I wrote a couple of days ago about my bad habit, part of my personality, that requires me to push too hard, to be too driven, at whatever it is that I do. I’ve always been this way, and I know that to be true. Always “One more time”, or “just a little higher” or “a little faster”, or “just get one more thing done”, or “just one more mile.” Its always been there. And it is, in part, what made me as successful as I was. I mean, I went from being a kid from a little town in Arkansas (side story: my son asked the other night “Dad, did you have McDonalds when you were little?” Daughter: “Duh, McDonalds has been around forever!” Dad: “Yeah, guys, but we didn’t have one in MY hometown until I was about 12, and it was a big deal when we got one.”) to being one of the top two attorneys in-house for a large national corporation in Denver, living large, making a strong 6 figures, wearing tailored suits and the whole bit. I owe that to this personality trait. I also owe a large part of my current status to the same trait. I guess you take the bad with the good?
It seems, when I was younger, I could drive myself, create all of this stress for myself, and just deal with it. I loved life in the pressure cooker. I used to get up at 5:00 to be at the gym by 5:45 for an hour treadmill run and enough time to go to Einstein Bagels and grab breakfast and coffee and be in my office by 7:30 for a 10 hour day. Its how I lived, and I lived for it.
That same drive, that same need to press things all the time, now is a problem. As I look at this whole issue, I have identified what I think is a nice, smooth continuum. It begins with (a) Interest in something, then (b) Enthusiasm, (c) Obsessive-Compulsive Interest (I am calmed by doing the activity or thing of interest, but can’t stop thinking about it when I’m not doing it), and then to (d) Manic (I can’t keep from doing the thing of interest, and I take it way too far and cause problems in other areas of my life, before ultimately dropping the interest altogether and moving to something else.) And the difficult part is, I can’t see the separation between stages of this continuum. What begins innocently enough as a little hobby becomes this manic frenzy which is controlling my life, but it doesn’t look that way to me at the time. I usually can’t figure out why everyone is on my back about my “interest” in something. I only see the reality of the situation when I look back on things and have the “Ohmigod!” epiphany (and usually feel embarrassed that I acted the way I did.)
A lot of the activities and things of interest I’m thinking of are things that I usually do while I’m watching TV at night with my family. More of that need to be busy and productive all the time. Its painful for me to just sit there and do nothing, so I find somewhat passive activities. An example is my collecting of the “state” quarters. Started innocently. I bought this cool folding rigid cardboard map of the US with a little spot for each quarter, and I planned to fill it with uncirculated quarters as they came out. I knew it would take several years to get it filed, because they were coming out 5 or 6 a year. Then, I had to have a quarter from each mint from each state. Ok, still not over the top, maybe. Then, I needed a roll of each quarter, but I dropped the “uncirculated” requirement (too hard?). Then, of course, I needed a roll of each quarter from each mint. Then (and this is while I owned my coffee business, which is another mania altogether), I had access to this great flow of quarters because of the cash exchange at the business. So, soon, it became a manic collection of all quarters. I kept them all and rolled them, and kept the rolls. I had a little more than $1500 in rolled quarters in a cabinet in the study of my house.
Soon, the quarter crazy wore off, as all manic phases seem to do. Next, I became convinced that our economy was growing so aggressively that, soon, pennies would no longer be minted, which would make then a collectors item (because, you know, there are only 100 billion pennies in circulation!). So, I started collecting pennies. Soon, I was separating my pennies by year, and rolling them in full rolls based on mint year. Then, of course, I progressed to mint year AND by mint. I still have the pennies I collected (which, in itself, is a bit disturbing.) There are, no kidding, 260 rolls of pennies in the same cabinet in which I kept the quarters.
The penny craze didn’t really fade, it grew into a “coin” craze. I reached a point where I refused to recirculate, to spend, any coins. I paid for things with bills only, and emptied all of the coins from my pockets at the end of the day into a jar. Once in a while, the jar got rolled, and I kept all of the rolls. I had thousands of dollars in rolled coins stashed away. Looking back on the whole thing now, I can see how the “hobby” moved from hobby to obsessive to manic, but at the time, it all just seemed like good fun and a worthwhile, albeit quirky, hobby.
