Purpose

I spent the first 21 years and 9 months of my life trying to find my talent or a productive ability of some sorts. From graphic design to crafting, I found myself switching between smaller versions of activities my peers were exceptionally good at. But me? I’d never been the best at anything besides being a self-righteous little crap.

I remember the first piece of creative writing that I’d given to someone; I remember how easily the words tumbled down onto my keyboard and how much fun I had. It was a short piece, and a really bad one. It received a good reaction from the recipient, although I don’t think it was anything more than half-empty flattery.

For long after that, I didn’t write. It never particularly appealed to me, not when my friends were out there climbing up higher with their own work. What’s a bland hobby like writing compared to that? Anyone can string together a couple of words, right?

Writing is an art, and art is expression. That, friends, I was exceptionally bad at, always expressing too much or too little and overall just wrong. I think I still am a mess for no reason; no one’s ever forced me to grow so emotionally illiterate. I wouldn’t say I started to write to express things I otherwise couldn’t, but maybe it’s that creative energy that was building up and needed an outlet. I wanted something to be good at, something to work to improve; a fling to the future that I needed to compare my improvement to. I needed a craft, an art, as disrespectful as I’d been towards it. I pride myself in being a woman in STEM, and frankly, possibly because I am conceited and horrible, found other fields including the arts.. not as necessary.

But we crave it, don’t we? The luxury of art and beauty that comes after fulfilling all of your basic needs for survival. Maybe there is a truth that lies behind John Keating’s quote, “And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

(I’ve never seen that movie, just so you know. But I’ve grown to recognize the worth of the other half of the statement, although I’d only thoroughly believed in the first.)

I suppose my first naive conviction that my writing was good as soon as I started regularly practicing it was a blessing. But I don’t write for money, I don’t think I’ve even considered it until this very moment, and am not planning to. That’s not to undermine the efforts of people who do write for money, since my reason to write is a far more selfish thing. “Write for yourself,” some might say, but I’ve done enough for myself. There was a post on social media that said something along the lines of “when I’ve spent six hours baking a cake, I’d want people to eat it” to describe the creative process. I understand the importance of receiving an indication of people having spent time appreciating your work. I won’t write exclusively for myself, because I’ve done enough, watched shows and read books aimlessly, wallowed away in hobbies that produced nothing tangible (not directly, at least), or in ones whose products I was too embarrassed to share. It’s about time I put this out there for the world to see.

I write for attention. I write because I want people to read my work, to appreciate it; I write for feedback, to have people tell me that they relate, or that my writing’s put them on edge, or that it’s eased something in them, or dragged them through harder times. Maybe it’s a far-fetched hope of mine, but I really hope that one day, people will seek my writing to get their minds off of the harsher realities of their lives; maybe my writing is a little defiance, an insignificant effort to add a touch of beauty to this world.

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The world is ending, but I can save my family if I wash my hands another time 

I have been a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder for years. So far, the internet has done a  fairly good job explaining that OCD is a serious mental disorder, not a set of organized pencils nor a neat closet, so let us not get into that. In basic terms, a person with OCD suffers from reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) that lead to behaviors (compulsions) that are done and repeated in order to remove the obsessions or reduce their intensity. Both can take numerous forms, but this is my story.
It started at the beginning of 2011, during a rough time for my family. A wash or two of hands, obsessively setting things in place before doing anything that requires dedication and focus, and repeating every other thing a few times over didn’t sound like a massive problem. The fact that the other side of my family is subtly paranoid about seemingly meaningless things made it all somehow alright, expected, that a bit of me will be off, not quite right, but only insignificantly so.

Let me first mention that I am Muslim, and Islam is a religion that values cleanliness. Before performing prayer, a simple act of washing is to be performed. But what if that simple task became never-ending hysteria of water wasting? It is completely against Islamic virtue to waste, be it water or not. I’ve always been aware of that, but back then it did not seem like an obsession that I was doubting that water had reached every nanometer of my hands. It was only me noticing things, maybe a little to intricately. It is all right to be a bit wasteful, I thought. I deserved the punishment of being wasteful since I had noticed things no one else did.

A few months later, being physically restrained from sinks became a necessity. Long had passed before I made anything clear by asking for help. During that period, the disorder advanced into a complex series of washing and washing again, counting, avoiding spots on the ground that I stepped on unwashed, fighting the urge to wash once more and then submitting to it.  I was aware that it was irrational but still was ignorant, then, to the nature of the problem: that it is an illness.

But I still remember the exact moment that forced me to ask for help. The triggers, which are too dreadful that I am still unable to mention them, had started a few days before.

“I am tired.”

And I truly was, from something as simple as a two-minute act of ablution to take an hour five times a day, from never feeling stable, from spending hours upon hours putting things in place.

But my acting through the prior months was convincing, apparently, because the person who helped me had not even suspected that whatever was happening was happening.

During psychotherapy, it became clearer that I wasn’t cursed with a superhuman ability to notice. To me, it was liberating to know that something I’d struggled against while dismissing was a disorder; something that could be diagnosed and treated, something that happens to others as well.

Reading about the symptoms shocked me. I learned that the obsessions, excruciatingly violent and “taboo” thoughts had accompanied me (on-and-off) since I was young, perhaps six or seven years old, an entire ten years before the compulsions appeared. That the thoughts could not have been my responsibility, and that other people too frantically count on their cracking fingers to ignore the threats of their brains of divine punishment, paved the way to recovery. As for the religious aspect, I just kept in mind that religion is not meant to make life difficult and that divine punishment will not befall people for merely stepping on a particular, unclean tile.

Finally, the disorder still looms and lingers. I am now aware that my brain is playing tricks, as I occasionally was then. But now, I can defy all of my compulsions.

On a good day.