Fiction Sad Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Three million four hundred fifty-two thousand six hundred seventy-seven. I’ve just finished counting them. The number of unresolved problems in my life.

It’s a pain to spell out such a long number.


There, much better.

1 / 3,452,677 solved.

It’s so much easier to write it this way, but it’s still a mouthful to read.

So, don’t.

It takes your eyes 23 milliseconds to recognize if two numbers are the same. That’s all that matters. That sameness. If there are still problems to be fixed, why bother reading the total?

2 / 3,452,677 solved.

Why do I have to write “solved” every time? It’s implied. Those are precious strokes wasted. No need.

3 / 3,452,677

Wait a second, I need to get some coffee.

Hi. Hope you’re still there. Sorry for the delay.

4 / 3,452,677

Nope, that number I just added to the tally is not for drinking the coffee. Quenching my thirst doesn’t count as a fix because I’ll get thirsty again. Only fixes that last matter.

If we are at 4 now, it’s because I moved the coffee station, so it sits equidistant from the washer and the cupboard. Fetching a cup to fill it up, drink from it, wash it, and then place it back is now 17% faster.

What? Of course, I chugged it all right there in one go. The realization struck me right after improving the placement of the station. Coming back here to my desk and then back to the kitchen would be so inefficient. An unnecessary back-and-forth.

5 / 3,452,677

Ugh, this is so slow. At this pace, I will never be done fixing my problems.

I need a way to fix many at once. Maybe I should stop drinking coffee altogether. That way, I won’t have to spend:

1) …money buying it.

2) …energy carrying it home.

3) …space storing it.

4) …mental energy enduring the visual clutter of so many coffee-related objects.

5) …time making it and waiting until it’s ready, 5 times every day.

Hell, if I only drink water, I won’t have to test my patience washing stained cups. Boom!

11 / 3,452,677

“What? Camila? I’m busy talking to a friend at the minute. It’s urgent? But, it’s outside my working h—, never mind. I didn’t say anything. Okay, I’ll take care of it.”

Man, fuck my boss. Those adjustment requests are a bundle of like 12 problems to be added.

-1 / 3,452,677

Now my balance is negative. Shit. I prefer it to updating the total, though, since I already decided to ignore it until it matches the count of solutions.

What is it now?!

“Okay, okay!, I’m going. I heard you! Please, stop smashing the bell.”

You probably think I’m insane, obsessing over minor inefficiencies like this.

Sometimes, I conceive and implement optimization solutions that save me less time than what I spend building them. Last weekend, I spent 16 hours coding a program to control all the lights in my suite with keyboard commands from my computer’s terminal (even though I enjoy working in the dark, curtains closed, with nothing but the hypnotic glow of the screen to caress my skin. Hell, I haven’t even stood up to turn on the lights more than twice in the last month!)

Yes, this obsession itself is a problem, rightfully included in my list. But, I’m aware of my struggle. I visit a therapist every Wednesday and Friday at 5pm, and the deliveryman whom I just received at the door has brought the medications my doctor prescribed.

  • Addressed need to control obsessive improvement impulses.
  • Placed an automatic refill itinerary online on the pharmacy’s site.
  • Read the medication instructions.


2 / 3,452,677

Ha, this is starting to look like a LinkedIn resume.

It’s funny how we place so much emphasis on the active. “Built”, “Enhanced”, “Increased”, “Led”, “Managed”, “Multiplied”, “Raised”, “Shipped”, “Streamlined”, “Strengthened”. All verbs which convey some sort of active action. I don’t know if all verbs are equal before the law, but they certainly aren’t before our man-made notions of what’s admirable. You will never find verbs like “Rested”, “Played”, “Postponed”, “Avoided”, “Relaxed”, “Omitted”, “Refrained from”, “Skipped”, “Had fun”, or “Slept” in a resume. Why? Don’t we all care more about having fun and sleeping than strengthening and increasing —whatever it is companies care about strengthening and increasing?

Yes, I am a compulsive optimizer. And yes, my condition does bring me much stress and suffering, sparsely intermixed with the occasional fleeting jolt of some proud achievement. But, I don’t get confused like other people do. I know that life’s true winners are not the conventionally “successful”.

