‘If anyone doubts that you have OCD, they can talk to me.’ -my therapist

Remember that post I wrote almost a year ago called ‘A Confession :/’? It was a rough, stitched-together, binoculars-from-the-wrong-end account of how I worry all the time about bad things happening to me and the people I love.

[obsessive] To recap: I worry constantly about freak accidents, not-freak (regular?) accidents, illnesses; things breaking, things falling, things burning; cars crashing, planes crashing, storms taking down trees on top of houses with people inside. When I pick up a kitchen knife to cut an onion my thoughts go directly to my wrists and before I can stop myself I’m suddenly, irrationally scared I’ll cut them. When my mom goes on a business trip and texts us that she loves us, I immediately see myself in thirty years having written a chapter in my memoir about the last text my mother ever sent me before the plane crash. And it isn’t ‘normal’, quiet, banishable worry. It’s loud and it doesn’t go away. I try to rationalize away the likelihood of planes crashing, and tell myself that there’s nothing I can do even if it does crash, so I should just continue living my life normally goddamn it, but it doesn’t help. Because for a fraction of a hundredth of a second, I experience the reality of my mother’s death, or whatever it happens to be at that time. And then, when I can force my brain to think of something else, inevitably something pops up again and the process repeats.

[compulsive] In order to cope with this constant stress, my brain has come up with various superstitions, including never telling anybody ‘goodbye’ without saying ‘see you later’, or ‘goodnight’ without ‘see you in the morning’. Another superstition is that if I visualized the word ‘no’ that would negate whatever ‘bad’ thing I’m thinking. There is a special image of the word that I use (it’s red and white) that I came up with when I was little and have been using ever since.

[disorder] This happens all my waking hours, since as long as I can remember. It’s exhausting, actually, and it sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate or enjoy things.

It wasn’t always this bad. I’ve been using the ‘no’ image for as long as I can remember but I would only use it for very bad things—like whenever I heard the word ‘death’, or ‘illness’. I was sure I could stop anytime I wanted to. Gradually I started worrying more, though, and my worries became more subtle, and more terrifying. I started using the ‘no’ image more often. The ugly mental dance took up more and more of my thoughts until they defined my mentality.

I’d been living like this for years, until suddenly, one night in India, I stood in my pajamas in the dark next to my bed, hand on the light switch, trying to convince myself I wasn’t going to die in my sleep.

It was that night that I decided that I couldn’t let this continue. It was no different from the hundred nights that came before it, or the hundred afterward, but for some reason something, well, snapped, as they say. It wasn’t the first time I had wished I didn’t worry so much, but it was the first time I realized that maybe this was something to take seriously. That maybe there was something more than just wrong here, there was something broken . . . and that maybe could be mended.

When I got back to America, and to school, I sought counselling. Even then I didn’t seek a therapist, because I didn’t think my problem was severe enough. I could still function, after all. My grades and friendships weren’t suffering. Everybody worries. But the more I spoke to my counsellor, the more she became convinced that I should see somebody who specialized in anxiety disorders.

And so I finally told my family what was going on and they set me up with a highly specialized therapist in the city.

He gave me terrifying assignments, like to say ‘goodbye’ to everyone I parted with for a week, without saying ‘see you later’. When nobody died, my brain was supposed to learn from the experience and realize that my saying ‘see you later’ has nothing to do with whether anybody dies. These assignments were very difficult, and I struggled with them.

But I did them. Today I’m in a much better mental state than I was at the beginning of this year. I’m not cured—you can’t cure OCD, but you can manage it, and channel it into ways that are not destructive. I still have a long way to go but honestly I’m proud of how far I’ve come. When I think that I’ve been entangled in this for as long as I can remember, and how utterly, deeply lost I felt that night in India, I’m amazed. So much for something I never took very seriously at all.

