Both my uncles are obsessive shoppers, both of whom are equally obsessive about paying the bill at any given restaurant. Both my grandfathers died from a smoking addiction and my Grandma has a tendency to clean manically when stressed. Three members of my family have a tendency to over-eat and are incapable of stopping and my mum can't sit still until all the drawers and doors in the house are shut.
The above paragraph is not a long winded, opening paragraph to a joke, although just reading over it, the scenario does seem pretty laughable. My family, particularly on my mum's side are partial to a level of compulsive behaviour. Of course, when this is harnessed in the right direction, it can be a life saver. There is no doubt that some level of compulsion has its benefits in the workplace, in sports and in time management. However, most of us will have some form of behaviour that we need to manage.
It was in a biology class last year, whilst learning about the influence of dopamine on personality traits, that I came to realise that I really can't help the way I am. As my biology teacher began listing the characteristics of someone lacking sufficient dopamine receptors, everyone's head began to turn towards the back row. Although he was reading from an OCR textbook, it was as if my teacher was describing me.
Although he was reading from an OCR textbook, it was as if my teacher was describing me.
"A person with too much Dopamine or lack of receptors are often seen to be"
- addicted to a certain food/ food group *check
- highly driven particularly in the work place *check
- a tendency to exercise to a very extreme level *check
- may or may not have suffered an eating disorder *check
- fidgety or highly talkative *check
- suffering from insomnia *check
- an all or nothing personality *check
If I run through the list quickly, it's easy to see why heads were turning. I'm a nineteen year old girl, addicted to chewing gum, tea and peanut butter ( seriously this is no joke, I had to go to the GP about my compulsive gum chewing) and for my GCSEs I revised 12 hours a day even though by the first week, I could recite Livvy, Pliny and Virgil without looking at the Latin. I am an elite athlete who has competed for England, and a lot of my personality is derived from my long term involvement in elite sport. When I was sixteen, I suffered a full- blown case of Anorexia Nervosa and I am known both for my big mouth and my inability to go to the cinema because two and a half hours is just too long to sit still. I sleep very badly as my mind tends to run in circles and when I was thirteen, a mock game of Deal or No Deal with my uncles left me £450 pounds poorer in under two minutes because I always thought I could do better.
For my GCSEs I revised 12 hours a day even though by the first week, I could recite Livvy, Pliny and Virgil without looking at the Latin.
When I told my mum my news, I couldn't say she was shocked. She just laughed and said she couldn't believe how I hadn't noticed the compulsive behaviour already. "Why do you think we would rather you didn't try smoking or drugs Sophia? she chuckled. " You would probably be a complete coke-head by now". Charming, I thought and continued to question her about my ancestry and the inevitable path my life would take ." Why aren't you worried about me?" I kept on asking. Her reply was one that I do believe has shaped the way I think and act today.
"We all have certain traits that run through our families and over-thinking about them isn't going to make them go away or make them any better. What we are able to do is use them to our advantage. Instead of worrying about the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic, think about how much your addictive behaviour has benefited you. Through your behaviour, you have been able to work hard without thinking of it as a chore, you have been able to train like a professional athlete and push through boundaries that others would give up at and instead of struggling through an eating disorder, you became addicted to being the best at recovering".
Of course, there are parts of me that I have to manage. I know that if I start tidying up a room, I won't stop until its spotless; yet if I decide to leave it, it will likely become uninhabitable. I know that if I say yes to an alcoholic drink , I'll probably end up asleep on my mother's shoulder ( anyone at my 18th birthday party will remember this clearly) or I just won't drink at all. I know I get a bit too excited during festivities- every mother's day, father's day, easter, wedding anniversaries and birthday's, I am known to spend an entire month's wages on family members, simply because of the thrill I get from taking the occasion to the extreme.
I know that if I start tidying up a room, I won't stop until its spotless; yet if I decide to leave it, it will likely become uninhabitable.
But whatever the little chemicals that are swamping my brain right now are currently doing, they are doing something special. They have created an individual that is insanely driven, overly compassionate and hard working. Fine, they have also created a young women that's over-competive, slightly arrogant and pushes herself slightly too hard but it's what has made me, me.
I was born into a family of addicts, and honestly, I wouldn't wish to be part of anything else.