Saturday, June 11, 2005

You make the sound of laughter and sharpened nails seem softer...

...and I need you now somehow...

I just watched "The Aviator" with Adam. It was a damn good film, even though the first part of it dragged on a little. Yet, I was impressed with Howard Hughes' determination and willingness to take risks to follow his visions and go for his dreams.

For some strange reason, Hughes' obsessive handwashing and cleanliness did not ring an alarm with me immediately (FYI, I didn't really know anything about him before I watched the film, so I was kinda unprepared). But through the second part of the film, which focused on his mental deterioration, I was actually shocked... at how well they produced the whole OCD experience, the need to follow the rituals in an exact way or else one would have to start over again, and the increasing anguish with each failure that makes one feel like one's brain is about to explode with anxiety. I didn't need to read about Hughes to realise what was going on.

OCD is a crippling condition, bad in some, worse in others, and it shows in all kinds of different ways. You have a love-hate relationship with it. It makes you feel protected, but it wears you out as well. It alleviates anxiety, but if you get it wrong, it increases it. OCD is like that perfectionist lover that does everything for you as long as you play by its rules, but it turns into your worst enemy if you fail it even for a second, and it takes soul sacrifice to calm the enraged beast it becomes. You want to do everything you can to overcome the obsessive thoughts, the overwhelming compulsive urges, but what have you got once you are rid of them? One of the reason why OCD is so difficult to overcome (and in fact, can never be healed completely) is because it is so similar to the phenomenon long-term prisoners experience: after being so used to the strict regulations and obedience, they find it impossible to return to the outside world. I read that it even happened to some concentration camp survivors.
Losing OCD is being freed from being imprisoned... but in a way, it is also terrifying, because you've got nothing else to hold on to. It's a coping mechanism which hardwires itself into your brain and becomes part of your being... you're safe as a train on the tracks, but stuck as well, and you don't know how to steer yourself on your own, once you become derailed.

Anyways, there is a mad little thought: I have wondered about it before, and the film triggered the same question again: whether having OCD actually has advantages. I wonder if Hughes had been the success he was if he hadn't had OCD. I mean, how much do we know about what drove him? Was his vision induced by genius, or by a mental illness, and is there necessarily a difference? If his obsessiveness had not been there, would he have gone to the lengths needed to pull his projects through?

I wondered about it because in my first year of uni I did really really well, and partly that was based on an obsessive fear of failure. I worked so hard it wasn't funny. I was worried to death over my assignments and exams, and I was meticulous about them. It sure as hell wasn't pleasant to feel this amount of anxiety all the time, and it never really ceased for much when the work paid off in a good mark. But it got the job done, to be really cynical.

But after the first term of the second year, I started Prozac, and while it has somewhat relieved the anxiety (at least for some time, and never enough for my taste), it also affected my work discipline. It was easier for me to take things easy and not fret... and consequently I didn't work as hard.
It is a bit depressing to think that my determination, will power and thoroughness may merely be the symptoms of a mental illness and not positive character traits. But how would I know? There has always been the debate about whether psychotropic drugs merely relieve mental illnesses or whether they alter personalities and are therefore to be condemned. But how can you differentiate illness and personality, especially if you've had that illness for most of your life?

So I wonder... OCD can provide the determination needed for success, but the price to pay is high. It is like selling your soul to the devil out of fear, and that ruins the flavour of victory bad-ass. You just can't enjoy the fruit of your labour, because your goal was never the success, but completing the ritual, and getting rid of the awful sense of fear. Success then becomes a rare positive side effect to an otherwise debiliating madness.

I guess the difference lies in whether the obsessiveness is constructive or destructive. And often it is actually both. Kinda like an addiction, like using mind-expanding drugs that give you an unprecedented clarity of mind, but at the same time destroy and enslave you. OCD is in nature similar to addiction. And in the long run it's not good to place productiveness and success higher than mental well-being. I guess in the end it is all about balance... but then again, what's the point if you've got no control over it?

Apart from all that - back to "The Aviator"- I have to say, I have this love-hate "relationship" with Leonardo DiCaprio... on the one hand, this whole hype about his status of being a heart throb gets on my nerves immensely and I almost feel embarrassed to say when I like a film that happens to have him in it. But damn, he is a good actor! I mean, Romeo & Juliet blew me away, and his acting in "The Aviator" is outstanding. But me, a Leo worshipper? NEVER!

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