For most of my life I've been haphazardly abandoning my own mind to disappear into one obsession or another. When I was 10 years old I became fixated on hamsters, proceeding to spend every waking moment of the next two months reading hamster forums where people discussed taking care of and feeding and breeding the squirmy little things. Then I got bored of hamsters and moved onto learning everything I could about exotic cats. Over the years, I've been obsessed with pretty much every much every category of thing you can imagine: people, food, places, projects, books. I don't choose my obsessions so much as stumble into their open arms.
Over the years I've become interested in the line between obsession and passion. I think they appear externally similar but are deeply distinct from each other. Obsession is repetitive; passion is generative. Obsession is a way to redirect desire, to avoid the intensity of your emotions by channeling them into something else; passion is a way for you to fully integrate what you feel. Obsession is often used as a mechanism for control: it‘s unsettling how many women have obsessive, disordered relationships with food, unsettling how common it is for someone to be obsessed with a romantic partner. We obsess as a way of mastering our desire: as Caroline Knapp writes in Appetite , “This was the infinite hunger for love and recognition, the hunger for sex and satisfaction and beauty, the hunger to be and known and fed, the hunger to take and take, and I had conquered it, mastered it, roped it like a steer."
I believe that I'm obsessive because I'm acutely sensitive. As a kid I cried all the time; I was incredibly shy and terrified of everything; I was bullied and often felt incredibly lonely and hurt. We view the “stakes” of adulthood as being higher than that of childhood—you have “real life” concerns as an adult, after all, bills to pay and people to take care of—but in my opinion childhood is more fraught and more intense in every important way. Childhood makes us: it's when we learn how to attach to people, and develop our deepest traumas; it's when we develop a formative view of the world that often shapes our expectations for the rest of our life. As a child, I felt like the world was incredibly painful for me just by default: it seemed like other kids could just shrug things off, but I couldn't shrug anything off: everything caused me too much pain and too much joy. I couldn't live with my sensitivity, and so I learned how to distract myself by hyper-focusing. I threw all of my mental energy into obsessions.