Monday, March 30, 2015



That's one of my favorite phrases. It's also sort of my Hail Mary desperation statement. When all my logical (or illogical) reasons for why I'm scared, anxious, worried, what-have-you have run out, I usually end with "BUT YOU DON'T KNOW!!!"

Andrea has created the perfect retort: "No I don't know, but neither do you." Boom. She always roasts me with that one. 

Anyone with anxiety will tell you that most of the anxiety comes from what we don't know. What could happen. What if. And that's hard. But it's even harder if you have OCD. Because not only do not know what could happen within the reasonable, rational world, but you can also dream up eleventy million implausible, maybe impossible, totally ridiculous things to also worry about.

I think it's important to note that we/I do not sit around thinking of ridiculous scenarios that COULD happen just to annoy people around us. Those things just pop into our heads that seem just as likely as any of the "real" sort of things you could/should worry about. Is it likely that the stranger walking behind me at a restaurant will all of a sudden grab my head and snap my neck and kill me? Highly unlikely...but you never know! And the more I worry about it the more likely it seems that it could happen. That's the main difference between people with OCD and everyone else. Other people might have that thought but then say "Oh, that's silly" and laugh it off and continue with their day. People with OCD might know that it's silly, but it's no laughing matter. And the more we try to NOT think about it, the more we think about it, and then the more it becomes real life. Believe me, if I could stop these ridiculous thoughts from a) entering my head and b) leaving quickly if they do come in, I would be a much happier person! But the problem with having OCD is that your brain conveniently disposes of logic and reason for you. Even if you can say "I know this is silly and unlikely to happen" the small part of your brain where OCD lives whispers "But what if it does?" and then you spend time quieting the OCD and in the process obsessing over why it might be right. It's exhausting.

The best thing about having a completely non-anxious, calm, steady partner is that she can act as a nice port in the harbor of crazy town that is my brain. When I come up with a particularly ridiculous "what if" she can respond that it would have never occurred to her that that could happen, but yes, maybe it could but it's super unlikely. There's something immensely calming about her responses. She doesn't act like I'm ridiculous, so then I don't feel shame and embarrassment -- which often heighten worries for me -- but she considers it like it's a serious potential and then says it's unlikely to happen. And I'm much more likely to believe her because I know her brain is more rational than mine. And the fact that it has or never would occur to her often makes me think "Hmm, that probably means it's really unlikely to happen or she would have thought about it." Not always...sometimes I say "WELL IT'S A GOOD THING I WORRY ABOUT EVERYTHING OR WE MIGHT DIE 12 TIMES TODAY!" And in her steady, reassuring way she says "You're right. It's a good thing we have you to keep us safe. And a good thing we have me to make sure we don't become agoraphobics and keep us moving forward." Ah, yin and yang.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What if I maim a garbage collector?

In 7th grade home economics (yes it was really called that and yes we were required to take it) we learned how to properly dispose of broken glass. If you broke a glass or a mirror or anything glass you were to put it in a paper bag, tape it up securely, and mark it BROKEN GLASS.

To this day I still do this whenever I dispose of broken glass.

Because if I don't? I may maim the garbage man (or woman).

I cannot have that on my conscience. Even if most garbage collection is automated these days and most garbage collectors never handle the garbage themselves. Because what if behind the scenes there is someone sorting through garbage that I don't know about? What if they are sorting my garbage and I haven't placed my broken glass securely in a paper bag and clearly marked BROKEN GLASS? What if they reach in my garbage and my broken glass slices off their hand? What if they are alone in the garbage sorting area and they bleed to death because of my improperly disposed of glass? No. Cannot risk that. I better wrap up my broken glass and write in huge letters on every inch of that paper bag CAUTION: BROKEN GLASS. Just once is not enough. I need to cover every side of the bag. Just in case they only see one edge of the bag and think it's just a bag. Nope. Gotta make it clear. Someone's life might be riding on my broken glass. I cannot fail them. Their life depends on me. Whoever they are.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Brain Aneurysms

When I was in junior high a family friend died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She was in her mid-30's. She had just given birth to her 3rd child in the past year. I babysat for their family sometimes. I remember my dad told me after softball practice. And I was like "what the heck is an aneurysm?" And then my life was never the same.

Every time I have an intense headache...which lets face it, is often since headaches are triggered by stress and hello? My life is stress. But luckily, as I've gotten older, understood my OCD, my anxiety and started taking meds my stress has gone down and so has my frequency of headaches. Thankfully. But every time I have an intense headache I am sure I'm having an aneurysm.

Welp here it is. My fatal brain aneurysm. I'm ready to drop dead at any moment.




And every time I don't die? I think whew. Just a regular headache this time.

But it's probably a headache because there is a clot forming in my blood vessels. So next time I'll die.

And then I massage my head vigorously because I reason that massaging my blood vessels externally will break up any of the clots that are starting to form. Because obviously I have magical de-clotting fingers and if everyone would just massage their brain blood vessels more often we could stop dying of brain aneurysms.

