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‘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!

 

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.

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!

Brave (2012 film)

Her hair alone is reason enough to see this movie.

So…in case I haven’t made it clear by now, I am a huge Disney/Pixar fan…which is why I went out tonight to watch their new movie, Brave! Now, I may be a bit biased, but I have to say it was everything I expected it to be: a fun time, stunning animation, a compelling moral conflict, and a badass princess with amazing hair for a main character.

Of course, as with most Disney movies, there are themes they touched on that I wished they’d developed further. But that is one of the reasons why I love Disney: they tend to leave a lot out—or, as I like to put it, to the imagination. Tonight, as I am going to sleep, I’m going to fill in the gaps in the plot line and the dialogue and re-experience the film in infinite ways, like I do with all the animated Disney movies.

People get annoyed at Disney because they tend to ‘sugar-coat’ things by always making it all right in the end, often by using some predictable and cockamamy twist of the plot that never resembles what might happen in real life. And to them I say, what the hell is wrong with that? Firstly, it’s nice to see problems work out well every once in a while, even if they are fictional. Secondly, Disney movies are kind of like the Bible: not meant to be taken seriously. No, I don’t expect that all my problems will work out just like Disney says they will, and if I did, that’d be my fault, not Disney’s. But I do learn lessons from them, like legends, and enjoy hearing them. Because that’s what they are, usually: legends.

And so, my dear readers, I leave you with a link to the trailer for Brave. I hope you enjoy it! Maybe you’ll even go see it. Or maybe not. Just remember how to watch Disney movies, and you should be set. 🙂

Also, they have really cool accents in Brave. Just sayin’.

I sat down to blog today, planning on writing a post about how awesome Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks all are, and then I got distracted by watching trailers of Disney movies on YouTube. Then I found the link for Disney’s 1994 film Angels in the Outfield. It was one of those movies I watched a formidable number of times with my twin bro as a lil’ kid (if you have kids, or a childhood, you probably know what I mean by ‘formidable’). Anyway, the trailer is one of the cutest fucking things I’ve ever seen, and so, lovely readers, I leave you today, bittersweetly, with a link to the full movie, Angels in the Outfield.

You gotta believe!!

 

😀

'I figure it's easier to find a war than a job these days.'
Also, on a sort of related note, I would like a chocolate cake.
(Is it funny that I can’t say the phrase ‘chocolate cake’ anymore without it sounding like Bill Cosby in my head?)
UPDATE: I feel much better. It was Bill Cosby that did it. 🙂
Atlanta Braves

How much stereotyping can you spot? Nope. Not even going to mention any of that in this post. 🙂

Whew! Methinks it’s time for a break from all those long stories, don’t you? I thought a short post tonight might make for a little variety. So let’s try this on for size.

I hate baseball, but my family loves it, so for the past few days the TV has been broadcasting the series between the Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. Now, for those of you who for some reason you aren’t crazy baseball fans and you don’t know everything about every single team ever (can’t imagine why you wouldn’t), fans of the Atlanta Braves are famous for a cheer they do, called the ‘tomahawk chop’. It goes ‘Ohhhhhh…Ohhhhhhhhhhh’ and involves a chopping motion with the arm. If you find this description unhelpful, watch the first few seconds of this video I found on Youtube just now.

It’s kind of cool, right?

By the twentieth time I heard it, it was starting to get on my nerves, and by the fiftieth time I heard it, I knew it was going to be stuck in my head forever, and by the hundredth time I heard it, I was trying to figure out the solfege. Seriously, they do it every single time a guy gets on base.

(In case you’re curious, here’s the solfege:

do——te-(do-te)-sol——– ‘ sol——fa-(sol-fa)-do——–

And for those of you who think minor keys always starts on la:

la——sol-(la-sol)-mi——– ‘ mi——re-(mi-re)-la——–

[the ‘ is the breath mark, and the ( ) denote the grace notes]

I found it super difficult to figure out! It sounds like it’s in minor key, so I kept trying to shove a me in there, but apparently all you need is the lowered seventh.)

Of course, there is very little about this cheer that sounds remotely Native American–more like some white person’s idea of what Native American music should sound like sometime in the early 1800’s. Here is a video I also just found on Youtube that shows a Choctaw powwow (Choctaws lived around the modern Georgia-ish area), and you can actually hear some of the singing. (The dancing’s kinda cool too!) If you have a better video, please please please let me know! I used to have a link to some very good world music, but I’ve lost it. 😥

Anyway, Native American music from that region is characterized by call-and-response, rhythmically intricate lines, and a more ‘relaxed’ vocal timbre than that of more Western tribes. At least that’s what my music professor told me.

So, the next time you’re watching baseball with the family and all the Atlanta Braves fans start up their famous ‘tomahawk chop’, you can–

Nevermind. Don’t bother. People will laugh at you.  😛

 

 

If you’d told me three days ago I’d be writing my first blog post today, I probably would’ve laughed at you.

Then again, if you’d told me three years ago I’d have a MacBook and be a lead singer in the African Music Ensemble today, I probably would have laughed at you.

That’s why I try not to laugh at people. It’s the Age of Information, and we as a society have redefined that word, information. It can mean anything now, from census data to how much I love socks to what a mountainside looks like in a New England autumn. And so, in a world that is increasingly connected to itself, let me add my own tiny voice. Wether it gets heard or not is irrelevant. The fact that my voice is even here means that I am a part of the wave of information, for better or for worse.

I read somewhere (incidentally, on someone else’s blog) that blogging is essentially one of the most arrogant things you can do–namely, assuming that there are a bunch of people out there who have nothing better to do with their time than to read what you have to say, which is probably a pretty good copy of what millions of your peers have to say. I’ll agree with that. I’ve never been one to spout my inner thoughts when silence could’ve reigned; I don’t even like interrupting other people, and much less being interrupted. Who am I to take up your time when you could’ve been doing something else, or at least reading somebody much more interesting?

Which is why, if I’m going to blog, I’ll need to come up with a better reason.

Writing is like being naked, more than one author has said. Good writing exposes the author’s innermost thoughts and feelings, loves and hates, fears, hopes, dreams, daydreams, follies. To be a good writer you have to take off everything that protects you and insulates you, and we will judge what’s inside. Take out your organs and show us what makes them cry. And we will judge you.

And that is why blogging, when done correctly, is the opposite of arrogance. It is submission. To judgement. To the wave of information. Except instead of pages, I’m hiding behind a screen, and instead of thousands of readers, I could be talking to one or one million–and the best (and scariest) part is, I’ll never know. I have no way of knowing how big my voice really is. If that doesn’t take a leap of faith in myself, I don’t know what does.

And if there’s one thing I could use right now, it’s a little faith in myself.

And that’s why I’ve decided to start blogging. So, reader, if you exist, get ready to judge me all the hell you want. Here is what makes me cry, and laugh, and wonder, and speak. Here is what makes my mind run in circles, or what rocks it to sleep. With any luck, you might enjoy, or relate to, or hate, or learn from,  or remember, something in here. Hell, you might even discover the sort of thing in here you wouldn’t believe if I told you three days ago.

I won’t laugh at you.

 

Peace