Radical Sabbatical

From stifling ruts to a life without boundaries

A Mistake in Identity: When They Saw OCD

Whether or not you need help with your demons, there's power on the other side.

By Glen Tibaldeo

The cruise control is set on US-1, possibly the east coast’s busiest commercial thoroughfare--a traffic light popping up every four blocks. I flip through the radio presets in order. Meanwhile, what will I have for dinner, and what about Laura having to eat according to my latest dietary fad? Is it only fruit before noon now? Absolutely no carbs? Only smoothies before dinnertime? Only salads for dinner?

Why do I live like this? Let’s start with the borderline need to see every movie with over a three-star rating in The Miami Herald as a teenager, which was enjoyable, for the most part. But next thing I know, for example:

  • I have to quit smoking in my 20s after escalating to 3 packs a day.
  • My Greek college roommate tells me I drink more than any American he has ever met, and he was a walking cistern of Jack Daniels.
  • I freakishly worked out to the point of ruining both shoulders, a lumbar disc, a hip, and an ankle.

I was and to a lesser degree still am an extremist. A fanatical gremlin was my bully. Everything was on or off, good or bad, or thrilling or sad. I needed a way to deal with it. I created a life largely guided by self-created systems--guardrails, if you will. Right now, you might be thinking one of my systems is to use “--” every other sentence. It’s not. Friends and family began joking about my having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD.) I became insecure that they might be right. I know now that they weren’t and that it’s no joke at all, given the havoc it wreaks on 4 million Americans every day. If I had OCD, I’d be controlled by the need to check things repeatedly, have certain thoughts, or perform routines and rituals over and over.

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So I began to shove harmful things to the side of the road and manufactured guardrails to keep me from revisiting them again. Of course, change is a journey, and we stumble. In Radical Sabbatical I joke that I had Obsessive Car Disorder, a self-imposed need to keep two trucks over 15 years old running flawlessly in the remote jungle of a developing country, a practical and financial impossibility. The extremist will always be there. I’m still not perfect.

But don’t feel sorry for me. Heraticlus said that which opposes produces a benefit. As I wrinkle and wisen, I have found a wise teacher in my extremism. Do people joke that you might be OCD? Incidentally, if you really were, they probably would stop joking at some point. What’s more, have you struggled with addictive and on/off extremes and survived them? If so, talents may be blooming inside you to help you cope, such as:

  • Productivity and Routine - Left to my own devices I am more susceptible to extremist behavior. I drown out my thoughts by keeping busy, and I can get a frightening amount of work done in a short period. Becoming a rule master, I, in turn, have become a wizard at routine. Laura and I are published authors, health nuts, media figures, animal lovers, and busy corporate consultants. It’s thrilling, but there are always a gajillion balls in the air. This suits my extremism just fine because I am more comfortable hopping from task to task. I bust my hump on weekdays by segregating timeslots for authoring, consulting, cooking, working out, walking the dog, working on social media, and answering e-mail. On the weekends, it gets completely turned off, and we go into 100% relaxation mode.
  • Sociability - As I clawed out of a world of impulses and addictions--chemical and psychological--I began to realize that people were the perfect distraction. I grew up a loner, but in the words of Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” . . . Except for when Italy loses in the first stage of the World Cup. But coping with the personal poison of being a loner has taught me the importance of friendships and given me the desire and ability to have a conversation with virtually anyone.
  • Versatility - By hopping from task to task and having all-or-nothing tendencies and with having trouble with the danger of being alone with my own thoughts, I often am told I know a lot of stuff about a lot of things. With the type of information to which we are exposed every day, I sometimes worry about the implications, but the fact is that my clients can give me almost any challenge, and I’ll figure it out. On the flip side, it’s important for me to spend 30 minutes every day in meditation to form a better relationship with my thoughts, which jives well with my routine.

In an era when everyone is being branded with some category of mental illness, it is very easy to succumb to a label and sometimes needlessly roll over. This is not to say these labels aren’t valid for those to whom they truly apply, and I am not discouraging professional help. Get it by all means. The important thing is that you meet your struggles with a modicum of excitement for the person you will be when you conquer them, for you will be so much the better for it.

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Bestseller Radical Sabbatical, by Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo is available on AmazonkoboBarnes and Noble, and at other major bookstores. 

Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo are the authors of Radical Sabbatical, helping overworked professionals build the tenacity required to make permanent life changes.

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