Those who’ve truly figured life out are those resting and skipping, not those managing and streamlining. After all, if there’s anything that keeping this list of unresolved problems has taught me, is that there are two ways of grasping the dream, that distant golden ensign with the words “no problems left to solve” embroidered in its immaculate threads:

  1. Solving problems.
  2. Getting rid of problems demanding to be solved.

This truth shines before me with such pure and fierce intensity that I am often bedazzled, seeing how almost nobody else realizes it.

Always remember this, “avoided” and “refrained from” are as effective at getting you there, if not more, than “built” and “multiplied”.

The pills aren’t working.

It’s been a few hours and the urge to keep working at addressing the items in my list is overflowing me beyond any hope for control.


Okay ^^! Let’s stop fooling around! Time to make some real progress :)!

Let’s delete all my social media accounts. With no news to keep up with, no gossip, no expectations from others, no more comparisons and all the problems they breed, that will significantly increase my count of problems solved.


1,147 / 3,452,677

Let’s drop out of swimming class! If I desensitize myself from it, it won’t hurt when the overwork I’m burdened with prevents me from participating in my favorite activity of the day. If I succeed at this detachment, I might stop needing to make so many visits to my therapist, I’ll save on commute time, and it’ll bring my heart closer to the invulnerability of a Stoic, with all the benefits that entails.


21,278 / 3,452,677

Let’s move to a forest! Everyone thinks I’m crazy already! It won’t make much of a difference if I become a hermit! Away from society, I’ll learn to survive only with that which nature gifts me. I won’t have to work for anyone, worry about money again, swallow my pride to please someone more powerful than I, nor be distracted and made to feel miserable by the countless new things this rotten city keeps on churning out, convincing me that, without them, I will never feel whole.


626,591 / 3,452,677

Now we’re talking. That was some good progress. I’m feeling a little dizzy now, so I'll be off for a quick nap.

Delusions, nothing more. A fit of the mind, a manic puppet show of artificial bodies moving imaginary objects, all fake, all a mirage. It’s easy to make the right decisions in a game of role-play, where one is a separate entity from the character one plays. What’s truly difficult is to be them, experience their torments, be shaken by their fears, and under the weight of all their pressures, still decide the same.

I can’t do it.

I now realize all the enthusiastic decisions I made earlier are nothing but the derailed ravings of a madman.

Or perhaps not.

There is, indeed, a mad demon living in me who at times wears me and compels me to act according to its derangement, while some others it limits itself to observing me. But, despite this posession, perhaps these fits are normal. Not in their content and degree, of course, but in their nature.

Who wouldn’t relate?

I can’t cut all my ties with the few people I still care about,


624,996 / 3,452,677

…nor give up on my favorite hobby,


604,865 / 3,452,677

…nor retreat into the woods to live in a self-imposed solitary confinement, expecting to achieve an enlightenment I know will never come.


2 / 3,452,677

And we’re back to square one. Not because it is impossible to endure the changes I had proposed. There are others, crazier than I, who have managed to. But, not I. I couldn’t do it. Could you?

There are plenty of extreme deprivations I can impose on myself in this quest to harness my desires. But, these will hurt, just as much as the pain I already bear from the unfulfilled longings running unrestrained through every bone and vein within me.

What use is there in giving up coffee, if I’ll have to add to the tally of problems my missing it? Or to abandon social media, and then long for the lost connection with friends? To quit swimming, only to suffer from the accelerated atrophy of the body, brought about by the lack of exercise, and the murder of illusion, brought by days devoid of something to look forward to? To turn my back on the world’s enticements, only to suffer from the absence of man-made solutions to a myriad other, now long-forgotten problems, only reserved to those who refuse to accept the wake of progress?

The answer never lies in the extremes. I know that. Perhaps there is some sort of balance to be found halfway to the edge of the unreasonable resolutions I devised.

But, knowing a solution might exist does not imply knowing the answer. And what do I do with all the chaos I feel within, now, always, restlessly clenching my soul, wringing out every last of its tears, whether I work towards fixing everything in the list, or lay down, arms stretched, in resigned helplesness?

I truly wish I could solve, if not all my problems, at least the obsession I have with solving them.

