Control Freak-out

The author explains why his OCD sometimes makes him feel adrift even when things are going well.

Mood music for this post: “The Day the World Went Away” by Nine Inch Nails:

There’s another byproduct of OCD that I’ve described indirectly before, but never head on. A byproduct for my own special blend of dysfunction, that is.

Sometimes, no matter how well things are going — and no matter how good my mood is when I wake up — I’ll sit at my desk and suddenly feel awash in melancholy.

It comes over me suddenly, and it can be even more frustrating than the black moods that hit me when there are visible troubles to spark it. Truth be told, when a wave of melancholy hits for no good reason, I sit here feeling like an idiot. Work grinds to a halt. I start to contemplate doing something bad for me, like smoking one of the cigars I gave up for Lent.

That’s progress, actually.

A couple years ago, I’d start thinking of going and binging on $30 of junk food. And less than 10 minutes after the thought entered my head, I’d be doing just that. [See The Most Uncool Addiction for a better explanation of why this used to happen]

Having a binge is something that I’m not the least bit interested in doing right now. In fact, the thought makes me want to puke. And I really don’t see myself running out for a cigar right now. I’m too close to the finish line with that sacrifice.

That I can even think in those terms today is nothing short of amazing.

Still, the blues persist. For no good reason.

Things are good, as I wrote yesterday. A book deal is in the works. I’m close to getting my family a private tour of the West Wing of the White House. Excellent schemes and projects are on the boards at work. I should be chipper.

As I sit here analyzing my head, an answer is emerging. What I’m feeling is adrift. Not in the sense that my life is adrift, because it’s never been more full of purpose. The adrift feeling is over things I can’t control.

Why yes, everything you’ve heard about OCD and control freakism is true. People like us crave control like a junkie craves a shot of smack to the arm. It grabs us by the nose and drags us down the road until our emotions are raw and bleeding.

That’s why I used to be such an asshole at The Eagle-Tribune. Every story I edited then went through three more editors and then to the page designer. Along the way, everyone after me had to take a whack at it. I’d hover over the poor page designers because it was the closest thing I had to control. Ultimate control would have meant laying out the pages myself. That would have been a stupid thing to do, mind you. I couldn’t lay out a news page to save my life.

When I was the assistant news editor for the paper’s New Hampshire editions, I was out a week when my son Sean was born. I came in one night to catch up on e-mail and saw the message where my boss, Jeff McMenemy, announced my son’s birth. In it, he joked that I probably stood over the doctor and told him how to deliver the baby.

I wanted to punch him.

I saw red.

Because I knew that was something I could easily be pictured doing. It hit too close to the truth.

The control freak has emerged in a variety of other ways over the years. Getting stuck in traffic would send me into a rage because all I could do is sit and wait. Getting on a plane filled me with dread because I could only sit there and wait. There was the fear that the plane might crash. But the bigger problem for me was that i was at the mercy of the pilots, the air traffic and the weather. I had no control over the schedule, and that incensed me.

So what’s my problem now?

I think it’s that all the cool things going on right now are still in play. The various projects are set in motion, but now I have to sit and wait on others to work through their processes. A more normal person would just take these things as they come and just live in the moment. But then I’m not normal.

I have to wait my turn. I don’t like that.

But then it’s appropriate that I should be made to feel uncomfortable about it, since I really have no business trying to control any of these things. Other people have their jobs to do, and I should trust them.

I’m working on it.

I handle it better than I used to.

And this particular strain of melancholy is like New England weather:

If I wait an hour, it’ll change.

Time to go have some more coffee and wait for the mental adjustment to arrive.


35 thoughts on “Control Freak-out

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  35. I think even “normal” people would feel adrift waiting for stuff to happen. I know I do (but, then, I’m a control freak too). It’s normal to be excited about something — or anxious — and just want it to get started (or over with). One of the imperfections of this life is the waiting. The process everything goes through, the work it takes to get *anything* done, from getting the kids off to school to creating new laws that will make a difference. To play off Pope: to wait is human / to be patient, divine.

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