My friends all know I am obsessive.
My friends tease me about my obnoxious love for my birthplace in Southeast Texas, and the fact that the guy who played Jesus in a Easter play throughout my childhood wore an 80s mullet. I took a senior seminar called Novels about Novelists just so I could write an extensive paper on Dickens and metatextuality.
I hang out with Oncers (Once Upon a Time fandom), and my friend Michela recently introduced me to her obsession, Japanese vocaloids. Some of my friends are really into Skillet or Rebecca St. James.
I know intelligent people are often obsessive. It’s part of that link between creativity and insanity, and not entirely negative.
My friend Flynn told me one day, “You know how in movies sometimes smart but obsessed people have those walls, with pins and strings and words scribbled?” He jokes that he’ll visit me and find one like Peter Parker makes in The Amazing Spiderman series.
Last week, I read a quote on Facebook that resonated with me.
“Vincent Van Gogh used to eat yellow paint because he thought it would get the happiness inside him. Many people thought he was mad and stupid for doing so because the paint was toxic, never mind that it was obvious eating paint couldn’t possibly have any direct correction to one’s happiness, but I never saw that. If you were so unhappy that even the maddest ideas could possibly work, like painting the walls of your internal organs yellow, then you are going to do it. It’s really no different than falling in love or taking drugs. There is a greater risk of getting your heart broken or overdosing, but people still do it everyday because there was always that chance it could make things better. Everyone has their yellow paint.”
And I realized that my obsessions are my yellow paint.
Maybe obsessive people reach for the lights in our lives because we are also sensitive to the darkness, in ourselves and in the world.
Dealing with despair is like how Lupin describes fighting dementors using a patronus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
“A Patronus is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield, with the Dementor feeding on it, rather than him. In order for it to work, you need to think of a memory. Not just any memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory… Allow it to fill you up…lose yourself in it…then speak the incantation ‘Expecto Patronum.’”
The darkness closes in, and I cling to my favorite things and my heroes out of habit. It’s a coping mechanism, it’s my Patronus.
But how do I know I’m not addicted?
I’m a science major, I have an idea of how dopamine and serotonin work, how my happy things give me a chemical high.
I wrestle with depression, especially in winter when most days are dark and cold. Anxiety feeds it, and since my usual calming routine hasn’t been managing the stress adequately, I started seeing a counselor again.
And I’ve started holding my obsessions more loosely, teaching myself to enjoy each moment. It’s difficult, learning to not just live for the next bright spot.
Like any addict, I worried that it meant I would lose connection with the things I love. That I would lose my capacity for happiness. That’s not been the case. I’ve just felt more at peace, more engaged.
My happy things deserve to be more than just a way to survive the next day, the next week. They taught me how to be alive, but they aren’t a substitute for life itself.
I want to thrive, just not survive.