There was also, while I owned my coffee business, a time, after I first recognized that things were going astray in my head, that I decided to learn to knit. Next to my shop was a knitting shop. I had the owner teach me. What began as something fun to do became the only thing I WOULD do. I did it while at the coffee shop, while at home, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, and I even remember going to Las Vegas for a marathon and making my wife drive most of the way so I could knit. Keep in mind that I’m just short of 6’2” tall and weighed, then, about 225. Not your typical hard-core knitter! Over the course of 6 or 8 months, I knitted 6 pairs of socks and “slippers” (my son still wears his, despite them being too small and full of holes), a 7 foot long Harry Potter style red and yellow scarf, and a XXL sweater for myself (I was actually pretty good, but that’s beside the point and related to my “perfectionist” aspects.) Then, as quickly as it arrived, it was over. I see my knitting bag every once in a while and think “I wonder if I’ll ever do that again?” I’m sure I don’t even remember how.
There was a jigsaw puzzle phase, a teaching myself Spanish phase (my mortgage branch manager said, one day “We need a loan officer that speaks Spanish.”), a scuba phase (I know I will dive again, and probably soon, but it became obsessive, if not manic, last summer, increasing my certification through the “Rescue Diver” level), a learning guitar phase, study of the Tao philosophy and use of Tao stones, meditation, tie dye (big time manic), and too many others to name (or remember.) The coffee business began with a passive and analytical approach to writing a business plan, just to see if I could find financing and progressed to a manic drive to get construction finished. This drive to finish construction led to my first real anxiety break, and was the first time I sought help.
My thoughts on “over-drive” earlier this week sparked memories of all of these little manic runs. I look back on them and laugh, but at the same time, inside somewhere, they are so painful. Painful because I know, as easily as they happened last time, they could happen again and I wouldn’t know it was happening. When I’m depressed, I usually recognize my mood for what it is. When I’m manic, I have no clue. And then there is the difficulty of knowing where the line is, where something crosses from hobby to OCD to manic. It’s such a blurry line that I can’t see the separation until its way too late. In addition to those interests which obviously (now) went too far, there are other collections and hobbies and interests that became part of my life, became important to me, but may or may not have risen to an unacceptable level. Examples include a shot glass collection with hundreds of glasses included, race numbers from running and triathlon races (I have saved every number “bib” I’ve ever worn), completion of video game series (i.e. I have played and finished all of the “Jak and Daxter”, “Ratchet & Clank”, and several other game which include multiple games in the series), and collection of complete movie and TV series sets (I have all of the Star Wars DVDs and all of the South Park seasons.) The same occurs with physical pursuits. Endurance running and swimming began as a way to lose weight and achieve some “me” time, and became, over a lengthy period of time, very rigid, mandatory training regimens which caused great stress and anxiety if interrupted. 6 marathons, a dozen or more half-marathons, 2 half iron man triathlons, and endurance swims of 14 and 20 miles respectively resulted, but resulted from activities which might not have been the product of a healthy mind (some would argue that causing that sort of pain upon one’s self is never the product of a healthy mind. Hehe.)
I thought that this gate to mania had only been opened as my illness began to manifest, 6 or 7 years ago. I thought that, until that time, I was able to maintain control of things and know when enough was enough. Starting in 1996 and continuing into 1997, I wrote a serial killer crime novel entitled “Trail of Madness.” It is about 400 pages in length and, according to all that have read it, pretty good. Never published simply because I ran into a point in my life when I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue that end. But, I read and edited, and read and edited that damned thing a dozen times if I did it one time. I couldn’t call it “good enough.” Looking back now, no question that it was an OCD pursuit if not manic.
Again, being “better” allows recognition of many things resulting from the days when my illness was much worse. That recognition, in many cases, causes more work in healing, getting past and understanding my behavior of the past.
Thanks for reading and for your comments. When I began writing this blog, it was intended as merely a way to keep friends and family informed, and to document times which I knew I might not remember very well. It has become much more.