Putting things in perspective

What I started to get at near the end of my Compulsivity never cured anything post was the idea of perspective. I have a million worries and all one million of them are jostling for my attention. It doesn't matter that a few worries are big, legitimate worries (and I'm going to pay all my bills how?) and the rest are just small nagging worries (did I lock my car door/set my alarm clock/empty the litter box?). They all seem equally important and equally dramatic in my mind.

Because they all seem important and dramatic, being compulsive starts to seem like a rational idea. I'm addressing X worries out of Y, so hooray for me!

I've always had problems with perspective. One of my roommates in college looked over at me highlighting my biochemistry textbook at the beginning of the semester, and she said, "You highlight everything. Wouldn't it be easier to just not bother?"

I told her that I was only highlighting everything I thought might be important and that there was some stuff not highlighted--words like "and" and "the" and the obvious transition sentences.

She raised and eyebrow and said, "Girl, you have issues."

The poor girl had no idea...

So yes, perspective. It wasn't that I didn't understand the big picture (I usually did), it was that all of the other information seemed equally important. I couldn't figure out what was important and what wasn't. When I first started writing, I often included either totally irrelevant details or none at all because I just couldn't figure out what the important bits were.

With term papers in undergrad and grad school, I would spend so much time nailing down the world's most inane facts, terrified that Herr Professor would find out I said April 1786 when (silly girl!) I meant May 1786, that my paper's thesis suffered. I understood my subject- that wasn't the problem. But all of the details overwhelmed me because deciding what was important was extremely anxiety provoking.

I've coped with this anxiety in two ways: the above (by going overboard on the details) or by essentially covering my ears with my hands and yelling "LALALALALALALA!" Neither is really all that effective. Both these strategies make for crap writing and a somewhat less-than-effective approach to life.

Intellectually, I can tell the difference. I have a clue that eating 50 extra calories isn't on the same plane as a nuclear apocalypse, but it still feels the same in my brain. I get rather frustrated when by brain won't calm the hell down over such trivialities, just as I got frustrated when working on said term paper. I was pretty sure I was wasting my time on little more than a fool's errand--but I wasn't positive, and so I fretted and worried and wasted my time.

It's interesting to note that I have a problem with actual depth perception. When I'm driving, cars usually look closer than the actually are. It's better than the opposite problem, but still. For that matter, I can't see those stupid Magic Eye thingies no matter how hard I try, how many hints I get, or how long I stare. Something with my vision is just messed up (no, I don't wear or need glasses). I'm not saying this has anything to do with my psychological inability to put things into perspective, but it's an interesting parallel.

Do you have problems putting things into perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Not that this was the point of your blog, but do you know if you have binocular or monocular vision? People with monocular vision have difficulties with depth perception (my son, for example), and since those Magic Eye pictures require binocular vision, well....

Did I just give it away that I often get stuck on little details, too?

Carrie Arnold said...

To be honest, I have no idea. I googled it and I'm really curious! I'd love to see if there was some sort of test I could take.

And yes, you did give it away. ;)

Cathy (UK) said...

In response to your question: "Do you have problems putting things into perspective?" the answer is a definite "Yes".

I have always worried; I am a worrier. I over-analyse; I catastrophise. And then I get overwhelmed and go into 'meltdown' or 'shutdown'.

I am very detail-oriented, but I can see the bigger picture too. It just takes me longer to get to the bigger picture because I spend hours focusing on all the details and analysing. For that and other reasons (one track mind) I'm a crap multi-tasker. And, I agree that compulsive behaviours assist in the management of anxiety.

These characteristics are shared amongst people with EDs (especially AN) and people with ASDs. I have an ASD and a history of AN. I have lost the AN, but the ASD (of course) remains. My compulsivity frustrates me at times, but because it also feels 'safe' I also kind of like it...

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean by worrying about those tiny extra calories. And actually I should gain weight. They do not matter, and yet sometimes my brain starts going in circles. Wasting time on that. How to stop it?

Katie said...

