Hello Obsession, My Old Friend

By | November 7, 2019

“Without obsession, life is nothing.” ~John Waters

You would not be wrong, if, say, you were a practicing psychotherapist, or even just someone with a basic knowledge of mental health, to assign to me a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Now, I’m no Howard Hughes watching movie reels for weeks at a time in a hermetically-sealed room.  But in my life, in times of prolonged stress, I have exhibited a few of the classic OCD symptoms, such as looping thoughts and an urgent desire to make things ordered, to warrant the label.

But as far as labels go, I think OCD can be misleading and also too one-sided toward the negative.  I blame it on the word ‘compulsive’, which is never the most flattering descriptor no matter the spin:  “John was wonderfully compulsive at dinner tonight, don’t you think?”  And ‘disorder’, when used as a noun, is usually not something to put on the resume or dating profile: “Seeking someone who likes romantic walks on the beach and personality disorders.”  Perhaps it’s not right to joke on this, but laughter is the best medicine, and certainly is cheaper and comes with fewer side effects than most psychotropic remedies.

My point, however, is not to question (or suggest) treatment for OCD, or to belittle the pain and many challenges this condition can and does inflicts on sufferers.  What I want to do is offer a new type of diagnosis, similar only in initials, that fits more with my experience:  Obsessive Connective Deportment.

Symptoms for my version of OCD are as follows:

  • A gradual, growing and sustainable obsession regarding a subject, an activity or an issue that lasts for more than three months, but can extend for a lifetime;
  • The obsession does not cause mental stress to the individual who is obsessed, or damage their capacity to relate well with friends, family and others who might not share the obsession;
  • The obsession may help the individual cope with stress and difficulties in their life by serving as a healthy distraction but does not suppress the stress and difficulties one is experiencing so that they are not addressed and overcome.
  • The obsession leads the obsessed (or encourages them) to uncover and create new obsessions with similar positive outcomes; and
  • The pursuance of the obsession does not entail the breaking of laws or the physical and/or emotional harming of other living beings.

Basically, for me, Obsessive Connective Deportment is a healthy and happy affliction.  Let me give you a recent example from my life as explanation.  My new home in a suburban neighborhood is ringed by oak, birch and maple trees.  I also have, on my grounds, a small lawn, and an outline of narrow flower beds and a garden.  With fall has come the cascading of leaves, and with rake in hand and bags to fill, I began the process of keeping a neat and tidy yard.

At first, my obsession was dysfunctional: I needed to pick up the leaves as soon as they hit the turf in order to keep the lawn perfectly clean and my life in perfect order!  But, gratefully, I latched on an ancillary obsession that I could use the fallen leaves to mulch my flower beds and vegetable garden.  This led me to view quite a few leaf composting videos on YouTube.  And the videos led me to purchase a portable leaf vacuum/mulcher, which, when strapped on my back, resembles something from Ghostbusters.

Now, I’m actively obsessing each day: researching composting techniques, for example, and learning what to add with leaves (there is one concoction with beer, soda and vinegar that can turn a six-month decay to 14 days!) to speed up the process and add to their soil fertility powers.  I also suck up leaves with a hungry glee, daydreaming during work (and while I write this) what part of the lawn I will vacuum next, and even contemplating asking neighbors if I can clean their yards and poach their leaves.  I am clearly obsessed, but I am happy, and I am getting exercise, and I am communing with nature, so what’s the problem?

Well, there could be.  As much as I am painting a wonderful picture of Obsessive Connective Deportment, the reality is that it can lead, if not self-monitored and contained in scope, to the standard-issue OCD.  The bottom line, I believe, is symptom (5) outlines above: ‘The pursuance of the obsession does not entail the breaking of laws or the physical and/or emotional harming of other living beings.’  Once I cross this threshold, say I start chainsawing down trees rather than wait for their leaves to fall, it’s no longer healthy, it is bad for the world, and thus my obsession needs to end.

But for now, I believe I have it in check.  And with the weather calling for wind and rain, I’m confident I’ll have more leaves soon than my obsession can handle.  I also hear we might have an early November snowfall.  I wonder what that will do for leaf mold?

Time to hit YouTube.

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