See how OCD works? Obsess, obsess, obsess...oooh. Some sort of compulsive, repetitive solution to soothe the obsession. Brain aneurysm -> magical de-clotting massage -> reduction in anxiety...and then the cycle starts all over again. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

You'll Poke Your Eye Out!

Continuing with the theme of ridiculous fears this week, today I'll share my fear of 4 way clothing racks. Yes, 4 way clothing racks. Like these:

Gah. Just looking at them makes me all blinky. This obsession didn't start until I worked in retail at the age of 16. I worked at Fashion Bug for years. At some point I started worrying that I would turn around too fast and gouge my eye out with the end of one of the racks and lose my eye. This made it unbearable to go to work. I wanted to wear safety goggles to work, but I knew that was weird so I just made sure I walked slowly around the store when putting things away and tried to work the cash register as much as possible.

Even today I'm scared of them. When I go shopping I'm always on high alert for eye stabbage. I'm always afraid I'll be unaware of my distance from a rack and smash my face into one. Which is ridiculous since I'm hyper aware of the racks and my distance to them. But I'm also clumsy. So what if I trip on the carpet, my own feet, the air and land eye first onto a rack arm? So risky. I just try to stay away from those kinds of racks in general. And mostly online shop. Eeek.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Realistic Dolls...They're All Chucky to Me

I almost couldn't even post a picture on this blog post because I'm that terrified of realistic dolls. I most DEFINITELY could not post a picture of the worst doll of all time...Chucky from Child's Play.  Hooooo. Leeeeee. Shiiiiit. That was most definitely the start of my doll fears.

When we moved to Indiana and I was in elementary school horror movies were just becoming THE THING to do at slumber parties. I hated horror movies. But I wanted to fit in so I would enthusiastically join in with movies that would give me nightmares for months. The worst movie I ever say was Child's Play. That scared me and scarred me for life. After watching that movie, all of my realistic looking dolls had to go.

Especially Pamela.

Pamela was a talking doll much like Chucky. I got her for my birthday from my Grandma Gatlin. She was very expensive at the time, and as a child who grew up in a thrift store hippie family, was totally out of character for me to own something so extravagant. So when I became terrified of her I also had a tremendous amount of guilt. How could I get rid of a doll that I had wanted SO bad and was SO not worthy of having? I was in a pickle. At first I just tried hiding her in my closet at night time, because that's obviously when dolls come alive and kill you. But then I realized if Pamela was coming to life then she would be able to open my closet door and murder me anyway. So then Pamela had to go farther away.

Our house in Indiana had a storage attic. You couldn't walk around up there or anything, but it did have a little attic ladder that pulled down so you could climb up there and store things.

One day when I was home alone I climbed up there and stuffed Pamela in a box. I scurried down and put the ladder and hatch back up. I felt immensely better and not as guilty as I would have felt if I would have given her away.

Over the next few days I started worrying that putting her in the attic would make her really mad and therefore more murderous. I would lay in bed listening for the sounds of a doll walking around in the attic planning my murder. I was worried she would figure out how to open the attic ladder and come through the garage and THEN kill me. But the attic door was really heavy and strong. It was hard for me to pull it down and I was much bigger than Pamela.

At one point the ladder broke and we had to use a regular ladder to access the attic. I was so freaking happy. I figured if she somehow could open the heavy ass door she might be injured from the 15 foot fall onto the concrete floor of the garage and definitely not be able to come and kill me. I could mostly stop worrying about her. Mostly. Weeks and months would go by and I wouldn't think about her. But every once in a while I'd panic and think "What if she's REALLY PISSED NOW? She's been up there for years stewing in her anger. She is totally going to develop superhuman rage and find a way to come murder me."

Years ago I finally got the courage to get rid of her. Donated her to Goodwill so she can terrorize someone else. When I still lived in Indiana I would occasionally worry that she would find me and kill me. Now that I live in California I know I'm too far away and she'd never find me. Obviously.

But realistic dolls still scare me. There are none in my house. They few collectible ones I have are packed away in a special box in my garage labeled "Dolls" and if I never look at them then they won't know I put them there and they won't develop murderous plots to kill me. Obviously.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sharks in the Pool

I wrote about this previously, but it was before I had a full understanding of the extent of my OCD and how it impacts my life. And it's funny so it bears repeating.

Probably one of my DUMBEST and most long-standing obsessions is swimming alone in a pool and worrying about being attacked by a shark. I KNOW. So dumb! But I have worried about this since...forever. If there are many people in a pool, I'm good, because duh, a shark wouldn't come into a pool with so many people. Why? No clue. But that's the rule. But if it's just me, or maybe one or two other people in the pool...paranoia. I check the pool obsessively to make sure a shark isn't sneaking up on me.

How would the shark get into the pool? The drains, duh. When I was younger and lived in Santa Cruz that seemed sort of plausible. They would swim from the ocean into a pipe that was in the sea, would swim up the pipe and pop out into the pool I was swimming in. Obviously. Once we moved to Indiana all quasi-rational explanations for how the sharks would get into the pipes was gone. But OCD isn't rational and doesn't need no stinking explanations so I just kept on believing I'd be attacked by a shark if I was alone in the pool.

