Obsession is a term that can cover a range of things from a harmless preoccupation to something that points to a serious psychiatric disorder. People can obsess about anything. I tend to notice mine when I have more energy. For example, when the aspect of my depression that saps my motivation lessens, I begin to seek out activity. As I do, I have a tendency to devote a large portion of my mental energy to a select few things. One of those things can be health. I’ll become hypersensitive about most things I put in my body. I want to be sure I’m getting enough of every necessary vitamin, mineral, and amino acid to support optimal functioning. I have to count my calories to make sure I’m operating at a slight deficit in order to lose fat. It can get to where I become annoyed when some people try to entice me with sweets.
At the same time I need to get enough grams of protein to minimize muscle wasting and maximize muscle growth, along with weightlifting. So, I spend a ton of time researching to find that perfect amount of protein and other macronutrients for my fitness goals. I even got a high tech scale that doesn’t just give my weight, but my total body fat, water, and muscle percentages as well. While in this obsessed mental state, I weigh myself every day. I make sure to wear the same amount of clothing and weigh at the same time each day—between 7:00am and 7:30am—to get as accurate a reading as possible. It is encouraging when the weight and fat numbers come down from the day before. When they go up, it is disappointing and I feel it necessary to redouble my efforts by eating a little less or working out a little harder. The ironic thing is that I’m putting all this concern into my physical health, but I’m not taking a full account of the potential harm of overdoing it.
The obsession can include the steps taken to avoid catching a disease. Now, there are common steps to avoid catching the cold or flu, like not hugging or shaking the hands of people you know have it and not drinking out of the same glass as them. However, excessive hand washing and hand sanitizer use every time you’ve touched something out in public or had a visitor to your home can become an obsession. The same goes for wanting to avoid contact with children without the protection of a respirator. This is what can happen to me to a mild-to-moderate extent. What brings me back from the brink a bit is remembering to pause and remind myself I’m not in control of all disease and if I want to take my current thought pattern to its logical conclusion I would have to live in a bubble. The obsessive thinking that governs this behavior of mine might also be responsible for my tendency to flirt with hypochondria at times. It’s at these times I tend to speculate a little more about illnesses I think I have as though I held a medical degree.
Focusing on optimizing my mental health can become part of the same obsession. I may seek out any technique I can add to my daily regimen that would be relatively easy to implement, provided it doesn’t violate my principles. Any impediment with the practice of these techniques can cause undue frustration. If I’m not seeing improvement fast enough for my liking, I will increase the frequency and intensity of these techniques. If after a little longer I don’t see enough improvement to meet my expectations, I’ll give it up and seek out the next thing to try. The problems that arise can be that I don’t check with someone with more knowledge than me about these things, first, and then I give up on them before knowing for certain whether or not they will work. However, after more than sixteen years of trying and failing to find a treatment that really works, you can understand why I might be just a little impatient.
I’ve been prescribed medications that treat obsessive thoughts and behaviors before, but found no relief from them. I’m not a mental health professional, so I can only speculate, but the only thing I can think of that I can implement on my own is to find a way to channel my excess mental energy into something positive. Much like many breeds of dog need to be given a job to do so they don’t develop destructive behaviors, I need the right job that will soak up the excess mental energy without completely sapping it. Writing, for me, does a great deal to help in that regard.