Looking at Things

[Image of Eye]

Worried about looking at things?

For me, looking at things gives a sense of finality. With my obsessive-compulsive fear of staples, pins, and other sharp objects, there is a feeling that I can’t look at these objects while eating or swallowing, lest I somehow accidentally swallow one (?!?). This applies even if I’m looking at a book with staples that’s all the way across the room. But recently, I noticed this isn’t my only instance of ruminating about the act of looking at something. When I’m about to fall asleep, I feel like I have to look at something very blank and neutral like a wall. If the last thing I look at before I close my eyes is a person (no matter who that person is), I feel like I might not be able to stop thinking about that person. It’s similar with certain types of objects. But if I close my eyes looking at a blank wall, I can be relatively assured (for some strange reason) that my thoughts will not center on any one specific thing.

My explaining this doesn’t mean any of that logic actually connects to reality — I have a feeling if I did look at people or things like food before falling asleep, I probably would not get them “stuck” in my head as much as I fear I would. But for some reason, I get that feeling.

So sometimes, this appears to be a compulsion — looking at something bad (staples) and then “protecting” myself by looking at something “safe” (in the case of countering a staple, looking at pretty much anything that’s not sharp would help, but preferably something large, non-sharp, and not a choking hazard for small children). Other times, the obsession is actually that looking at something holds disproportionate importance. With the staples, it’s not so much about importance, but the idea that somehow I might accidentally come in contact with the object just from looking at it — nevermind that not making any real sense.

To Be Free

To be free, we have to want to escape our self-imposed limitations — and most of the time, that’s all they are. But it can be surprising sometimes how little we actually want to escape our self-made prisons. So when I’m really struggling with something, I ask myself: “Do I even want to get past this?” If I do, then I make a stronger effort in that direction. If I don’t, well, then I decide maybe it’s not so bad feeling the way I do after all, and if I’m going to stay that way I at least try and learn to enjoy it.

Then there are habits; things we don’t really enjoy, and might want to change, but they’re such a part of our every-day lives that we either overlook them or feel hopelessly bound to them. It takes one step at a time to defeat old habits, and you will lose battles before you win the war. Some habits seem almost impossible to break. If you can’t break the habit, you can at least be aware. You always have the power to acknowledge that a habit is a habit — that it is a bad habit — and sometimes even that small recognition is a huge improvement. Or maybe the habit isn’t so bad and you just feel shameful about it for some crazy reason, and in those cases the key is realizing the habit isn’t so bad after all.

So that’s my lesson for today: 1) Try to break bad habits. 2) If I can’t: ask myself, do I really want to break this habit after all? If not, accept and enjoy it for what it is. 3) If I want to break the habit but can’t, I’ll at least acknowledge that it’s a habit I should break, every single time I engage in it. My obsessions have a lot less power over me if I call them out for what they are.