I don’t remember exactly when it began. Maybe I was seven or eight. I started playing a game in my mind: tomorrow would be good, the next bad; a day later would be good, the next bad. After a two-week period, I’d have seven wonderful days and seven horrible ones. Thus began my life of magical thinking.
Looking back I realize this was me meeting my illness in its earliest stages. Feeling helpless, I convinced myself that I held the key to a hidden pattern governing my existence. It was all about gaining control over the uncontrollable, taming a world I feared would swallow me whole.
Most of us spend our adult years trying to reconstruct our time as vulnerable children. Often, in an effort to cope with traumas and hardships from childhood, we act like children, filling up voids with food, sex, booze and drugs—dangerous games of self-medication. Temporarily ignoring—or dulling—all the pain we endured, we see youth as a simpler time to avoid the fact that our entire lives are a struggle. Suffering comes in different forms at different times, but it’s always here.
Today I write lots of notes reminding myself of important tasks. But before moving on from writing down to carrying them out, I need my tasks to equal a multiple of three. Nothing bad will happen to me if I have four notes or eleven, but I feel at ease when six or twelve notes remain. It feels as nutty as it sounds, but the essence of obsessive thinking lies in its resistance to reason.
Every day we vacillate between feelings of comfort and discomfort. Often it’s not what’s happening right now that pleases or upsets us. Seemingly mundane events can summon yesterday’s demons. Our happiness hinges on our ability to accept the consequences of the games we play in order to outrun them.