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My path toward uncertainty

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MAY 15, 2019

Content warning: Mental health

I’ve never written about obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, through The Daily Californian before, and I admit that doing it now is a little scary. It’s remained unexplored territory for me because I’m not sure if I have anything useful to say about it, aside from the obvious “find a therapist” spiel — which, if you live in Berkeley, well, good luck to you.

Besides, OCD is not a condition that I can romanticize as a source of empowerment, and the last thing that I want is anyone’s pity, which is why I’ve only told a handful of people about it. That said, it’s hard for me not to reflect on my time at the Daily Cal and my upcoming graduation without also thinking of the condition that has defined a great deal of my college experience.

While OCD expresses itself differently from person to person, the condition’s underlying theme is uncertainty. Am I sure that I read that email completely correctly? Did I actually lock the door to my apartment? What if I subconsciously plagiarized someone in an essay? That’s a very small sampling of the intrusive thoughts that my brain generates, most of which are predicated on hypotheticals that are literally perceived as life-or-death scenarios.

To ease the accompanying anxiety, I do checking rituals that are designed to achieve an imagined version of certainty, often through seeking reassurance on matters that I usually already have some degree of certitude about. Other common compulsions include counting through multiples of four — for instance, if I’ve counted to 24 before walking away from my apartment door, then I can be sure that it’s locked. Such compulsions temporarily ease anxiety, but only in the short term — ultimately exacerbating OCD’s predilection for achieving certainty.

This is where graduation comes in. I have a plan for what comes next — finish up my minor over the summer, poke around on LinkedIn and then, with luck, work somewhere while I apply to grad schools. But that’s all vaguely defined. Beyond commencement lies an opaque field of uncertainty — the very thing my brain tries to avoid at all costs.

Of course, fear of an unknowable future is categorically different from the fear of uncertainty that often accompanies OCD. But for me, graduation and OCD pose the same challenge: accepting that uncertainty.

Anyone familiar with OCD knows that embracing uncertainty is one of the central tenets of cognitive behavior therapy, which is generally accepted to be the most effective form of OCD treatment. But the trouble is that I’m not someone who is well-conditioned to be comfortable with uncertainty.

As an English major, I’ve been trained to pursue lines of thought beyond what most would deem a reasonable endpoint, to leave no stone — or rather, page — unturned. Then, there’s The Daily Californian. To my chagrin, fact-checking articles and adhering to the conventions of AP style was very similar to my own checking rituals. I’ve often found myself corroborating the same fact several times over or obsessively re-reading an article that I’d written to be absolutely certain that it was in pristine condition before sending it off to my editor. You might see this trait as an enviable one for a journalist, but I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like one.

Of course, the irony is that I’d have to file a correction every now and then and that a stray Oxford comma sometimes slipped through the cracks — much to the amusement of my editor. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, this isn’t to say that I’ve regretted joining the Daily Cal in any way. As you might imagine, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s easy to let OCD make things seem hopeless. If you can’t feel safe in your own thoughts, then what’s the point of anything? The answer, I found, is in the friends that I’ve made through the Daily Cal. When my brain is determined to fixate on intrusive thoughts, my friends have been there to show me that there’s life beyond my overwhelming mental traffic jam. If you’re any one of my friends reading this, know that you’ve probably offered me a lifeline — whether you knew it or not.

I realize that that’s an unfair burden to place on someone, which is another reason why I haven’t  discussed my OCD with many people. But nevertheless, from long talks on Marvel movies, trips to La Burrita, hanging out with me at Moffitt Library for hours on end to dozens of other moments — big and small — I am extremely grateful. They’ve meant more than you can imagine.

When all else seemed tenuous and precarious, the Daily Cal has been a constant for me over the last four years, and the friends I’ve met there have made confronting my fear of uncertainty much less daunting. My path toward uncertainty hasn’t been an easy one — nor will it be after graduation. But I’m fortunate that I won’t have to walk it alone.

Harrison Tunggal joined The Daily Californian in fall 2016 as an arts writer before becoming the film beat reporter in spring and summer 2017, arts editor in spring 2018 and comic book beat reporter in fall 2018 and spring 2019. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in creative writing and journalism.

MAY 15, 2019