I’m telling this story because it’s about my struggle with my mental health. If, instead, I told a story about how I walked around with a broken arm all my life, but I was afraid to tell anybody until one day I realized I should probably get a cast, you’d think that was ridiculous, and you’d be right. Instead, it’s a story about how I felt so ashamed, frightened, and just generally weird about my mental health problems that I lived with them for much longer than I needed to, and caused myself much undue stress.

I couldn’t even tell my parents, the ones who care about me the most, about this thing that had pretty much defined my mental landscape for as long as I can remember, until about four months ago.

I thank God, Buddha, the ancestors, and whomever else it is that I’m supposed to thank that, after all, my problems weren’t so bad as to truly interfere with my life. Bajillions of people have OCD, anxiety disorders, depression, and other nasty things so bad they literally can’t do anything else. I also thank all the aforementioned that I am lucky and privileged enough to have a family with the means to support me, and the caring to do so. Gazillions of people with mental disorders have to struggle alone, or with inadequate support, because they simply can’t afford help.

Finally, millions of people struggle alone with their mental disorders but don’t call it that, because they don’t take their own minds seriously. For those people, I’m telling my story. For almost my whole life so far I’ve lived with a problem and didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t think it was a ‘real’ problem. I had never met anyone who talked about their OCD or anxiety, or heard about any symptoms of OCD that were less than extreme.

The idealist in me likes to imagine a world in which mental health is no longer a taboo reality, and is treated with the respect and honesty it deserves. The cynic in me doesn’t see this happening for a long time. But one way we as a society can bring that vision closer is by telling our stories, and being frank. The more stories that are floating around out there, the more likely it is that some little girl in the future might recognize herself in one of them.

Consider this my contribution to bringing that vision closer.

P.S. Here’s a link to a blog called ‘Hyperbole and a Half’, by Allie Brosh, who wrote (ironically?) a comic about her struggle with depression. The comic is so good it’s scary; it will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Make sure you read Parts I & II!

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Hey blog,

So last post was pretty depressing. But this one won’t be! I’m pleased to say that I’m in India and having a blast so far (about 36 hours in). I don’t know how often I’ll get to post on this blog but I’ve started another one officially for India that will be posted on the website for the Alliance for Global Education. It’s official.

Here’s the URL, in case you’re curious: http://www.justanothervoyager.wordpress.com

Totally official.

In any case, beads, flowers, freedom, happiness, and shub ratri!

 

In high school, I was in the drama club and we were doing All Shook Up. The director, a slow-moving, obese but cheerful woman with whom I never interacted very much (I was in stage crew), had a heart attack at a local diner and died a week before opening night. The show, of course, went on, but every student in the drama club learned how fragile life was and how it could be drastically changed–or taken away–in an instant.

When I was younger, I read a small story in a newspaper about how these two little kids went out to play soccer; they were struck by lightning and killed instantly. The reporter quoted the mother weeping something like, ‘You never expect it to happen to you, you just send your kids out to play soccer and it’s just raining and you think they’ll come home’.

My best friend in middle school told me once that her uncle died one night for no reason at all; he just stopped breathing in his sleep.

Life is fragile. I could think of a hundred good stories that begin with, ‘and those were the last words I ever said to my father’. We love those stories, where someone dies or loses a limb or gets otherwise life-alteringly hurt–and it only ever takes a second, and it could happen to anybody. In fact, it usually happens to those who least expect it, or deserve it. These stories remind us to live our lives to the fullest, and enjoy your loved ones while you have them, because you never know when that could change.

But all I learned was to worry.

Every moment my loved ones spend out of my sight is a moment they could choke, have a heart attack, get hit by a car, get struck by lightning. It only ever takes a second. And myself, every waking moment I spend is a moment my heart could stop beating, my lungs deflate, my brain swell, the earth quake, the house crumble, a tree fall on me. I find myself imagining scenarios in which I die, or worse, someone in my family dies–what happens next? Who is the first to know? Do I go back to school? Do I go to India? What about my other family members? What is the funeral like? In other words, my mind is like an out-of-control car that I am constantly trying to wrench back to rationality: calm down, this isn’t happening, how can you be thinking of this, it’s just making you upset.

