Fun fact: My world is full of incomplete journals because I can’t keep a commitment to writing. I have finished a journal before, but for each of the four so I’ve finished, I have about a half-dozen partially filled spiral notebooks, notes to self on scraps of paper, various word documents I’ve started but never finished, and all my online journal websites with no recent page views, no new posts, nothing to do but sit and collect virtual dust.
I’ve mentally started this post so many times—mostly in the car or in those few minutes between closing my eyes and dreaming. I’ve started typing posts, too, every time talking myself out of posting. What do I have to say, really? Who’s reading? Who cares? Not to get all pity party, but the reality is that my day-to-day minutiae is probably only interesting to me, and maybe a single-digit number of other people. I’m not a published writer, so writing about writing seems presumptuous. I don’t have anything all that original to say, so why open up yet another journal to forget about?
In times like this, I forget why I write in the first place. I forget that it doesn’t matter if anyone sees. I forget that, published or not, I am a writer. In times like these, I let Imposter Syndrome take over. I let the invisible criteria for my life, all of the shoulds, all the expectations I’ve imagined the world having for me take over. I let it write my story and tell me who I am.
Anxiety is the Aunt Alexandria of the brain (To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone?). She barges in unannounced and uninvited, thrusts her bags to the parts of your consciousness that were standing around minding their own business, and tries to convince you to get rid of the household systems that work: namely, the parts of you that can speak up against Anxiety. And if Anxiety is Aunt Alexandria, then Imposter Syndrome is one of her biggest, heaviest bags.
Sometimes it’s so heavy I can’t pick it up. It tells me I’m not a real writer. It tells me I’m not a good teacher because my students were already smart. Are good test scores all that impressive when I was just polishing diamonds? It’s not like I mined gemstones or transformed coal. The diamonds were there already. And Imposter Syndrome knows it.
Here’s some irony for you: Anxiety brings Imposter Syndrome, which then goads me into thinking I don’t have “Real Anxiety.” There are people who have it worse, people who can’t get out of bed or leave their houses. Since I’m not like that, I don’t deserve the label. I don’t deserve the help. I should be able to manage this on my own like the rest of the world. Anxiety tells me I’m not worthy of claiming my own anxiety. Or my OCD.
I have OCD. What’s that you say? You had no idea? I’m not surprised. Most of my obsessions and compulsions are mental, so unless you’ve been given a front-row seat to what’s going on in the Bruegel painting that is my head, it’s unlikely you’d notice. And that’s the problem.
Because my OCD doesn’t look like Monk, because it doesn’t look like the guy from Button Poetry, it’s easy to believe it’s not real. That it doesn’t count. My desk is a mess, I have clothes all over the floor of my bedroom, I’m not all that afraid of germs or contamination… The list of what I’m not could go on forever.
Here’s what I am: I am someone who has OCD, usually in relatively small ways, and yes that is possible. Some things carry only a little weight, and some are so heavy that my daily life is uprooted, rewritten as a series of rules and fears. One such fear is my emetophobia, meaning that I’m afraid (terrified, horrified) of throwing up. Before you even try, let me assure you of the following things:
1. I know it’s illogical.
2. know I can’t die from it.
3. I know it’s not that big of a deal.
4. I know it’s a natural, normal thing that happens to everyone.
It doesn’t matter. None of that matters when my brain is screaming that everything is made of flaming bees, and if I allow this horrible thing to happen to me I will become a different person.
And while we’re at it, don’t bring up that kids throw up all the time, or tell me about how sick your pregnancy made you, and how you got “used” to throwing up, and once I have kids I’ll be “cured” of my phobia. This just in: Not Helpful.
But I’m dealing with it. In many ways, the phobia isn’t as strong as it used to be. When I was a kid, I believed that just admitting the fear would wake up something in the universe that had, until then, ignored my vomitless life. It’s why I was afraid of roller coasters, why I was afraid of flying, why I restricted myself from trying too many new foods, why I’ve never been a party-hardy-er. Even now, there’s a tiny voice (one of Aunt Alexandria’s smaller bags, no doubt) whispering to me that if I publish this, the forces of the universe will find out. And now that I’ve given up my obsessive rituals, I’ll have nothing to protect me if “it” happens.
If it does, I can handle it. I’m not sure if I believe that, but I’m trying to. In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about OCD, my special brand in particular. It’s lonely at times, because it’s not something that’s easy to share. So often I wish I had one of the “popular” brands of OCD because at least then people would understand it. They’d see Monk or they’d see some other poster child, and they’d say, “Oh yeah, it’s like that!” There are times I feel like my problems barely even count because they could be so much worse, so much more restrictive. Comparatively, I have the “good” kind.
But the reality is that there is no good kind. OCD is both a heavy duffel bag and a writhing worm. It’s a cloud, it’s rain, it’s padlocks that bind you to your rules. It’s a monster that sometimes almost hurts worse when you’re fighting it than when it’s hiding under your bed.
Anxiety comes with a Vera Bradley outlet full of designer baggage. But the more we can talk about the bags, the lighter they become. I will always carry OCD. I will always carry Imposter Syndrome. Some days the bags will be so heavy all I can do is kick them downhill while I walk. But there will be lighter days, too. Days where I don’t listen to the lies, days where I get to write my own story.
Published or not, I am a writer.
My OCD counts.
I’m a good teacher.
I’m not failing at being an adult.
This is the story I will believe.