--This article is not in the usual style in which I normally write nor does it contain any of my usual analysis of current affairs or science. It is merely a personal account of my experiences with obsession which I felt like writing about.--
"You become what you think about all day long"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was about 9 or 10 I read a book about the great renaissance painter and sculptor Michelangelo in the school library, the forms of the sculptures pictured in the book astounded me. I was only young so i didn't know any artistic concepts or techniques so I was just emotionally captivated by them. This book and the general visual impression of things gradually guided me towards appreciating form. I also remember taking great care and focus in any lesson which consisted of drawing, this included drawing shapes and geometric figures in mathematics and science classes. I would come home from school, sit in my room and just draw the objects in my room. I would enjoy looking at objects at different angles and studying how light reflected from objects and how shadows are made. After every picture I would run downstairs to my parents and show them my drawings, I always asked for an honest critique and they always pointed out one improvement I could make. I would then run upstairs and think about what they have said and try (with many attempts) to make my drawings more realistic. I didn't really learn much from art class at school because they were learning extremely basic stuff, so I would literally keep trying different things with my pencil in order to make my drawings better. As I got older I still kept drawing but my subjects became more complicated... for example I attempted to copy the great works of Michelangelo, Picasso, Da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt etc. and I always felt this bond with the piece of art. Due to this continual need to keep improving my drawings, some isolation and this emotional bond i had with the pencil and the subject I ended up really becoming obsessed.
When I reached mature art classes in secondary school I knew my skills were far superior than my classmates but I never wanted to stop at my level, I always felt dissatisfied in myself and in my ability. When the teacher complimented my work I was very confused and slightly angry... I didn't see a good piece of work I only saw the faults. I loved the process but most of the time I was dissatisfied with the outcome. I was also obsessed to the point that if I had not drawn in a few days I felt like my ability was eroding away, I would worry that I wouldn't be able to draw again.. which is irrational... but i didn't know this at the time. The obsession really came to a sharp peak when I was sixteen... I was entering some artwork for a semi-professional art competition which was aimed at people who work as artists and have spent their whole lives doing it. So to me this was a great challenge and I needed a great picture. Before I knew about the competition I had fallen in love with the medium of charcoal, I loved how i could manipulate it on paper and the sensation of touching it with my hands... it was a very sensory medium and I enjoyed it. So I was getting pretty competent at using it. So I knew the artwork would be in charcoal... I looked all on the internet for portraits (as portraits were deemed my best) and I found a great portrait of Einstein, Frankenstein and an old woman pictured in the national geographic. When I was drawing these portraits I did so for at least 3 days straight, i remember the pains in my knees from the position I was in and my hands became temporarily black from charcoal. I found it hard to leave them for dinner and it seemed I was attached to them. The crazy thing is I can remember visually everything around me when I did these pictures and every step I took and even the music I was listening too..... drawing these pictures was such a vivid experience. I had to hand them in and I found it hard to let go, but I was excited at the prospect of seeing my work in a real gallery and in a real competition.
The wait for the awards evening was arduous, but when it came I was excited and went with my mother and grandmother to the gallery. We were greeted with champagne and nibbles etc. I looked around and wasn't impressed with the entries including mine but I was sure that I wouldn't win as I was the youngest there by 10 years. The first award went to a woman who I don't remember but I remember the name of the picture... it was 'rolling hills' and it was green and was an abstract piece. The second award was an award for artists under 25... there was a lot of university art students who entered pieces so i was sure not to win.... but I did. I won £100 pounds and I was on the front page of a newspaper with the other winner. It was at this time I realized I could draw well and my obsession after this was never as vivid, although still existent. Here was the entries that I won with:
As I changed schools to do my A-levels my obsession for Art stopped completely, I enjoyed it but I never felt the compulsive desire to do it everyday or continually do the same picture over and over again. I feel this is due to my change in what I wanted in life. I have always felt the desire to work in a field that was useful and conducive to society, art couldn't fulfill this criteria... as I came to understand that art doesn't generate useful truths about the world... when it comes down to it it really is just a form of entertainment. I remember that after this realization I went through a period of great sadness, but reflecting back on it it's because I didn't replace my obsession. I need to have something which I think about and do nearly everyday and something which I could keep getting better and better at.