I used to be afraid of feeling my pulse in case it stopped; now I can’t go ten minutes without checking it for the same reason. I now know more ways of checking my pulse than any health class could have taught me. I try to do it discreetly so I can do it anywhere. I am hypersensitive to the workings of my body: if something feels even vaguely wrong, or ‘off’, or even different, it consumes my thoughts. If my heartbeat is irregular, it’s about to give out. If I feel dizzy for no apparent reason, something must be seriously wrong with my brain and no amount of normal MRIs will convince me otherwise. If my feet feel tingly it’s because my circulation is poor, which means I have a weak heart or diabetes and will probably die soon. If every time I thought this, of course, something actually was wrong, I would be an invalid by now. So I wrench the car back on the road. Sometimes I wish I could go to sleep to stop worrying so much but of course the idea of sleep is worrisome for obvious reasons–what if I don’t wake up?

Perhaps what is ironic about all of this is that usually, once people realize how fragile life is, they are supposed to live life to the fullest. But I don’t. I am overly gentle with my body; I hate exercise, because when I exert myself my heart starts pounding and I think that’s bad. So I do no more than what I need to in order to function and convince myself that I’m still alive physically okay.

Every night, I tell my family, ‘goodnight, see you in the morning’, because I’m superstitious enough to believe that if I say I’ll see them in the morning, then I will, and if I forget to say that, then I won’t. Same for ‘goodbye, see you later’. I don’t remember the last time I told anybody just ‘goodbye’.

This is not an easy post for me to write. It took me a long time to decide to write this. I’m probably not going to proofread it. I must have checked my pulse at least ten times so far.

I have never been formally diagnosed with anxiety, or OCD, or anything of the kind. I wonder, does everybody feel this way? My mother tells me she worries about me all the time, because that’s what mothers do. Do mothers always feel like this? If so, I don’t know why anyone would want to be one.

I read today: ‘A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.’ Well I do want to live life to the fullest and stop living in fear. I don’t want to be anxious like this any more.

 

 

 

I must apologize for having disappeared for a few days (okay, like, over a week) without even writing a story. I must be like ten posts behind now. Sigh.

Why don’t I just tell you what I’ve been up to lately and we’ll call it even? Hopefully as I write I’ll come up with something inspiring enough to be worth the read. 🙂

Well, here goes:

When last we spoke, I believe, I was chillin’ on the Virginia coastline, visitin’ wit fambly, celebrating white America’s Independence Day. (Oh, ahem, uh…about that last post—I realized, after discussing it with my family, that it sounded like a jab at Great Britain. I did not mean it as a jab at Great Britain. I really was only discussing fireworks. Great Britain is awesome. You go, Great Britain. I’ll be coming over when Mitt Romney wins this year, so save me a flat in London.)

Man, there is just nothing like the beach. I hope that at least once a year for every year for the rest of my life I’ll be able to make a pilgrimage to the beach, and I think I’ll be pretty happy. Can’t imagine much better than a room in a lil motel on the ocean, a couple of sunny days, some nice blue waves, and just enough cash for some elephant ears and a few games of skee-ball. Oh, and someone to share it with. 🙂

But I digress. Kind of. Anyway, back home from the beach, and I finally got a new job! Hooray! Now I can buy myself a night at the beach, or voice lessons, or sitar lessons, or a night at the beach, or…or save up for my student loans…or time at the beach! Now, in the name of the Internet being a crazy place I won’t tell you exactly where my new job is but I will tell you that it involves lots of coffee.

Sigh. Me and coffee: a tale of unrequited love. You see, my dad is a lover of coffee and made sure that I grew up able to appreciate the subtle tones and differences in each different brew, the different roasts, the origin flavors, the tasting techniques, and brewing techniques…I really do love coffee. But coffee does not love me back. Caffeine doesn’t keep me awake, but makes me feel jittery and fatigued at the same time. Maybe I should try decaf…but I’d just feel like I was betraying coffee.

