I went to two undergraduate colleges. The first was a state university.
I left after two years because I told myself I was homesick and wanted to go to college closer to home.
I lived at home and attended a local college for two years and finished my degree.
The real reason I left the state university? I was suffering from deep, untreated depression and increasing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I thought going home would help alleviate my pain.
I have regretted the decision for the many years since I made the change after my second year at the university.
The university was more prestigious than the smaller college, and I have wished I had stayed. Perhaps I would have had more and better job opportunities, I’ve thought. Perhaps I would have done better in life. Perhaps I would be happier now. So goes my thinking.
I never attributed this type of thinking to obsessive-compulsive disorder until I read about wishing in Dr. Jonathan Grayson’s Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty.
Grayson names several functions of rituals, one of which is wishing: “Everyone has dreams, hopes, and wishes; these lie at the core of our creativity and humanity’s greatest achievements. However, when we pursue an impossible wish, it can lead to our downfall” (p. 40).
He uses as an example a man who left college for a short time because of his OCD. “He constantly obsessed about the events of that year and how much better his life would have been if he hadn’t dropped out. In other words, he was constantly wishing he could undo his negative experience.” (p. 40).
That example struck a chord in me. I realized that my thoughts of regret—which I still had 27 years after graduating—were based on an obsession. I have been wishing that things could be different, haunted by my decisions, playing over in my mind how things might have been.
But I’ve been wishing for something impossible. I can’t go back and change the decision I made.
With the realization that my thinking was an OCD obsession, I’ve been working on ending the wishing.
Getting away from this type of wishing is giving me a new attitude. Instead of spending time regretting the past, I am slowly getting better at focusing on the present and what is in front of me. I am getting better at focusing on things that I do have control over.
And I’m getting better at facing the fact that there’s no certainty involved here: I don’t know that my life would have been better if I had stayed at the state university. It might have been better. It might have been worse.
I’ll never know. And I don’t need to know.
Have you held on to wishes for too long?