I took physics A-level in the first year and loved it, I always loved science and was generally good at it but I really began to absorb physics that year. I read around the subject, the history of it... the great minds that pioneered it and how things could be explained using physics. I found out that everyone else was taking Mathematics A-level but I wasn't and I realized that my mathematics was quite naive and clumsy. I always thought mathematics was just useful and I never really did any or think about it outside of my old classes.
But as I wanted to become better at physics I had to really learn and absorb mathematics, so I bought many books on basic algebra, linear geometry and other books and began to teach myself mathematics. The experience of self teaching was completely different to when I learned it before, everything was much easier to understand... all the mathematics became related and it made logical sense. I began to really love learning mathematics on my own and using it in physics. I read a biography of Isaac Newton by James Gleick and realized how much mathematics meant to him and how obsessed he was with it, he seemed to find beauty and solace in mathematics but I couldn't understand why. As I am in my third year of physics now and have learnt many mathematics I can now understand why and it's a great sensation to see the world in a mathematical way and to do mathematics. I entered in Mathematics in the second year of my A-levels and I started to befriend some of my classmates, they knew I hadn't done much mathematics before and they ended up becoming confused when I used to talk about it all the time or ask them questions about it. They ended up telling me that I was just talking about it to fit in, but what they didn't know is that I was becoming obsessed by it and I still am.
During this time however, I started to become extremely isolated and I used to read a lot of books... looking back on it I can admit it was very weird but I literally changed my whole worldview and in a sense my person in about a year and a half. It was a very intense time for me as I had an interview for Cambridge, school duties and a lot of physics, maths and reading to do just to satisfy my mind. I ended up going through depression or some form of it, because I remember not feeling happy for some great time and feeling extremely paranoid about losing my ability and not being smart enough for my own satisfaction. I lost a lot of weight after I found out I didn't get into Cambridge and as my obsession with perfection really took over. My parents told me that I was extremely aggressive towards them and literally everyone that came across me. This was the lowest I have ever been in my life. I went to the GP who advised some anti-depressants and this really shocked me, I asked myself... 'How have you got to this position, How in darn names have you ended up in this room... what am I doing'. I refused the drugs and after that day I made a great effort to stop my irrational behaviors, it took a while obviously but I got better. I still was obsessed with physics, reading and mathematics but not as crazy as before and I started going to the gym which I thought would help me physically and mentally. It did, I got a lot better and I was glad I didn't stay depressed for a long time. I came across a book called 'language,truth and logic' by A.J Ayer which was about logical positivism, the philosophical view that metaphysical statements are meaningless. It was written so confidently, clearly and the logic was simple and sharp that it made an impression on how I thought. The God Delusion by Dawkins also refreshed and updated my thinking.
At the present I have intense periods of isolation where I really become absorbed in my obsessions, such as physics. I also have a new obsession about gaining muscle and not becoming skinny (which may have been caused by my thinness during my depressive state) and this had turned into some form of muscle dysmophia as I actually think I am skinny all the time even though i might be gaining weight and muscle. Last year this was extreme as I used to eat nearly every hour and I couldn't sleep sometimes if i didn't go to the gym that day. As I have been in Spain I had a month or so out of the gym and I feel completely dead, so my obsession has once again taken over me. However I will never let my perfectionism put me in a unhealthy situation... this is the control I have learnt since my last experience... I have become more resilient.
Most Psychologists deem perfectionism and obsession to be an illness of some sort, however I cannot live without being obsessed with something that will better me as a person either physically or mentally. All that I have accomplished albeit not much has been due to my obsessive nature. I don't think I could live without becoming deeply and dangerously absorbed in something.