I remember clearly when I was just fifteen years old, while my class mates and I were obliged to sit down and listen to our teacher about how to create a good CV, the teacher told us to use our weaknesses and transform into qualities that can serve in the professional world. Laziness would become concentration before action, agitation and hyperactivity would become proactivity, and a rebellious attitude would become a “think outside the box” trait. Apart from therapy and medication targeting the anxiousness and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I have endured for many years, using those negative emotions and transforming them into a creative project was, and still is for me, one of the most beautiful and exciting activity I have done. Freud called it “Sublimation”; when someone would use their repressed sexual energies to transfer them into a creative and intellectual project.

Leyla Cardena

Leyla Cardena

We could debate for days about whether feelings of anger, pain, and anguish have a link or a base of sexual repression, but sublimation did work well for me. By writing about anguish, panic attacks and the sadness that comes with it before and after, and inventing a whole thriller novel around it, was a way for me to befriend or even seduce the condition that can still appear sometimes today due to hormonal changes, giving it a place in my work and therefore, acknowledging its role in who I am as a person, as if to say: “You are here, so let me use you.” This enables not to label it as a condition but rather as a part of me. And why not? Since I started writing regularly, this strange friend has become a warning, letting me know if my hormones are acting out again, if it’s due to some external changes, good or bad that are taking place or, if there is still something unresolved. The bizarre and often painful feelings of impending doom and insecurity that come with anxiety, can leave you thinking for no reason at all that a tragedy will come around can appear at any time and at any place. It can make you quite a hypochondriac! After so many years of working, studying, taking care of the people in my family who needed my help and most of all fearing failure, I became a watchdog who could never totally enjoy moments of peace and who was still waiting in front of the door for the scary intruder to come and steal what I had built. OCD came with the fear of losing control. You can understand intellectually that control does not exist, but do you understand it emotionally? I couldn’t. Not at that time. Therapy with a professional helped me discover some solutions against the condition, but the one that has helped me the most, since I was eleven years old, has been creativity.

Music, movies, and using my dreams were a way to not only concentrate on something that I consider wonderful but also transform the rapid heartbeats of fear into heartbeats of excitement. Sleepless nights where my mind would transport me into another place, another time accompanied by different people that I created and loved as if they were my children. I wake up in the morning, drink my coffee, and before being fully awake, I listen to music and let my imagination run wild with the tunes and the lyrics of the music. Images and characters running inside my head, places, situations, plots synchronizing with the rhythms, my brain completely wired to the notes and to cut up sequences that will end up on the paper, an incomparable high of ideas that sends shivers down my spine, feeling complete as never before. Those are the feelings that run through me every time I invent a story and characters. I had to be careful with my novel Becoming Insane, which follows two creatives in 80s New York as they battle their own demons, as I did not want these two protagonists who are suffering from depression and anguish to be defined by the illness they have. Illness is not a character trait, but something you carry with you and have to live and work with.

Synchronicity, understanding who I am and what is my true passion. Creativity has restored a sense of calm in me and given me optimism for life; reading and learning has become a pleasure. If anxiety comes, I sit down and watch an historical or political documentary and concentrate. Concentrating on each and every word and images that I hear and see until the anguish dissipates allows me to gain control. Learning something new and wanting to know more about various subjects has also become a solution for me, taking my time to understand deeply the subjects, making a mental world tour to discover other cultures and countries and dreaming about going there in the future; having a goal. I think we invent our future, and then implement it.

Also, I’m trying to take better care of myself; I need to be in good shape to write and be creative. I never had the chance to take care of myself. So now, after several hours of writing, I might treat myself to a shopping trip, or a leisurely bath. You can question the human condition, but you have to enjoy life too, and those of us with anxiety and OCD are no different, but sometimes we have to learn how to enjoy life, how to relax and not think about what we are dealing with, learning to be content. Everyone suffers, everyone has something that can cause them to be sad, depressed or anguished, it’s awful but not uncommon unfortunately. None of us are “normal”. We’re all just human beings. Our need to belong somewhere, within a group for example can be an instinctive trait that we carry with us, but I think it’s important to belong and to be loyal to ourselves first. No one can help anyone else or any group, if they’re not a full individual first. A little selfishness and stubbornness isn’t bad, it can be quite the opposite. And if we need to take care of ourselves, to then take care of others, let’s just say: “Screw it. I’m not doing anything today. Just things that give me pleasure.” And for me, above all else, that’s writing.