Why do I obsess about this?
April 28, 2009 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Obsessiveness Filter: I fixate on and plan obsessively about moving to new (specific) places, and I'd like to know why. Here's the situation: I have mild depression with anxiety and take medication for it which helps a lot. However, periodically I do something that I find odd and that I can't find specific references to in information about OCD, depression or anxiety. I pick a place that I might vaguely like to move to, and become obsessed with planning every detail about it.

More about me: I live in a NYC and have a good life here--good job, good husband, good dog, good apartment. We're planning on moving out of here at some point but we don't have a definite plan for where or when.

Every now and then, I come across some scenario in which it seems like life might be better/easier/more relaxed and (this is a big one for some reason) where we might own a house. This seems reasonable--but rather than thinking about it in a rational way I usually become completely obsessed with it (to the point where I can't sleep at night), assume it's DEFINITELY going to happen, and not brook any criticism of the idea. These are big, life-changing moves, not moves to another part of the city or the suburbs (although I do that too to some degree...as in the case of our near-move to the Bronx).

So here's my question: I'm sure this is a manifestation of some disorder I'm carrying around in my teeming brain...but what? And why do I choose places to live to obsess about? Finally, DOES ANYONE ELSE DO THIS? I hope I'm not the only one in the world...
posted by supercoollady to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I can relate. When I was looking for a job and my wife and I for a different place to live, I really got into finding out about other cities to the point of asking people about different neighborhoods, etc. Of course, the whole time it was pretty unlikely we were actually going to move to the place I was researching.

I suppose a part of it was wanting to feel like I was making "progress" in life and I enjoy learning about other cities. I can definitely see where my undiagnosed anxiety issues sort of fueled my preemptive moving plans though.

The way I see it, unless this is really interfering with your life, there are far worse ways to respond to anxiety. If you don't find this to be troubling (and your post implies that to a degree you do) I wouldn't worry too much about it. And no, you are not alone.
posted by elder18 at 8:29 AM on April 28, 2009

It's not a disorder, for goodness sakes, it's called daydreaming.

In the past couple of years, I have investigated and thought about living in Oslo, Paris, back home in Edinburgh, bits of the US and so on. Like you, I've got very excited about it, done loads of research and even got as far as posting AskMe's. None of them have happened yet, but they might in the future. These are daydreams, and they allow me to think abstractly about my future with my wife, where we might live and what we might get up to.

Now, if you are continuously asserting that you HAVE to move to these places with your SO and getting repeatedly upset at the thought of it not happening, that's a bit different, but I don't believe there's anything wrong with daydreaming and planning out options.

Incidentally, I've found taking actual trips to the places I've been thinking about is a good way of putting an idea 'to bed', either confirming for me that yes, this is definitely somewhere I'd consider living and I'm going to work towards it or, no, actually I don't like it enough here to want to live here.

Have a look at your own thought process - if you're repeatedly doing this to avoid things in your life in NYC, and somehow thinking a move will magically fix any problems in your life, then yes, this might conceivably be a manifestation of avoidant or obsessive behaviour.

However, if this is something you do often, but which you enjoy doing, then no, it's not a disorder. It's planning. Take trips and do it methodically, which will help you get over the brain-fart excitement of considering a new place to live and slipping into the 'but why can't we move there nowwwww' self-whining that I know I get into.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:42 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nope, not alone. Actually, I'm glad to know I'm not alone either -- I do EXACTLY the same thing. I too have anxiety and mild depression, which I handle with meds when I can afford the doctor who prescribes them.

I've kind of made it a hobby. I actually check real estate websites every day for a variety of cities and look at homes. I live in an apartment, so maybe there is something to what elder18 said about wanting to feel like I'm making progress. Actually buying on or moving across the country is out of the question, but I like to fantasize. I've tried really hard to categorize it to myself as a hobby or a fun way to spend my time instead of fixating on it as though it will happen.

I think that I, and maybe you, obsess about far and away places as a form of escapism from our everyday lives. When we're anxious about what's going on HERE, an easy way to avoid the unhappiness or anxiety it causes is to say to ourselves that this would never happen THERE and we start building a fantasy life instead of fixing what's in front of us. One thing I try to do is to think about what it is that I want THERE and try to make it happen HERE.

