I am writing a blog about obsessions. I make a note about what I want to put in it. I realise that I did that the day before as well. Where is that piece of paper? I can’t find it. That causes alarm. Without it the blog will be incomplete. If the blog is incomplete then all writing about obsession is incomplete.
What I thought yesterday had to be cool and important. But what was it? Where is that paper anyway? Wasn’t there something else written on it? I try to ignore it but I can’t. It keeps gnawing at me. I apply every learned trick in the book but it simply does not go away.
Don’t think about it
I desperately try to remember what I thought yesterday. Meanwhile my children, who are going to bed, interrupt me, want to say goodnight and come back a few times. They keep distracting me from my feverish efforts to remember. It is an effort not to snap at them. When I am disturbed for the fourth time I say – just short of being nasty – “just leave me alone for a while. I have to think.”
My oldest daughter of 13 knows a bit about what is going on and says enthusiastically: “you should not think anymore about it, papa!” “You are right,” I reply trying to convince myself with good reasons.
Giving in does not help. Each time you tolerate an obsession it makes you stronger. Although it feels essential, it is not important.
In the meantime another thought: did I perhaps forget to take my pills? Before I can check that, I think: what did I think of during dinner? There was something that I had forgotten but then I remembered it again.
I have to be careful now, because I am focussed solely on trying to achieve overview and order, which leads to more and more. I cannot stand to forget what I have forgotten.
“I am stuck somewhere,” I say to my wife, “I just have to de-stress.” I go to the other room, lie down on the couch, put my fingers in my ears and think. First and foremost a list:
- What did I think of yesterday?
- Where is the piece of paper?
- What did I figure out during dinner?
- Did I take my pills?
All right so that is four. Then I realise that the day before yesterday I also lay on the couch for a while to de-stress. Then there were three. Which three were they again? Shit! Now there are five and the fifth consists of three. Now I really do have to stop and tick some off, otherwise I will lose the plot. Just relax and think. What were those five points?
- Did I take my pills?
- What did I figure out at the dinner table today?
- Where is the piece of paper?
- What three things were there the day before yesterday?
- …? There was another one!
Oh no! Now I have another one:
- What was the fifth”?
Quickly grab a piece of paper and write down which ones there are. Fortunately I remember the fifth (“What did I think yesterday”) and with that the sixth is gone. Pills can be deleted; I had those. The three questions from the day before yesterday? Let me think: I had to lock the car, had to make a phone call and the third was…? Let it go! That’s what I figured out yesterday. Don’t think about it anymore. Flush it through. Breathe it out. That works. So this one can go.
I also cross out ‘today at the dinner table’ because I had worked that out there and then. That tidies it all up. Only two left. Well, let’s delete the one about yesterday as well, even though I have not remembered it. Forget about it; give your head a shake.
Only the whereabouts of the piece of paper is left now. Where is it and were there more things written on it? I tell myself that I am sure it was not important because if it were, I would not have just jotted it down on a little piece of paper. But a thought is nagging me: if you can lose an unimportant piece of paper then you can also lose an important one.
I go back to the study. “Did you succeed?” my wife asks. “Not really,” I reply. “Do you know where that piece of paper is that I had yesterday?” She doesn’t.
I go upstairs to my foster son. “Did you use a piece of paper next to the computer to make some notes?” He does not know, maybe.
“Think about it seriously. Where did you put it?”
“I believe I know”, he says, “in my school bag. I wrote down the URL of a cool web site.”
I jump for joy. The piece of paper is back!
“Fine. Where is your bag?” “At school.” Aaargh, don’t say that! “Why didn’t you bring it home?” “I forgot.” My stomach churns. Oh no! This will stay with me all night!
I know someone who has the key to the school. Shall I ring her and tell that my foster son accidentally put a paper in his bag that I absolutely need tomorrow? I have done those kinds of things before, but I now know that that’s going to far.
“Do you know whether there was something on the piece of paper?” He is sure there wasn’t. “You’re sure?” “Yes, daddy, promise.”
“OK. Good night.”
Go back downstairs. To the computer, I try to work. I don’t succeed; too painful. I explain the situation to my wife:
I ask: “Is it really not important?”
“Just leave it?”
“I suppose I shouldn’t ring for the key?”
I cannot avoid going through the waste paper basket next to my desk, but the piece of paper is not there.
I try another point of view: it is not important that the paper is gone. If only I knew what was on it. I go to the other room again, fingers in my ears, my brain hurts. I cannot escape it.
I should give in and stop fighting the awful feeling that something is not complete, that there is a hole in my existence, no firm ground. Just accept it and at some stage it will go away.
I go back to the study and notice something under the desk. The piece of paper! What a relief! I have already written what is written on it so the piece of paper can be thrown out. All in all, the entire process has lasted 35 minutes…
When I sit down to continue writing, I think: a while ago I also found something that was lost. What was that again…?