ob·ses·sion noun \äb-ˈse-shən, əb-\
• a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal
• someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently
• an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing
• a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling
I have a hunch that we all have experienced obsession at some time in our lives. Perhaps it was a first teenage crush. It might have been a sports team that just had to win the championship. Or a video game you couldn’t walk away from. You name it, someone has obsessed about it. In other words, obsession is a normal and natural experience. As with most things, though, moderation is key.
I don’t know if it is true for others, but for me, it sometimes doesn’t take much for an interest, concern, or worry to blossom into a full-blown obsession. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but often it is. Once obsessed, it can be very difficult to walk away.
Some personal examples:
- In 1974, I got inspired to write the great American science fiction novel. I carried a spiral notebook and pen with me everywhere I went. I wrote on my lunch breaks. I wrote when I should have been cleaning house. I wrote whenever my husband tuned the TV to ESPN. When I went to bed at night, my mind churned with technical aspects and dialogs and plot twists until I drifted off to sleep. In the morning, I could hardly wait to pour a cup of coffee and sit down to write for half an hour before it was time to leave for work.
- Also in the mid-70s, I became obsessed with gardening. I planted and tended a full acre of vegetables. I canned and froze enough produce to supply parents and grandparents and sold the rest at work. I even bought a Jersey milk cow and made butter. Between working full-time, continuing to work on my novel, and extreme gardening and preserving, I became exhausted. Finally, I realized I wasn’t Wonder Woman. I couldn’t do it all. Or if I did, I would turn into an old burned-out crone before my time. In 1978, I sold the cow, quit my job, and husband and I moved from Oregon to southern California. I needed a fresh start to break out of the obsessive mess I had gotten myself into.
- In 1986, I applied for a job as a bookkeeper with a start-up software company. I was hired instead as customer service manager. I had never touched a personal computer before and now I was going to be working with them every day. Obsession helped me to focus and concentrate and read and practice until, in just a few months I became proficient enough that I was soon doing quality assurance testing of program functions as well as calculations. In that case, obsession carried me through the required long hours and enabled me to learn what I wanted and needed to know. That obsession lasted until for a few years until a venture capital firm took the company public and the corporate culture changed drastically.
By the early 90s, with my dream job crumbling out from under my feet and my husband dying from a long illness, my life reached a turning point. I came to realize that it simply wasn’t good for me to be obsessed with anything. I couldn’t continue as I had. I bottomed out and then figured out how to pick myself up. And stay up, for the most part. Since then, for the past 20 years or so, when I feel some inkling of beginning obsession, I back off or turn away or find a distraction. When I find my thoughts churning, when I find myself spending too much time on any one thing, it’s time to do a mental reboot, before I get in too deep, go too far.
So why am I telling you all this? I could say it’s simply nice to confide in a friend. It is nice, I’ll admit, but that’s not my motivation. It could be altruism, that I want to tell another obsessive person that he or she is not alone and that obsession can be controlled or managed. The plain truth is my real reason for writing this essay is to stop myself from becoming obsessed with a triviality. The decision to put it in my blog? Why not?
So what is the triviality? It may sound stupid to you, but here it is:
For the past few years, I have been blogging and posting photos at a weather website. The bloggers at this site are a small, friendly community. I like several of these fellow bloggers and have become really close with a few. We have encouraged each other through bad times and good, and have come to know each other as if we were residents in a small village. Recently, that website has undergone some major design and programming changes. When something familiar is suddenly changed, a common first reaction is often negative, but with a little time one adjusts and life goes on.
In this case, however, our little blogging community lost several features that had helped to make it special. I wasn’t alone in protesting the loss of these features, but I confess my voice became one of the loudest. Then one day I realized I was experiencing some of the five phases of grief. I had passed through bargaining and depression and gotten stuck on anger. And that anger was showing signs of becoming obsessive as I spent more and more time pleading, arguing, and demanding design changes in the beta site blog and then posting enhancement suggestions and bug reports in the feedback forum.
So I cast a few parting shots. Then I closed down my blog at that weather website (temporarily, I hope). I have a couple of new books to read. The greenhouse is loaded with all sorts of flower and veggie starts waiting for the right time to be transplanted. I’m on a sort of mental walkabout now, dabbling in a little of this, a little of that. It felt a little awkward at first, but it’s starting to feel better now. Walkabout is good.
If, in the process of fixing myself, I have managed to help someone else in some small way, then this little essay has done double duty and I managed to create a win-win situation out of something that as a started negative. I love win-wins, don’t you? See, my natural optimism is starting to return! And I am beginning to think about something other than the little obsession that tried to grow big.
If you’d care to join me in my mental walkabout, come along, and welcome!