobs more effectively.
Like many people, dear reader, you may feel compelled to reach for your phone as soon as you wake up in the morning. Fortunately, a growing number of experts have begun to distinguish between addictions, poor impulse control, and compulsions.
As defined, “An addiction begins with a flash of pleasure overlaid by an itch for danger; it’s fun to gamble or to drink, and it also puts you at risk. Impulsive behavior involves acting without planning or even thought, driven by an urge for immediate gratification.”
Compulsion, I am told, is about avoiding unpleasant outcomes. They are repetitive behaviors we engage in to alleviate the angst brought on by the possibility of negative consequences.
But the actual feeling for me has been often unpleasant—or at least not particularly rewarding, especially after doing it so many times. Simplistically put, anxiety takes the form of the thought: “If I don’t do this, something terrible will happen.” Like not having the “it” shoe for the season, or the must-have bag at Hermès. Shopping can be the mildest form of it, but it is like quicksand, and overt compulsion is a black hole to infamy.
Can it be helped? Yes, because it cannot be avoided, we must need to be mindful of what we do, and stay the course. I speak from experience as I have gotten myself into holes only someone like Margie could have pulled me out of. She remains my moral compass, as I slowly come to my truth, my true north.
Shopping, collecting that must-have bottle, another round of golf—perhaps doing all this and more is our way, my way, of avoiding a hidden pain. Being compulsive, like a home poker game, is not a stigma (unless it ends up hitting the casino), and diagnosed early, it can be helped.
What I do know is we all feel a level of psychological need—we all want to be in control of our lives. We all want joy and happiness. We want peace. So if the impulse to want all these are forms of mental illness, then heck, we are all crazy.