You and I are problably different. Don’t get confused. There are people who can probably tolerate some specks of imperfection sprinkled here and there, and be fine with it. You’re probably among them. Not I. I strive for not just improvement, but perfection. Absolute, spotless perfection. Anything less than that is torment. You can’t understand me without internalizing that difference between us.

I know I can do well in life. I know I am loved and cherished by many, also dear to me. I know that I will achieve great success; it’s already written in my trajectory, far steeper until now than any of my peers’, with twice the momentum. Life is a game I can do well at, I have no doubt about that. But, to me, “well” is the second name of “hades”, and the only heaven I know is “perfect”.

These pills really aren’t working.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to schedule an emergency session with my therapist, once her secretary wakes. I have to set up a reminder to do that now, and cancel the automatic reordering of the pills I had placed. And request a refund. And leave a review to help alert others. Then, another pointless talk with her awaits. The same one about how I should do and feel the things that demon inside me prevents me from doing and feeling, but that nobody else seems to understand.

!!!!!! -999,999,999 !!!!!!

-999,999,997 / 3,452,677

That’s not a factual subtraction, it’s just a representation of the frustration I feel.

I will never get there. What’s the point of taking steps ahead, if the path keeps on stretching? Why do problems always grow faster than solutions? Why do my needs and wants run faster than my ability to fulfill them?

What’s with this unquenchable thirst that won’t ever leave me?

By now, I’m just tired. Exhausted.

Yes, me, who’s so obsessed with shaving off every possible second from every existent process that could be marginally optimized, am now manifesting tiredness, slowness of thought, of movement. Not enough “action” verbs, and a little too much "passiveness".

But, I’m not too surprised. It’s the first time I feel this so clearly, this discovery of something deeply buried, but of which I must have somewhat been unconsciously aware of my entire life.

I think the urgency I feel to fix all my problems stems not from a fierce drive for improvement, but from a creeping tiredeness that's been following me all this time, previously relentless, but from a distance; now here, irresistible. Inexorable.

My proactiveness to solve and optimize is nothing but a temporary trance where I rush, lost in a mute despair, to fix everything once and for all, before finally surrendering to the deep slumber that has never stopped calling me, ever so eager to claim me as his. Like that temporary burst of energetic wakefulness, where you rush to turn off a clamouring alarm just so you can go back to sleep as soon as possible, I’m scrambling to appease all my unresolved ails so I can return to the peaceful lap of a halted dimension of time. And there, to let its peaceful embrace swallow me into the oblivion of an eternally quiet dreamless night.

I was wrong.

How could I forget that which I myself asked you always to remember? Extremes sure tend to be bad. But, as with everything, there are exceptions. What would the extreme of the second path to perfection I described be?

Yes, I now know what to do. The call intensifies, there’s no need to resist it anymore. There shall be no more delays. The doctor’s prescription might prove to be not so useless, after all.

Plenty, I have plenty.

For the record, an omen. I must update the tally with an omen.

<<< home_sys: exec(lights_on) >>>

Several lights come on, shining with intense brightness. Another, just as bright, goes out.

0 / 0

December 03, 2022 04:10

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Danie Holland
16:23 Dec 01, 2023

Oh this is... attractive writing. As someone who also struggles with obsession and compulsion. I won't say OCD. It's something adjacent. Runaway passion that burns bright and hot until there's nothing left. Like ashes, you know? Someone who chases things - and once they catch them - they chase more things. This human condition is rather uncomfortable. Why does my skin feel tight? Why do my thoughts run together leaving me without silence? And am I the only one trapped this way? These questions inside me are why I found this story comforting....


Ashes .
03:39 Dec 05, 2023

thank you for your words, Danie. your observations sparked welcome reflections. i found many of the things you said relatable too, and drafted several responses where i elaborated on some of the points you touched. yet, this dry response is the only thing that'll make it to you. i'm sorry. releasing the chaos within onto my writing brings in relief, but it doesn't change who i am. a perfectionist. for what are characters, if not obscured permutations of oneself? but, i'm glad you found comfort in my story. that someone whose writing i a...


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Dylan Taylor
00:37 Dec 08, 2022

Nice work Ashes! A really nice depiction of compulsion and obsessive behavior. The insurmountable number is a good symbol for the feeling of it hooking you and never letting go.


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