Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Magical Thinking and Other Mental Disorders

I remember the first time I started playing games in my head. At the time I just thought I was being a good student. I was probably in the first grade. One of my parents would drop me off out in front of school in the morning and then instead of going in the front door, I would walk all the way down the sidewalk past the school to the door that let me in from the playground side. My classroom was down at that end and my friends would be out on the playground until the bell rang to signal the start of the school day.

As I walked down the sidewalk by myself I would play a game of my own. I would think of a word I had to spell and tell myself I had to finish spelling it in my head before I reached the end of the building. I still remember walking across the sidewalk, saying a letter in my head for each square of pavement I crossed, and ending the word A-P-P-L-E just before passing the edge of the building.

It wasn’t long before this game morphed into one resulting in ridiculous anxiety. It’s an issue that still occasionally plagues me today.  Sometimes it works a lot like it did decades ago when I played it outside school, but sometimes it’s much different. For example, if I hear the garage door go up and I am headed from the kitchen to my office, I tell myself that I have to get off the wood floor and reach the carpet before my husband walks into the house or something bad will happen.

Fortunately, this kind of “magical thinking” isn’t a constant in my life. I like to vary my mental diseases: one week it’s magical thinking and the next it’s obsessive thoughts and then generalized anxiety followed by depression. I prefer a smorgasbord to ordering one meal off the menu.

I don’t think these habits are as “crazy” as they sound. While I am not a “checker” (someone who has to check that the doors are locked and lights are off and they end up clicking them open and closed and on and off to be extra-double-triple sure), I do check to make sure I have my money before I walk into a store. I check to make sure I have my tickets before going to a concert and then check a couple times to make sure they’re still where I think they are. This doesn’t seem overly strange to me. It’s just that some people’s habits get out of control.

I think in some ways, people who suffer from these types of maladies are more gifted than those who don’t. Not in that suffering is a gift, but in that they are gifted with an imagination that can picture the worst happening if these activities are not undertaken. I can vividly imagine the worst happening to my children when they drive off in a car with someone else, and it fills me with great anxiety and makes me want to avoid such a situation. I can imagine, in great detail, a slew of other unreal situations, both good and bad, and it can get me into a lot of trouble. My imagination always seems to be either much worse or much better than reality. But then again, while I can tell myself that things are never going to be as bad as I dread or as great as I hope, my imagination whispers to me that actually it will be worse than I could have dreamed and then works to conjure up that image.

Completely unrelated picture of Mackinac Island.
Because why not?
The only thing I can do with my overactive imagination is try to channel it to my benefit. Focus on fictional characters who can be depressed, and on whom I can wring out all my sadness. Imagine the worst happening to characters and then imagine how they can be saved. Concentrate on people and situations that don’t, never have, and never will exist, and let them have my anxiety. This is much easier said than done, however. Imaginary events focused on my real life and real people continue to intrude my thoughts. I’d explain more, but I have to go change the laundry before the phone rings or a meteor will hit my house.

1 comment:

  1. lol, great post Kelly. I didn't realise other people did this too.