The last time I saw Sorin, he said I came pretty close to what is called a psychiatric disorder. I told him the thoughts are still there and have no clue what to do with them if they come back. “It can’t get worse than this, what thoughts could possibly come back? You’ve already been through this. I think after you get over this phase, your flirting with death will be officially over.” And this is how our therapy sessions came to an end.
Sometimes I feel that I’ve always been worrying about things; other times, that I’ve always been laidback. “That’s life” is the favourite phrase of parents, grandparents or even people from my generation, who haven’t experienced any psychological confusion (yet). When you talk about people’s minds, you really have to do your best to pick words that leave no room for misinterpretation.
Yet, I have the feeling each and every single individual from my generation is bound to go through such moments. Sorin used to say our parents and grandparents had similar thoughts and states of mind, but they simply didn’t acknowledge them, since they didn’t fit into the social landscape back then. During communism, people were fighting for their own survival, and that’s how we, the children of the 80s, grew up, being trained by our families to survive an incoming war that somehow never came.
At some point in time, what used to be normal for the previous generations suddenly turned clinical for us. “This is sadly the way it goes for every generation; the environment in which our parents taught us how to live is no longer relevant to reality, and then everyone asks themselves: what do I do now, how do I move on? Nowadays, there’s an entire generation aged 20 to 45, facing the same syndrome, a malady I have named “what the hell am I doing here in this life”, said Sorin.
I’ve been afraid since I was 7 or 8. In 1988, we moved into a new apartment, where I had my own room, something that caused my anxiety to morph into a fully blown obsession. I used to imagine that an undefined something, an evil, abysmal darkness I was just about to face,will come out from behind my drawer and hurt me. I’ve no clue how long this obsession lasted; months, years, perhaps; what I do know is that this was my first OCD “episode”.
As most kids do, I came up with games and superstitions about all sorts of meaningless things, mostly related to religion or counting stuff – light poles, the markings on street lanes, trees. It never dawned upon me that there might be a connection between these superstitions and the “evil” from behind my drawer. Perhaps there wasn’t any, actually; perhaps the superstitions were simply related to different fears altogether.
Compulsive behaviour is a coping mechanism rendering fears and obsessions more bearable. Most of the times, those affected by this disorder usually forget how exactly they acquired these habits and what their purpose is, yet they continue to observe them religiously. Some such rituals end up being transmitted between generations, turning into family traditions, myths, perhaps even religions. Who knows, religion in itself might just be compulsive behaviour related to a particular fear, which over time developed into rituals. Either way, I believe no child of my generation would have ever considered the fact that our childish superstitions might have been compulsive in nature, and aimed not at bringing luck, as we used to say, but rather used as defence mechanisms to protect us from imaginary evils.
A friend of mine told me a couple of days ago that as a child, she used to count the holes in sewer grates; most of them had five and every now and then, she found the odd one with four, which was supposed to have some mysterious meaning.
“Did you sleep alone when you were little? Did you go the bathroom at night?” asked Cristi, my current therapist. “What about the classic with the black cat, what did you do when a black cat crossed your path?”
These meaningless rituals are usually the elements of magic in OCD; those suffering from anxiety believe there is some sort of supernatural connection between various habits and life situations. Take me for instance: whenever I leave any apartment, I cross the threshold with my right foot first, for good luck.
Original Romanian version: casajurnalistului.ro/boala-indoielii
Mihnea Mihalache-Fiastru is licensed in Psychology, essay and fiction writer, author and contributor since 2001 for Hustler, Vice and many other publications and websites