If it really complicates your life or results in too many false starts and almost-moves, then I'd say seek help from whoever you see about anxiety & depression. Otherwise, treat it like a fun thing you do for a little bit at a time for a distraction or whatever.
posted by motsque at 8:43 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

I've done this with vacations--planned out every possible destination, really obsessed about it, fell apart when it seemed we couldn't go. I think it's a combination of mild OCD and depression that makes an "escape" really appealing and keeps me researching to ridiculous lengths. Also, sometimes I feel like I haven't done or seen everything I wanted to at this point in life, and it comes out in these huge, "I'll just go away to some place entirely different!" moments.

Now, I'm well-traveled and I'm really much more content than when I was younger, and I got my workaholic husband to go to Hawaii and Europe, so it's actually had some positive impact on my life.

Like elder18 said, I don't think it's anything to worry about unless it continues to interfere with your life. For me, like I said, traveling over the years has (mostly) eliminated the urges, so if you don't move, consider going away for a weekend or something and channel your wanderlust into that trip.
posted by misha at 8:43 AM on April 28, 2009

I do this, but with travel. When I decide I want to go somewhere I become obsessed with reading everything I can about the place, reading reviews, planning where I am going to stay, etc. I study maps, plan sample itineraries, all of that. In the days leading up to the trip I'm usually unable to focus on anything else. However, I seem to get more pleasure out of planning the trip than I do actually going on the trip. I am not sure why I do it either, except that it becomes a bright spot in my life when things are particularly tough, and it gives me something to look forward to. Rather than thinking of it as a disorder, I think of it as plain escapism.
posted by cabingirl at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2009

I do this too, and I've had chronic anxiety issues my whole life. The thing is, I really *do* want to leave where I live (Los Angeles) - it's just that doing so would be entirely unrealistic.
posted by chez shoes at 8:49 AM on April 28, 2009

I think that it's quite possible you have the sorts of conditions you mention - I have OCPD and depression myself and I think everyone has some degree of multiple psychological "pathologies" - but could the specific reason you engage in the described behavior be fairly mundane? It sounds like "daydreaming" to me, and it seems probable to me that you simply like the idea of moving somewhere and setting up a new life independent of any actual need to do so.

You don't have to curb your thoughts simply because it would be impractical to carry out some or all of the plans you entertain. It's perfectly okay to daydream about this stuff exclusively because you like to think about it.

I do this with all sorts of things and in fact I'd say the habit is a reason why I'm good at my job, software engineering. Often I realize that some program or other computer-type invention I've been thinking about and obsessively planning the details of would not only not be very useful but would actually be aggravating and obnoxious and a waste of time were I to embark on the project to create whatever I'm thinking about... but gosh darn it it'd just be so cool if something like that existed.

But then I discover later on that some of the details I'd planned or the analysis I used to arrive at those imaginary details of an imaginary program are something I can actually apply to the work I get paid to do and it's all already well-thought-out and well-designed. And I often get other synergies with real life out of other things I daydream about. So I say, as long as you don't start driving your car off cliffs while in planning-to-move-to-Houston and planning-to-move-to-Montreal trances, give it free reign and be relaxed about it.
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 AM on April 28, 2009

My wife and I do this constantly. Never thought of it as a problem, but rather a fun diversion to everyday life, and may even prove useful if we ever do make a move.
posted by glenngulia at 9:02 AM on April 28, 2009

Every now and then, I come across some scenario in which it seems like life might be better/easier/more relaxed and (this is a big one for some reason) where we might own a house.

As a fellow NYC'er, I totally empathize with you about the house. I think it's really common for us New Yorkers, in our tiny cramped apartments with neighbors on top of us and no backyards, to fantasize about moving to a house. In fact, I think it's really common for New Yorkers to fantasize about moving elsewhere, period.

You use the words "obsess" and "assume," which are mind-related words. Do you take any concrete steps -- do research, look up houses, read about what it's like to live in those places? Maybe you if did some of those things, you would obsess less about it. And I agree with the advice above about travel -- that might satisfy some of these cravings you have.

But in the end, there's nothing wrong with a little escapism.
posted by Tin Man at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2009

Hello, me. I did the same thing. It's not daydreaming -- it's stressful, not enjoyable. I even made a big chart with possible places to move to down one side, and qualities I desired in a house across the top... am I admitting this in public?