Oh well.

Again, I digress. Life’s been pretty good since I last posted to you, blog. I had the strangest sensation, the other day, of looking forward to going to work. That’s never happened before! I went to the doctor today and found out that my dizziness and headaches were probably nothing to worry about. I also finally finished my visa application and mailed it off and I guess this whole big ‘I’m going to India for a semester abroad’ thing is actually real…

…Nope. Still not real yet. I think it’s one of those things where it won’t seem real until I’m actually standing on Indian soil. And maybe not even then, maybe only on some random morning in October when I’m trying to catch a rickshaw to school and I realize I’m trying to catch a rickshaw to school.

Oh yeah, did I mention I’m studying abroad in India next semester? I’m going to study sitar. And Hindi. I try not to talk about it much at home because I think it worries my parents, but someday soon they are going to have to drive me to the airport and put me on that plane, and I personally would rather have cleared this guilty sort of air before then. I’ll let you know how it goes, blog.

Well, blog, so that’s what’s been up lately, and I promise every word is true. Hopefully I’ll be back with more stories but I realize, in retrospect, that randomly deciding one night to write a story every day is kind of like making a New Year’s resolution to lose 50 pounds by February. (Or, in my case, deciding to exercise at all. >.<) And I’ve never been good at keeping a diary. I don’t know how people do it. But I’m glad they do. Historical diaries are some of the most interesting documents possibly to read, as they show us that for the most part, people have been eating, shitting, and getting smashed with their friends on the weekends since long before 1650. And the more I hear about it, the more that’s true whether it’s England, or Africa, or the Middle East, or China, or Chile.

Or India.

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July

The best reason to celebrate this holiday.

Hello everybody, and happy Independence Day! Quick question: do they have a July fourth in England?

Anyway, I’ve been kind of lazy because I’m visiting family and stuff, so now I’m THREE posts behind! My goodness! Well anyway here’s a link to something funny Chris Rock said about Independence Day and remember kyids, Don’t Put it Down.

In case you’re wondering, they DO have a July fourth in England, it comes right between the third and the fifth! They just don’t have fireworks on that day. Those poor Brits. But I’m sure they’ll get their fireworks fix at the Olympic Games this year.

Beads, flowers, freedom, hapiness…and fireworks…

I’m sleepy tonight, so I leave you with a link to Part I (Acts I and II) of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Enjoy!

In kindergarten, we were eating munchkins to celebrate Halloween when one of my classmates announced that the jelly filling they used was actually blood. I slowly put down my munchkin and have never eaten anything jelly-filled since.

 

 

Storytime again, methinks 🙂

—~

The air was so wet you could squeeze it like a sponge. Steam curled in tendrils off of the great fan-like leaves at eye level and all around there was a vague greenish fog, tinted by the thick vegetation in all directions, including up and down. There was a steady drip, drip coming from one of the nearest of the great leaves, as sparkling beads of water rolled gently down the leaf’s great spine and splashed on the green mattress below. Everything was covered in a layer of beading sweat that wouldn’t evaporate. All was green, except for tiny splashes of red, or orange, where occasionally a strange flower would lift its delicate head and seek companionship, flirting outrageously with neighboring plants and insects.

The jungle was not a quiet place. Monkeys, and probably other things, sent their keening calls through the shadowy lattice of trees. Wet echoes of dripping water jumped lightly from leaf to vine to fern, and it was impossible to move without swishing a steaming waterfall from at least five neighboring plants. Frogs and insects sang their constant, buzzing songs, and strange birds commented sweetly from their secret hiding places. Even in a quiet moment, you could hear, in the distance, the telltale rumble of an approaching thunderstorm. But no rain could alleviate this soaking, sweating heat.

