In Control— or Controlled?

by Olivia Armacost on February 16, 2018

“I am the one thing in life I can control.”

Riding the train back to Arcadia for my second semester, this phrase found its way into my mind and lingered (courtesy of the superb lyrics of Lin Manuel Miranda and the ever-powerful delivery of Leslie Odom Jr. in Hamilton). A simple-but-true doctrine proclaiming that the only thing we have power over is our own thoughts, words, and actions. But then, as the words settled in, I thought: How much of what we do every day do we make happen, and how much of it happens to us?

When I started college, I definitely felt like much more was happening to me than was happening because of me. From little things, like having a hard time falling asleep because my dorm was so quiet compared to home, to much more substantial things, like a change in time zones and schedules with the people who are important to me back home.

So what did I do to ground myself in what felt like the center of an ever-revolving spinning top? Easy. I bleached my hickory-brown hair until I was a bonafide bottle blonde.

It was late February, and I was no closer to knowing where I would end up for the next four years than I was August 1st. I didn't understand. I had done everything right.

- Olivia Armacost

Two hundred dollars and a dozen shocked Instagram comments later, I had to look in the mirror. Was this just a simple, fun change achieved by becoming much-less recognizable to my high school acquaintances, or was this my way of making up for the control I felt slipping everyday? In hindsight, I think it was a little of both.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found such a quick fix for controlling a lot of aspects of my life. For me, one of those things is a part of myself that I’ll never truly have a hold of.  About a year ago, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is something that has had a leading role in my life long before it had a name. Until last March, I usually just called it “fear.”

If any high school seniors are reading this right now, I know you get it. It was late February, and I was no closer to knowing where I would end up for the next four years than I was August 1st. I didn't understand. I had done everything right. My ACT scores were much better than I had expected, I had applied to more schools than any of my friends, and I’d spent weeks on the perfect admissions essay. Still, none of the schools that wanted me felt right, no matter how badly I wanted them to.

I started having frequent bouts of anxiety, even when I was surrounded by my safest places and people. The little “tics” I had always dealt with were occurring more often and occupying an exorbitant amount of my thoughts and time.

In the weeks following my diagnosis, my doctor explained little by little what this meant for me. Perfect! In my mind, the problem was pinpointed, and I was more than ready for a solution. How could I “cure” my condition as quickly as possible?

After months reading about my “problem” and working with my doctor to build defenses against the fears and compulsions that came with my disorder, I had learned how to best deal with it, but I had made no progress in ridding myself of this thing that I had no control over. Until, finally, I realized: I am the owner and director of what happens in my life, but I’m always going to have to share that role with my OCD. Once I accepted that, I relinquished a portion of power to what was no longer my enemy, but just another part of what makes me who I am.

I think there are parts of all of us we can’t control, whether it be traits we were handed by genetics, mental restrictions, or experiences that have been thrust upon us along our way. I can’t control my compulsions, but I no longer harbor any desire to. Sure, things are going to change, but there is a solution for all of the newfound challenges. My dorm was too quiet, so I bought a sound machine. My friends and I don’t have coordinated schedules anymore, so we find a time to Skype once a week. All I can do is accept and welcome those pieces that showed up uninvited, while also taking full advantage of the slices that are entirely mine… blonde hair and all.