A memoir of a neurologically atypical life
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An exploration of the intersection of neurodivergence, obsession and disorder
Obsessive was, still is, my natural state, and I never wondered why. I didn’t mind, didn’t know that other people could feel at peace. I always felt like a raw nerve, but then, I thought that everyone did.
Writer and journalist Marianne Eloise was born obsessive. What that means changes day to day, depending on what her brain latches on to: fixations with certain topics, intrusive violent thoughts, looping phrases. Some obsessions have lasted a lifetime, while others will be intense but only last a week or two.
Obsessive, Intrusive, Magical Thinking is a culmination of a life spend obsessing, offering a glimpse into Marianne’s brain, but also an insight into the lives of others like her. From death to Medusa, to Disneyland to fire, to LA to her dog, the essays explore the intersection of neurodivergence, obsession and disorder, telling the story of one life underpinned and ultimately made whole by obsession.
Marianne Eloise’s brain operates differently from those of “neurotypicals”. Once the “weird” child both at school and at home, she has lived in an embattled emotional state for as long as she can remember, with repeated episodes of debilitating anxiety and depression.
She has also suffered from anorexia nervosa. When she was a child, few adults cared to understand what was behind her distress. Her difficulties remain complex, but her memoir rallies hope.
“Without obsession, I have nothing. It’s taken me on journeys across the world in pursuit of things that interest me, and it always wins against the things that I find hard about being alive.”
Eloise, a culture writer and journalist, describes a mind that never switches off. Her looping, repetitive thoughts make for tenacious worries and all-consuming interests – as adolescence unfolds, Jim Carrey and The Twilight Zone are replaced by Noughties pop-punk.
She divides her book into three sections, on “obsessive”, “intrusive” and “magical” thought, drawing on extensive research and interweaving personal reflections and amusing asides.
Making order out of the chaos of her mind is important to her fragile sense of safety in the world, but she describes paradoxical impulses along the way: to swim in seas despite a terror of drowning, to dance at gigs despite often feeling threatened by people, lights and noise.
Her ruminations cluster around specific themes: time, water, fire, nightmares, the city of Los Angeles. Through her fascination with Walt Disney it is revealed that, as a child, Disney stamped an owl to death.
His life’s work perhaps sprang from the associated guilt, but Eloise – as an adult – considers Disneyland “the one place on earth everything ceased to be complicated, difficult, grown-up; everything was taken care of”. As she finds stable love with her fiancé, Karl, she also gets more respite from other fears: of her dog dying, of her body fleshing out.
She processes trauma. Her mother, a mental health nurse, suffered too, with a gaze wandering far from her two daughters.Eloise made sporadic efforts to get help in the form of therapy.
“It turns out, though, that if there is an irresponsible adult in your home leaving the gate open or the gas on, then it is not possible to do CBT.” It wasn’t until recently that Eloise received an autism diagnosis.
In her late twenties now, she has also been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, nightmare disorder, dyspraxia and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissues.
“Diagnosis is a lifeline”, she writes. “It empowers me to live the way I need to, to ask for help and space.”
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