Jules smiled, his teeth melting like sugar, and spread out his arms, absorbing as many degrees Fahrenheit as his skinny limbs would allow. He took a few steps to humbly approach a beautiful hibiscus-looking flower and bowed to it, caressing its petals. He held a giant leaf to his lips and tilted it, so that the crystalline water came streaming into his mouth like a sweet tea. Then he wiped his face on the leaf, and there was no damage to the thick layer of sweat that anointed his features. Jules smiled again, closing his eyes, listening to the sounds, and feeling the air moving in slow, sopping currents against his skin…

‘Jules, we are here!’ his mother’s voice wafted from the front of the carriage just as the sound of the horse’s hoofs stopped. Jules suddenly sat up straight. He had been facing out the window, but hadn’t noticed that they had arrived at the great grey mansion.

His mother turned in her seat. ‘Just look at you, Jules!’ she cried at the sight of Jules’s winter coat, hanging unbuttoned and half off. She set about furiously trying to fix it over the back of her seat, clucking things like, ‘You’ll catch your death in this cold, wearing your coat like that!’ and ‘Wrap your scarf around your neck, boy, do you want to freeze?’ and Jules could only let his mother fuss and scold until she was done.

As they dismounted the carriage, Jules drew his scarf up tighter, as cold gusts of wind rushed snow into his face. Now was the time for visiting with Grandma; Jules ached for when the visit was over and he could return to the warm, wonderful tropics…

Since the early 2000’s, there has been a chain e-mail going around that claims to tell the etymology of the English word shit. The e-mail features a cockamamie story that has to do with shipping manure across the ocean and having to dry it out so it doesn’t explode, culminating in an acronym, Store High for Imminent something or whatever, for shit. I didn’t need to consult Snopes.com to realize that this story is a hoax. The truth, of course, is much more interesting, if you’re a linguist like me.

The word shit has been in the English language, and meant the same thing, largely, for hundreds and hundreds of years. In forms ranging from our beloved shit to the Old English scittan, which nobody really knows how to pronounce, the word has graced our language since its formation. Across the Indo-European spectrum, we see versions of shit all over the place: σκατά – ‘skata’ (Greek), Scheißescheisse (German), stront (Dutch), stercus (Latin), सर्जन – sarjana (Sanskrit), skidt (Danish)—you get the idea. Keep in mind that we are going for phonetic variations on the same word here, and I find it not inconceivable that the sounds [st] and [sk] could be easily swapped.

The most interesting part about all of this, however, is this: the theory goes that in Proto-Indo-European, the root *skei meant something along the lines of ‘to diverge, separate’. The idea is more easily recognizable in words like schism, or scissors, which come from the same root as shit. Less obviously, the word science also comes from the same root, through the Latin scire, ‘to know’; the original meaning of scire was probably more along the lines of ‘to distinguish’. The Sanskrit word, सर्जन – sarjana, has multiple meanings, as all Sanskrit words do; this word can also mean ‘to create’ (in the sense of giving up a part of yourself) or ‘to surrender’.

Nice to know so much about what is truly one of the most expressive words in the English language!

I’ve got most of my information from www.etymonline.com, an endlessly fascinating site, if you’d like to take a look.

Next time you use the word shit, remember what it used to mean once upon a time. Make you reconsider using it? Probably not. In fact, for many English speakers, shit is little more than a reflex, like ouch or ow. 

But is it a ‘reflex’, in the natural sense of something universally human, or is it really influenced by language? In Ghana, people say adzei (pronounced like ah-jé) if they trip and fall, not ouch. These seem to be different sounds at first glance, but they do seem to be relatively slight phonetic variations on the same theme, no? The line between expletives and non-linguistic sounds can sometimes be a thin one.

But that is a story for another day. 🙂

Good news from Washington today! Apparently, in recent days, they’ve upheld healthcare reform, refused to let Congress double the rates on student loans, and passed a Transportation Bill that’ll make our roads better. Nancy Pelosi was practically weeping with joy about the healthcare decision on television when I was watching today, and if the sight of someone so happy doesn’t make you happy, I dunno what does. In all, good for you, Washington!

Almost makes you want to forgive them for the Montana v. FEC decision.

Almost.

🙂