Obsession


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.

Not good.

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!

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9 thoughts on “Obsession

  1. Great blog, Briar, and great that you put it to writing here. Also, interesting to learn more about your life’s experiences. Oh yes, I can relate to this…the mid ’90’s were a turning point for me. Massive changes. It took a long time to finally begin to cope with it all. It was a descent that I had to climb hard to get out of. But I think it has made me stronger. There have been ups and downs since, C’est la vie ! And there continue to be but I just feel stronger, physically and mentally.

    I like your concept of a mental walkabout and I am more than happy to join you.

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  2. I wonder if the 90s might also have been a time for the infamous and trite mid-life crisis for both of us. When it rains it pours, as they say. When there are massive life changes, we do tend to go through our own personal crises near that same time. Coincidence? Or cause and effect? Who am I to say?

    Following my period of massive changes, I became a true believer in the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you strong”. Through it all, I gained in confidence and surprised myself just how strong I managed to be. Since then, I know, no matter how challenging a situation is, I can find a way to do what needs doing. It is a nice sort of confidence to have.

    I’m honored to have your company on our mental walkabout!

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  3. I did go through the infamous and trite mid-life crisis, the so-called “male menopause”, lol, had to confront a huge health challenge and change in socioeconomic status, a “divorce” all at the same time. I retreated into denial, drugs, delusion and disillusion for long while. I emerged back out eventually. And have dipped back in although briefly here and there. But happy to report have been in a stronger steadier state for the last 5 years or so. Still a lot of room for “improvement” as G likes to point out. It is definitely a work in progress.

    I think we do go through similar crises collectively sometimes. Either generation-ally or culturally. I am also an avid follower of astrological influences on the personal and societal level. Not strictly a agnostic/science person. I have a lot of respect for science but acknowledge “Spirit” and/or the mystery of it.

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    1. I am beginning to wonder whether these crises are generational, cultural, or maybe even both. A lot of people I know had a tough time of it in the 90s. Then again, most people I know are similar in age to me.

      The early 90s was a time when corporations switched from hiring personnel to using human resources, the internet became accessible to all, out-sourcing became common practice. Therre were a lot of big societal changes in the 90s. Then again, we Boomers hit middle age.

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      1. I think it is a combination of both. There were a lot of structural changes in the economy starting to take hold that were initiated in the previous decade. Globalization and out-sourcing took off. That was a big societal change for the “middle class” in the US and elsewhere. And yes, hitting middle age. Oy.

        The internet was a huge change, I think. But a good one overall. The rise of high tech was overall a good thing also, I think. If you were lucky to be in the right place at the right time and/or had the brains for it it was a boom for the most part and still is. Unfortunately, the prosperity was uneven and continues to be. Consolidation of wealth and corporate power changed the country from more of a democracy to more of an oligarchy. Not a good thing, imo. The results of this are playing out into the present moment.

        I think there are (r)evolutionary changes coming in the next decade. The continued degradation of the environment is one that is going to be a huge challenge. Political governance and economic upheavals ahead also. Stay alert and try to think in new ways. Be flexible. And keep your seat belt fastened for the potholes and bumps! lol

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  4. Super blog! I wish I had an obsession, then maybe I can complete tasks, LOL! I tend to me more scattered and do my best designs and such when I am pressed to do so. Mr. P is the opposite, it gets things done right now, no procrastination on his part!

    I too had massive changes in my life in the ’90’s! As my husband, father of my two kids died suddenly while helping our youngest (15 years old) with his math homework. Since it was to painful to look back I just looked forward, with my sons help. Bad financial times followed, but I was working and then started up my landscape design business, which really helped, both financially and mentally. And all along I had a friend who was just a friend who suddenly became more then a friend, LOL, Mr. P!

    Life is to live not be dragged down by bumps or huge potholes in the road, LOL!

