Do or Die

Part I: Pretty Much Everything in My Life Relates Back to OCD

In the summer of 2005 I decided to DO because the other option was to DIE. I had quit my teaching job a couple months before. I felt that if I did not, I would end up in a mental hospital. The school where I taught was so structured and the children so controlled, that my OCD had nowhere to thrive. In fact, my OCD had not yet been diagnosed; I just felt trapped. I would not have returned to the school for a second year anyway because I disagreed with the teaching methods: group work was discouraged, silence was golden, test scored reigned. However, I quit early because my head required it.

I had never quit anything before. For several weeks, I felt like a worthless failure. I questioned the validity of my life and asked whether I would be better off dead. I had asked myself that question once before, while an undergrad at MIT. Academics were so demanding, especially since my extracurricular life was as intense as my classes, that the idea of continuing to sleep 3 hours a night and scraping by for Bs defeated me. (Note: I acknowledge the privilege I had in even being able to complain about my academic life, but my reality was what it was, and more on this balance in a later post.)

Before reaching out to seek a diagnosis for OCD, which for seven years I suspected I had, I determined it was necessary for me to confront my feelings and make a crucial decision: Do I want to live or do I want to die? Dying was not an option: too many people loved me, and I did love life. I had too many opportunities and felt I would be ungrateful if I thought death was better than to pursue them and do some good in the world. So, I chose life. Then, having chosen life, the next question was evident: Do I choose to remain miserable or seek happiness? The answer seemed obvious: Why would I choose to be miserable? I would only hurt myself for my remaining 60 years on earth.

So, the complete final answer was: I choose life and to seek happiness.

I sought a diagnosis, which came back as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (at a level of 6 on a scale of 8) and mild Social Anxiety. For over a year I met with a therapist who helped me manage the OCD with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and my life transformed. With my worst symptoms under control through hours of practicing cognitive reappraisal, enduring anxiety exposures, and other effective techniques (and later with the added help of medication) I was happy for the first time in my life: I could relax enough to enjoy simple get-togethers and grand beach vacations without the sabotaging OCD symptoms.

A path to happiness has turned out to be a long-term goal with short-term accomplishments and set-backs.  Happiness requires work: the same work required to maintain strong relationships and accomplish Big Dreams. It requires constant re-commitment and re-adjustments. I re-commit to myself by engaging in constant learning and seeking help. I re-commit to others every time I lose faith (every day) and build it up again (every day). I re-adjust by observing how surroundings change and what people near me need or cease to need. I am a piece of root, or a branch, within Pando.

Part II: On a Frightful but Gratifying Roller Coaster Ride to Successful Entrepreneurship

The decision I made in 2005 to Live and seek Happiness has shaped every part of my life since. Because I chose to DO, I chose to follow my life passion that resulted in palesca.org.

Everything I have learned about successful entrepreneurship and relationships while starting PALESCA and improving my life also applies to building my path to happiness.

Because of the decision to DO and find Happiness, I …

* Only do things that bring joy, or, if they cause momentary discomfort, lead to joy

* Follow my dreams; I do not want to be in my death bed regretting what I did not do.

* Treasure the relationships in my life that are good and work to make them stronger

* Take care of my body by nourishing it with clean foods and joyful movement (because it’s what carries me and there’s no replacement)

* Travel, because I love to travel. It is the one activity outside of basic necessities where I will spend money and not feel guilty (I travel on tight budgets, but I travel!). Similarly, I do not spend money on things that bring me no long-term joy.

As the year comes to an end, I am proud that 2013 has been another 365 spent on my path to happiness building a nonprofit with a mission that reflects my values and passions; appreciating relationships and working to cherish them; and EXPERIENCING the present moment while learning from my past and planning for the future – clichéd but a hard-earned truth and brand new accomplishment for me (in part from practicing mindfulness, so thanks again yoga, meditation and OCD treatment!).

Again, I acknowledge my privilege in a) having the choice to Do or Die, and b) having access to resources that support my decision to seek life and happiness.  What’s left? always-present self-care and payments forward.

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