Moving away from NYC didn't cure me, but buying a house did. Or rather, it stopped at the same time that I bought this house, but that also was when I got some help for depression and anxiety. I don't know which was the cure, come to think of it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:10 AM on April 28, 2009

I do this with travel, to a point that I find it hard to believe that some people don't research and plan their vacations. I mean, they just go and... have no plan? That I find weird.

You aren't alone.
posted by Houstonian at 9:12 AM on April 28, 2009

So here's my question: I'm sure this is a manifestation of some disorder I'm carrying around in my teeming brain...but what? And why do I choose places to live to obsess about? Finally, DOES ANYONE ELSE DO THIS? I hope I'm not the only one in the world...

Pretty sure that this is escapism. Don't worry, you're not the only one, I do it in almost exactly the same manner as what you do too.

Some people might escape by daydreaming, but for me, I do it by planning. I'd seek out all the basic facts and visa requirements about a specific country, read various expat forums to find out the pros and cons of living there, compare and contrast the differences in culture and lifestyle, consume various media (music, movies and *ahem* pr0n originating from that country), research the real estate, further education and job market and so on.

After a while, I'd have exhausted all the planning possible for country X, and pick another country Y and start all over again. And yes, I do have some sleepless nights too, lying in the darkness while my mind is busy churning through various scenarios and what-ifs.

As Happy Dave has stated so eloquently, I know that I'm doing all the things above to avoid 'slipping into the 'but why can't we move there nowwwww' self-whining'. I still have almost one year of bond to serve and can't leave my current residential country till then. My behaviour is probably some form of coping mechanism to vent out my frustation and impatience while waiting for time to pass.

We're planning on moving out of here at some point but we don't have a definite plan for where or when.

It seems that your desire to 'move out' is probably greater than what you have talked about with your husband? If that's the case, then it might help to come up with a more definite plan together with him for the specific where and when.

As for whether this is disorder or not, well take it that this is basically a hobby, although might be considered somewhat strange by other people. Throughout the process, you end up learning more about various different places in-depth, and I see nothing wrong with that. The knowledge gained might be handy too when the time comes to actually make the move.
posted by joewandy at 9:21 AM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: The corpse in the Library has it exactly right--it's not enjoyable, it's stressful. It's a compulsion--looking at houses and real estate online, looking at job listings, etc. It's not productive, unfortunately--wish it was. Thank you corpse for understanding me!
posted by supercoollady at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2009

I even researched about moving to Antarctica, for goodness sake. Probably nothing could probably top that in term of sheer escapism.
posted by joewandy at 9:25 AM on April 28, 2009

The corpse in the Library has it exactly right--it's not enjoyable, it's stressful. It's a compulsion--looking at houses and real estate online, looking at job listings, etc. It's not productive, unfortunately--wish it was.

Right, well, if it's stressing you out, that's likely because you may actually need to make a move (in order to buy a home or otherwise live the life you want to lead), and the current vagueness of your plans to do so are frustrating you.

In which case, rather than thinking this must be evidence of a disorder on your part, why not sit down and seriously discuss a potential move with your SO?

Vague plans to move are the worst. I spent two years doing the planning roundabout, but a year ago my wife and I fixed on a definite reason to move - so she can go back to university. Now we're working and saving money towards a definite date, and planning actually has a point, so it's enjoyable and exciting rather than compulsive wheel-spinning.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2009

I wonder what you are looking for in an answer to this question. If someone tells you that it could be OCD (as OCD takes on many shapes/forms according to the individual person and their own specific obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions), what will you do with that? Are you already seeing a therapist? I am assuming you are already seeing someone, because I can't imagine any responsible doctor throwing pills at you without also referring you to a therapist. If you aren't already seeing someone for talk therapy, consider that that would be a great person to bring this up with.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:57 AM on April 28, 2009

2nding everything Happy Dave says, then. And so_gracefully asks good questions. It's not the obsession with detail in plans that's an issue I should think, it's the need to do something about a problem you can't otherwise resolve. (Unless it feels like you'd still continue doing this even if you were to move.)

Even though I have an RSS reader and know how to set things up so I'd get an alert every time someone posts, I often just refresh the page repeatedly and glare at MetaFilter threads I want there to be more activity in.
posted by XMLicious at 10:03 AM on April 28, 2009

I do this, and yes, it's really uncomfortable and unpleasant. As far as I can figure, it's a coping mechanism for a) dealing with situations I can't control, or b) distracting myself from something difficult that I need to be doing. I don't know that it's a full-on disorder, but it's probably a manifestation of my depression, anxiety, and control issues.

