We can change.
It all started with napkins.
If I saw a stack of paper napkins — say, resting on a table at a restaurant — I felt compelled to re-arrange them into an elegant fan shape. Neat. Orderly. Beautiful. I thought it was nice. “Hey, I’m making the table prettier!”
But later I was given a diagnosis that didn’t sound so nice:
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”
My OCD has always been manageable and low- to medium-grade. It has never felt like a serious problem. In some ways, my funny napkin-spiraling tendencies feel like a positive personality trait. Maybe even an artistic strength.
I love clean geometric shapes! I need my books to rest in perfect parallel lines, right-angles or spirals! I triple (OK, quadruple) check to make sure that candles have been properly blown out! So what? These are good things, right? I am fine with who I am.
Except when I’m not.
The truth is that there is one “quirk” that I don’t love:
My compulsion to check that the front door is locked before I leave the apartment.
On a “good” day when I am not feeling tired or stressed, I will usually check it two, maybe three times.
On a “bad” day I will check it three, four, five times. Maybe even run back up the stairs to check it yet again because I don’t trust my previous checking, or I forgot, or I just need to, or I am crazy, or you know, whatever.
Even if my boyfriend locks the door and says, “The door is locked” I still need to check it. Then he asks, “Don’t you trust me?” and I say “Yes, I trust you. It’s just that my brain doesn’t trust itself.”
In the grand scheme of things, I recognize that “excessive lock-checking” is not really a huge deal.
But still, it bothers me.
Recently, I’ve been wondering, “Why, at age 31, do I still do this? Why haven’t I grown out of it? Will I always be like this? What can I do to move beyond this compulsion?”
I’ve been researching options. A friend recommended a specific journaling exercise which she learned from her therapist. I’ll try that. Some experts tout “mindfulness meditation” as an excellent brain-salve for people with OCD. I’m trying that too. I don’t know what’s going to work for me just yet. It’s a story that’s still in progress.
But there is great beauty in this experience, because it is reminding me that change is always, always, always possible. Stress can be managed. Schedules can be cleared. Habits can be changed. Rituals can be established. Allies can be found. Addicts can stop drinking. Blocked writers can start writing. Brains can be re-trained. It’s never too late to awkwardly begin, try, and try again.
In collecting true stories for my new book, Today Is Not Over Yet, I have read some of the most astonishing stories of transformation — freedom from addiction, from debt, from pain of every imaginable variety.
Humans are amazingly change-able. Every single cell in your skeleton is replaced every 7 years. Sometimes change happens naturally. Other times, only with tremendous courage and effort. But one thing is certain:
We can change.
Oh God, yes we can.
Just because you haven’t been able to succeed with a particular goal or intention — yet! — doesn’t mean you never will. Never forget that.
As my friend Nicole says, “Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.”
With the right tools and processes, time, patience, and hope, anything is possible.
Even walking down the stairs after checking the lock just once. Or, fuck it, maybe even leaving the door unlocked. One fine day! I’ll get there. I trust. I know it. It’s create-able.
Like I said…
Anything is possible.