I had the whole world in my hands, and then it crumbled to pieces. All because of my mind, my imagination or, as I like to refer to it, the beast.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in second grade. I was also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder during my first semester of college, though the OCD symptoms started somewhere around fifth grade when the husband of my mother’s good friend died in a motorcycle crash. They had a terrible marriage since the beginning, never happy, and they finally filed for divorce. Then he suddenly changed, and they were the happiest they’d ever been together. Then he died.
Something about that death stuck with me. It became the fuel that triggered the birth of the beast. Picking and picking and picking at my thoughts and emotions; getting me anxious, sad and angry; filling my mind with my greatest fears — loneliness and death. The beast would come and go throughout the day, no matter who I was with or what I was doing:
My mother or father didn’t pick up their cellphones.
The beast: “They probably died in a car crash. Trust me, they’re gone.”
I’m lying in bed.
The beast: “You’re definitely going to die in your sleep tonight. I guarantee it.”
Me: “Yup, this is it.”
Me: “What if I jumped off that building or cut my wrist? No, no, no, that’s a terrible thought.”
The beast: “What an excellent (intrusive) thought! Let’s fixate on that for a while, shall we?”
Now, I feel the need to note, I don’t really see a monster or talk to it. This is just how I experience my internal dialogue.
On May 2, 2009, the beast was finally silenced. Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks — all gone. That is, until Feb. 11, 2011, when I got my first and last girlfriend — who I’ll refer to as “her.” She and I got serious pretty fast, with talks about marriage and kids. Marriage, a family — that’s the dream I’ve always wanted. We had fun and rarely argued. We were strong, I thought ... but the beast was stronger. It had a new form of energy to feed off of: her. The OCD, anxiety, intrusive obsessive thoughts came and worsened quickly. I went to go see a psychiatrist about it and my dual diagnosis.
Me: “So it’s a paradox?”
Psychiatrist: “Yes. Basically, Wayne, you have a nuclear war going on inside your head.”
On Aug. 23, 2012, the beast won again. Her and my dream were gone, all because of this mental warfare.
Jump to last summer, and this sense of loneliness consumed me. My overactive imagination, the beast, wouldn’t shut up. Thoughts of harm done to me, done by me, of others, to others, overwhelmed me and rocked me to my core. I remember putting my forehead on the wall and screaming as the shower water ran over me. I couldn’t take it anymore. If it wasn’t for my dear friend, who shall remain anonymous, and my ability to confide in her my terrible thoughts of death, I probably wouldn’t be here today. She gave me the courage to admit the extent of my problem to doctors. She saved my life.
I’m terrified of not having a normal life, of people not getting me and this brain of mine, of being alone, of death. But I’ve come this far, and I like to think I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve followed other dreams like traveling to Europe and, more recently, getting my master’s degree.
I’m not crazy or a bad person. I’m not a monster. I’m a lover. Since going to the hospital, and since medication and therapy, I have more control over the beast than ever before. It’s still there, it walks with me, looming. There are times when the beast tries to pick at my thoughts again, but it’s mine. I have seen the beast in the darkness, and it too shines bright light when I smile back. I use it for creativity. I use it to write.
Am I learning to live with it? Absolutely. Am I loving through it? Absolutely, more than ever before. Loving myself through it? Well, that’s the difficult question here. It used to be when the beast allowed me to, which isn’t the case anymore, though that changes here and there. At this moment, however, I’d have to say that I’m absolutely loving myself through it, because I’m allowing myself to.
Wayne Cross is a career counselor at Penn State. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.