Tuesday, January 31, 2012
It's funny how they say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. That's always seemed like one of those corny things that sentimental people just throw around, and in looking at some of the immense suffering in the world I've often wondered if it's really true.
What about the woman who saw both her children martyred by gang violence? What about the girl who lost her virginity to rape? What about the millions of people who are victims of AIDS or genocide or the millions of orphans they've left behind? Was that not more than any of them could handle?
In my own life, though, I have noticed a consistent trend. Maybe it's just that I have a lower threshold for pain, but whenever I'm on the verge of coming really unscrewed God, perhaps cognizant of my weakness, steps in and clears some of the weight off.
I really needed that recently.
The experiences of the past year or so, long-term therapy chief among them, have taught me a good deal about myself and allowed me to rationally understand my irrational reactions to so many things. True obsessive compulsive disorder, you see, is not the cute eccentricity depicted in movies and on television. The real thing, if you have it (and I do, having been diagnosed with a "severe" form of the condition in 2008) is a living hell of superstition, self-doubt, and worry that turns the simplest of tasks into agonizing ordeals.
One important tidbit I took away from my sessions with a Major University therapist was that stress significantly exacerbated my symptoms. That alone explained so much. It showed me why, when things are going well, the OCD can recede so far into the back of my mind that it is but a frail echo of the consuming illness that at one point drove me to act out compulsive rituals in public. Conversely, it also shed light on why, when things aren't going well, I fall apart so fast and so totally.
A negative event triggers a bout of uncontrollable anxiety, and in that anxiety's throes I map out all the horrific privations that I'm sure are the logical outcome of whatever minor thing has happened to me. Having convinced myself that doom is inevitable, I predictably fall into a depression over my certain fate.
Case in point: last year the Major University police arrested me after a party I was hosting in my dormitory apartment got a little too spirited. I spent a night in jail and faced two charges, distribution of alcohol to minors and obstruction of justice, that even I could tell were built on sand. At least, I could at first.
The eleven hours in jail, to begin with, was a horror. Nothing particularly bad happened, and to most people (including my roommate Patrick, who wound up with me in the drunk tank) it would have been at most an annoying inconvenience. Instead I had a panic attack and, when I got out, locked myself in my dorm and cried like I hadn't in years. Some of you might remember the ambiguous birthday post I wrote around that time. I woke up the following night at three a.m. calling for my parents and for several moments after bolting upright in bed didn't know where I was.
Then there were those charges. They were absurd on their face and would eventually be thrown out, but that didn't stop me from convincing myself that I would be convicted on both baseless counts, given the maximum two-year sentence (all this despite my having no criminal record), raped while incarcerated, and rendered unemployable by the criminal record I would subsequently have. This chain of events would, of course, result in my homelessness and utter ruin. All because I had that party.
Now, that might sound ridiculous to you (and that's because it is), but I believed it with such sincerity that, while interning in the City of Fate this summer, I seriously considered fleeing north into Canada. That's how the mind of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder works.
"Can you imagine if I had actually done that?" I asked a lawyer I knew once everything had calmed down. "It would have been a nightmare."
"I doubt it," he said. "Your lawyer probably would have made a very credible argument that you lacked capacity, at least in that moment. I don't think you were in a state of mind to make rational decisions."
That's really the heart of it. With OCD, all rationality gets thrown out the window. It lends itself to and compounds everything else, including depression, which is then amplified because of the exaggerated perception of negative phenomena.
For these reasons, among others, the time since graduation has been hard. An aunt recently informed me that the average college graduate takes a full year to find a decent job, which likely accounts for why 85% of them are moving home after graduation.
Naturally, neither statistic made any difference to my parents, who didn't want to hear my "excuses."
I was arbitrarily "old enough" and should be "out by now." The fact that millions of others were in my position was peripheral.
I "sit home all day doing nothing." The fact that that time was actually spent sending out resumés and performing tasks for a remote internship never entered the conversation.
When they were my age, they already had five houses, nineteen children, and a small principality in Europe. The fundamental economic and societal shifts since 1990 were irrelevant.
It took barely three weeks after I completed my higher education for my parents' patience to wear out. My mother suggested that, with my degree a fortnight old, I should seek work at a fast food restaurant, and when I objected sneered that I thought I was "too good to do real work."
"I don't think I'm too good to do it," was my answer. "I've worked those jobs before, as recently as this summer. But I didn't take out $40,000 in loans to go make subs. If I take a job like that right out of the gate then going to college was completely meaningless."
Their harping and financial demands only grew, adding to anxiety that was already keeping me awake at night. I knew before I even left Major University that I would be entering a deeply unhealthy environment on returning home, but also knew (and here's the real beauty of it) that because of my parents' refusal to pay for my education and the massive financial outlay I consequently had to make I would be unable to leave. My savings have been decimated. Until I can start a real career, I'm stuck here.
Before long my feelings of failure at not having found work, my excessive worries over finances and being kicked out, and the sheer loneliness of a recent graduate suddenly separated from his friends had contributed to a major spike in my OCD symptoms. The obsessions came back, along with the feverish compulsions to keep them at bay. The depression came, too, so quickly, and with it the most vivid thoughts of suicide I'd had since 2008, when I very nearly killed myself.
It's so easy, when I fall into one of the periodic crises that have plagued me for years, to dream up a horrific eventuality and decide to avoid the imagined destiny by taking my own life. I have very little doubt that, if things ever get awful enough, I will be pushed over that edge.
And what's more, my parents knew all this.
They were fully aware of my bout with anorexia (which I experienced for the first time this fall after a summer of bingeing), fully aware of the school's near decision to hospitalize me, fully aware of my being made to see a psychiatrist and fully aware of my precarious position. I warned them. I told them what the psychologist told me: that I should avoid stress as much as possible, that doing so was crucial to my wellbeing.
Instead of adjusting their behavior to help me they maximized the stress of an already hugely stressful situation.
"You can't handle the pressure? I don't care!" my father screamed at me in a moment of anger. "It's time to move on!"
"Oh, I may just 'move on,'" I smiled wickedly. "I really think I might."
He either didn't get that or didn't want to.
Now, I know what everyone's going to say: you have to get out of there. Nothing is worth that. You need to leave.
To which I would respond: to where? And with what money?
Most college graduates can count on their parents to provide a place to stay and crucial emotional support during a challenging job hunt. That presumed mainstay is absent for me.
Just when my sorrow reached critical mass, though, just when I knew I could take no more, just when I began to contemplate exactly how I would end it, an e-mail appeared in my in-box.
"BB," the reporter with a local newspaper started. "I loved the review you wrote. Come in on Wednesday and fill out some paperwork so we can pay you."
Not a full-time job, at least not yet, but an awesome one, and one that actually pays.
I'm heading in tomorrow. I'll tell you all about it.