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    1. What a shocker to you and your sons! But you survived and grew stronger in the process. I have to think you left the 90s a lot stronger than you began that decade. It also seems that you and Mr. P are living proof in support of the theory that there are no coincidences. You two were meant to happen. How can I not think that?

      Bumps and potholes? Nice analogy. Gotta be careful going over them, so you don’t damage the undercarriage, but then you can get back up to speed.

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  5. Obsessions? I have them, I love them, I walk away from them, then pick another to replace them! It is a beautiful way for me to learn about something that once was a passing glimpse but at some point ‘it’ grabs me and forces me to throw all of my physical and emotional time into it.
    For example, painting has been an interest of mine since I was a child, graduating from the usual blobs to cute stick figures, to more realistic animal figures and flowers. By the time that I retired in the mid 1990s, I had learned to paint in oils, Chinese Watercolors, Japanese oils and papers and anything that required a painting brush.

    Retirement gave me the incentive to move away from oils and to learn how to paint with watercolors (the technique is very different from the Fine Line Chinese watercolors I had been painting). I started attending classes with two different teachers, then added a third night class with the county adult education program. That wasn’t enough, so I signed up and attended every art workshop available in my area, then in nearby areas. I did this for about 15 years during which time I had ‘studied’ with many nationally known watercolor artists.

    Well, workshops were great but I leaned to enjoy even better the buying art books, and more art books. Traveling overseas was quite a chore for my husband as I came back with tons of art books whose weight was problematic due to airplanes requirements! I have accumulated a substantial art gallery of how to books (as well DVDs and CDs). My local art teachers could always count on me to have a book they needed for their classes but were not part of their collections.

    I seldom paint today and my art books are gathering dust. Why you might ask? Well about eight years ago I found a new passion, genealogy. But that’s another story about my obsessive behavior!

    I just realized that I never thought of my ‘interests’ as obsessions but as passions! I am not afraid of my evolving passions (obsessions), each opens up learning doors for me. And for me that’s what the world is all about ‘learning’! We learn through our actions, behaviors, passions. And as free willed human beings we can choose to move on when and if we choose to do so.

    Just one more comment, I know that there exist negative, destructive, even evil kind of obsessions. But I do NOT think that this excellent post written by BriarCraft, deals with the totally undesirable variety of ‘obsessions’.

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  6. Maria, I think there is a rather blurred line between passion and obsession. I say blurred because the thought processes and behaviors and consequences can vary so widely from one person to the next.

    Your passion for painting stimulated your creativity and helped you to perfect your techniques. If anything, your passionate pursuit made you more alive and gave pleasure to those around you.

    The three examples of my own past obsessions were intended to illustrate that not all obsessions are undesirable. My first obsession did no harm and filled time that might otherwise have been spent in reading. It sparked my imagination and honed my writing skills. My second obsession did go overboard. It wore me out and served no useful purpose. Coupled with my writing obsession, my life became filled with so much busy-ness that it negatively affected most aspects of my life. My third obsession gave my career a valuable boost, not only in my earning power, but in my self-esteem. In summary, my three examples were neutral, negative, and positive.

    Even though some of my past obsessions have been neutral or positive, they have all served to make me aware of my vulnerability toward becoming obsessed. Any time I find myself spending large amounts of thought or effort for three consecutive days, I make myself step back and think about what I have been doing. If that activity fails to be plus-sum (more than 50% positive), then I need to find something more positive to occupy my mind.

    Even though you seldom paint today and your art books are gathering dust, you still have them for inspiration and you still have to talent and skills to paint again, any time you want. That is not a waste — it is like money well-invested, there for you to draw upon whenever you want or need.

    Now the study and research involved in your genealogy pursuit is feeding your thirst to learn, exercising your mind, and I have to think that the knowledge you gain is finding its way into written records that will be enjoyed by your descendents for many years to come. In the process, you are probably also learning a lot of history, as well. That can’t be an undesirable thing, can it?

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