Thursday, September 4, 2014

1st Grade Writing Obsession

It's funny the things you realize about yourself in retrospect. Looking back at my young self, as far back as I can remember, I realize that I was born with OCD. My memories and artifacts from my younger life cause light bulbs to continuously flash in my mind, signalling OCD red flags.

It's funny how I think back on the way I looked out the car window on a road trip. I couldn't stop counting the lines between car lanes until I fell asleep because I didn't know when to stop counting. Was 20 okay? 100? 157? I was always afraid that if I stopped counting, something horrendous would happen to my family while we were driving. Hello, OCD!

I was also afraid of eating the little black flecks in my food at eating. I was certain that eating those little black flecks would cause me to die a horrible death. Those flecks could only be there from the pesticides sprayed on my veggies in the 90's.; the news told my little OCD brain so. Later in life I realized that those little black flecks were pepper flakes meant to season those veggies so my ten-year-old self wouldn't need to be bribed to eat them.  

In graduate school I was asked to put together a literacy portfolio--a scrapbook of sorts that shows my development over the course of my life as a literate person. 

Upon gathering mementos to place in my portfolio, I found some very telling evidence that jogged my memory of a little 1st grade OCD me. Over the years I had kept various items from my time in school. I like remembering myself as a writer throughout my life. I always loved writing and kept a lot of my pieces throughout the years for sentimental reasons. 

Going through different artifacts, I found a copy of a 1st grade spelling test that I took so many years ago. On that list my handwriting was perfection. It's funny how certain things like music, smells, noises, a piece of paper, can trigger memories. 

Looking back at that paper and my perfect handwriting made me think of myself as a first grader with OCD. I remember painstakingly pushing down with enough force on my pencil to create the darkest line I could without breaking the lead. That took a lot of practice. I didn't like my pencil lines to be too light or too dark. They had to be somewhere in the middle--a form of grayish black. But only one that my trained eye could recognize.

I did also like them to be pretty dark, and they had to be uniformly dark throughout each stoke of the letter. The harder I pressed, the easier it was to apply pressure, so the more evenly my handwriting came out on paper. How I judged the right shade of darkness of my writing is beyond me at this stage in my life, but I'm sure I had some reasoning that made sense to my first grade self. The point is, OCD, in no way shape or form, ever makes sense.

If my writing didn't look just right to me at the time, I remember feeling this uncontrollable need to erase everything I just wrote and rewrite it from the beginning. If I erased too much--eraser lines were present, or heaven forbid I ripped the paper--I would need to completely start over on a new sheet. 

And that was me. The urge to write everything perfectly was uncontrollable, but I liked writing neatly because as a first grader, it was one thing I could control in my life.

I never realized this was a problem. I remember justifying this obsession in my mind the worry  that I didn't want my teachers or parents or friends to think that I was "sloppy" or "not good enough." All of that, to me, was related to my writing. Ridiculous, I know, but not to a 1st grader. Or a first grader with OCD. 

I don't remember my obsession with perfect handwriting lasting a long time, but I do remember it lasting a few years into my elementary schooling. I know my OCD adapted and changed as I aged and grew into new obsessions and compulsions. Looking back, I realized that OCD has been part of my biology. It's been with me my whole life, and it will continue to be.

Sometimes I wonder how most of my life, left to my own devices, I coped with OCD and anxiety, not knowing that I was different than the other kids. Today I am just happy that I know how to handle it. I am grateful that I am stronger because of it. 

Lots of love <3 Holly

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