It's quite scary how much I relate to this - I was ALWAYS being teased for highlighting virtually everything other than the "and"s in my textbooks, I am hopeless at separating important details from the minutae. People also sometimes point out to me that I often go over my history on my blog. That's purely because the post doesn't feel right until all the relevant details are there. I've seen quite a few other friends of mine with the triad of ED/OCD/neurological problems repeat unnecessary details over and over on facebook or in blog comments too - I always smile when I recognise someone else doing it, it's nice to know I'm not alone! I would make a rubbish editor :P

...and I can't do magic eye either. Humph.

Dani said...

It is difficult putting ed things into perspective but I find that even when I can, the emotion still remains. It's like the irrational, rational and emotional brain. Get's very confusing and frustrating.

HikerRD said...

Hi Carrie,
Two thoughts. First, regarding the previous post re compulsive thoughts. Thing is, it works. That is compulsive thinking serves a purpose to help avoid the more troubling and difficult things we'd rather not deal with. So ruminating about calories may feel a lot more comfortable that other topics we might be addressing.
Second relates to a recent post of mine, about the patient who lost 91+ pounds and was criticized by a stranger for eating in her car. Point is, when we look at a situation, or in this case a person, we have no idea, no perspective on how far they've already come, no context for where they are at, and how foolish we could be. The 300 lb woman could be perceived as really needing to "do" something, or could be praised for the fact that she sensibly dropped almost 100 lbs! So we should be sensitive to the perception issue not only for how we look at ourselves, but also how we perceive others.
Humble thought for the day!
Lori Lieberman, RD, CDE, MPH, LDN

hm said...

Who's to say which things are more important? Sure- world peace and the greenhouse effect are pretty BIG issues- but whether or not I can eat 50 more calories and whether or not it will destroy my day with mental distress and then affect my interactions with my family- that impacts TODAY, RIGHT NOW, the people I love- and it has a tumbling down a mountain effect too- I might panic and then have to retract my steps with food for days on end because of it- I might lose sleep, productivity, and emotional involvement for the next 2 weeks because of that- If you can't tell, I have big problems with anxiety and part of MY perspective issues are about separating the future from the right now- so I don't know, 50 calories more or less is pretty big and impactful in my book. SHOULD it be? Maybe not. I'm just starting down this recovery road, and I don't have that figured out yet.

James Clayton said...

When I annotated texts at University for the 'important details', I ended up just underlining almost everything and rewriting everything. Yeah, this rings a lot of bells...

Oh, perspective. It'd be so nice if I could just guarantee that it was always there... ;)

Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

I cannot see those Magic Eye things either and it never ceases to piss me off!

I also struggle with putting things in perspective at times. Even when I'm dealing with some major life issues, I get caught up on the details of the mundane and they take equal significance in my mind. I realize that this happens because the small things (e.g. errands I need to run) are at least somewhat within my control, while the bigger things are not usually. However, anxiety is anxiety and whether it's over something big or small, controllable or not... obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors do nothing by perpetuate it.

Cate said...

And I thought I was the only one who could highlight an entire text book. I also find I cannot go back and re-read a perfectly good article if a spelling error has been allowed to go to print - the whole thing is ruined! In my house we call it to 'bioop' (blow-it-out-of-proportion).

Anonymous said...


You may already have found similar information when you googled binocular vision, but here are a few things I found:


(Lots of great information, including a list of tests for binocular vision. I seem to remember my son having the Worth Four Dot Test, or something similar.)

www.vision3d/frame.html (It took me a couple of tries to do the test correctly.)

www.ehow.com/how_50003305_test-binocular-vision.html (Similar test to the above)

HikerRD said...

apropos of this post on perspective, you may like the song/link on my last post--www.dropitandeat.blogspot.com

women health said...

Not that this was the point of your blog, but do you know if you have binocular or monocular vision? People with monocular vision have difficulties with depth perception (my son, for example), and since those Magic Eye pictures require binocular vision, well....Did I just give it away that I often get stuck on little details, too?

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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