For example, I'm currently in full-on grad school research freak-out mode instead of building my freelance business (which is what I should be doing as it's going to be another year and a half before grad school is feasible). I should add that I do this with moving, too, because it seems like the easiest way to change my situation (although I have actually dismantled my life and left the country -- twice -- with mixed results).

Ways I deal with the obsessive planning:
-Limit my computer time because the Internet just enables the behavior.
-Plan and complete small, fun projects that make me happy (parties, group dinners, vacations).
-Learn a new skill or research an interesting topic.
-Take long walks.
-Drink. ;-)
posted by lunalaguna at 11:33 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: thank you lunalaguna! you've really got my number. btw, i've done that life-dismantling thing too...also mixed results. these days i try to control my obsessiveness by sewing and other crafty pursuits.
posted by supercoollady at 12:05 PM on April 28, 2009

When our minds obsess, the topic doesn't really matter. What does, is the first word you said, and the one you should deal with: obsessiveness. It can come out in many different ways, can be unpleasant, and really pull you along the whole storyline.

I think I would not worry/judge so much about the topic, and focus on looking into why your brain is acting this way, and resolve the discomfort from that angle.

I may be totally off here. But this question just instinctually made me think of another question a way back, here.

They may seem totally dissimilar, but I feel the similarity of the brain having a compulsion and indulging in the imagined experience.

posted by Vaike at 5:51 PM on April 28, 2009

I'm seconding (thirding? fourthing?) the idea that this is escapism - not of the fantasy kinda, but more, your slightly anxious mind is desperately searching and planning for an ESCAPE route, at the same time as avoiding dealing/thinking about your actual problems.

So, the crazy thing is - you might be spending so much time thinking about these other things that you're not entirely aware of what it is that is actually stressing you out.

E.g. I was aware that I was engaging in a number of escapist behaviours, and didn't realise why until I found out I had an option that would allow me to pay my rent for the next few months - at which point I burst into tears with relief. Now, you'd think that I'd be obviously and instantly aware that my impending not being able to pay my rent would by a major fear & stressor, right?
Well. No, because my brain was damping it down so much, that I wasn't aware of anything other than "I don't seem to be as worried/stressed by this as I 'should' be". Until it went away, and I realised I'd just suppressed it somehow.

So, a couple of tricks - sit down and write about:

1) What would be better, good, and what would you really like to do in this new place? What is your whole vision for it?
What situations would you not have to deal with in the new place? What changes would you be able to make in the new place?

1b) How many of those changes could you actually make right now? You don't think it's worth getting some pictures/plants/etc for your apartment given you don't own it? Give all your excuses at most, 50% of the worth they had before - so which changes could you ACTUALLY make right now if you wanted to?

2) If you were looking at your life from someone elses perspective - what things would someone else think were stressing you out? Ie someone else might think that work situation is pretty bad, even though you 'feel' like you're not that worried about it.

3) Divert your 'moving' planning to your 'awesome future' planning. Each day, write down about 10 things you think it'd be really cool to be doing, changes to your current life, things that you like. State it in the positive - If it's something you don't have now, state it like 'I have *this thing*'. They don't have to be the same each day, they can be wildly different (eg I'd like to move to the country/the city, I'd like to take up the banjo, now the violin). Some big, some small (I feel relaxed and happy as I have a clean, tidy and beautiful house! / I have clean, vacuumed floors!) Some will be things you can do here. Some of that will leak over into motivation to do those things. The moving-planning is stealing some of your motivation of things you can do *now* that would be awesome.

4) Now, out of the first two exercises, there may be a list of things that you "can't change". That's cool. Make sure they're all written down though. The solution to them is not to 'ignore' them, or tell yourself that there's no point thinking about them - the solution is to accept them. Not to accept the bad things, but to accept YOURSELF.
Seriously - sit down and about each of those things, tell yourself, "Even though I have this issue in my life, even though I'm dealing with this situation in my life, I still deeply, and completely, love and accept myself".

These are variations on things I've done myself, and come up with/adapted myself from various outside inputs - if you can adapt them to fit you better, go for it!
posted by Elysum at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

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