I think this obsession stems from Jaws. I love the entire Jaws franchise, but watching Jaws in childhood apparently altered my brain permanently. I also went on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios when I was a kid and my parents didn't know I would be on the side exactly where the animatronic Jaws would come out to attack our boat. I about died when that happened. When I picture the shark that's going to attack me, it always looks like Jaws.

I also worry about sharks at the beach. But that's sort of normal-ish. Many people worry about sharks at the beach. Probably not as much as me, but I don't feel too weird about it.  

I turn 35 in less than a month and last week I was swimming alone at the pool at the gym and I was still worried a shark was going to attack me. This shit is ridiculous. But alas, here it is.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Motherfucking Pretzel Nugs

True confession: even though I endeavor to eat health, am a vegetarian, believe in green movements and eco-friendly everything, etc. etc. I am a total disgusting junk food lover. Fake cheese, microwaved snacks, all of it.

We recently discovered these SuperPretzel Softstix cheese filled soft pretzel sticks. And by "we" I really mean me and my stepson Trevor. One day I picked some up at the store when Trev had asked for some soft pretzels. I got the soft pretzels and thought, "oooh, he might like these!" (because he loves junk food and doesn't care so much about nutrition or vegetables or anything health really). I brought them home and he was pumped to try them and after eating one he was like "OMG, you have to try these. They're SO GOOD." So I did, and he was right and now we're addicted to them.

One night he was in a goofy mood and had had a great day and he came out of his room and was talking about his great day and said "MAN, you know what will make this day even better? MOTHERFUCKING PRETZEL NUGS!" and now that's what we call them. Pretty much always. Unless we're trying to be polite. Then it's just pretzel nugs. On a side note Andrea says Trev's potty mouth has gotten SUBSTANTIALLY WORSE since she started dating me. Probably just a coincidence...

On my electronic grocery list MFing Pretzel Nugs x 6 million is a constant category. We actually get 6 each time we go to the store (about every two weeks). Four for Trev and 2 for me (cause I'm healthy like that). Andrea will snack on some of ours but isn't compelled to nug out every week like us. We joke that she was really just my surrogate, because Trev and I are more alike than she and him are. This is based on more than pretzel nug love, but that's for another time.

When we came home from a recent vacation, I was looking in the freezer when I noticed a box of pretzel nugs that had been opened.

Me: There's an open box of nugs...
Trev: What? Why is it open?  [because we both would not open them and change our minds, nor would I have allowed an opened box to be purchased, because duh, murderers]
Me: Maybe Lauren opened them when she was house-sitting...and ate just a few...?
Trev: What? Who does that? Who only eats a few? It's clearly one serving per box!
Me: Look! Only a few have been eaten! What the hell? What is wrong with your sister?
Trev: WAIT...what if...she...DIDN'T...LIKE...THEM?!?!?
Me: NO! Blasphemous! How could you not like MOTHERFUCKING PRETZEL NUGS?!?!
Trev: I don't even know...but good! That means I get a box and a half today!
Me: UGH! Jerk!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Is this real life?

One of the hardest things about having OCD is my inability to tell when I'm being a total obsessive compulsive spaz or when I'm having "normal people" worries.

Am I have a reaction that most people would have? 

Is this really what I want or is it what I want because I'm obsessing over some random ass thing in this moment? 

Am I overthinking my thoughts? Am I overthinking my overthinking?

Not being able to trust your own judgment is hard. Obsessing over your own judgment is even harder. It's exhausting in fact. I spend more time wondering if I'm nuts or if I'm normal than I do pretty much anything else.

Sometimes it's little "did I accidentally say something that someone could interpret as rude in that interaction?" or

Most of the time it's about repetitive things or my serial does everyone think about murderers as much as me? Or does everyone do the same shower routine every single day or do they just go all wily nily with their bathing steps?

The worst things are big things. Like cutting my hair in a drastic way. Yesterday I got my hair cut. That seems like such a simple statement. Yesterday I went from chin length hair to super short hair. That seems a little more dramatic. But when I think about the amount of time I spent thinking about cutting my hair...lord. That's a lot of thinking.

Where does it start? Do I start with the time I was about 12 and I saw a runway model on some tv show that had a shaved head and a fantastic Chinese dragon tattoo on her head and I secretly wished I would get cancer (and sometimes I find my mind lingering there sometimes now) so I could shave my head without being weird and then be a bad ass like that model? Should I start when I DID cut my hair off in high school and at the time thought it was so cute and when I look back now I realize what a tragic chili bowl it was? Do I start when I saw GI Jane and realized that I didn't really just like Demi Moore because she was a great actress (because, let's be serious, she's really just ok) and it wasn't so much that I wanted to look like her as I probably wanted to have sex with her? Or do I start with "I really really really hate the feeling of sweat on my head -- not so much other parts of my body. Body sweat is tolerable. But head sweat makes me want to rip off my head? So if I have short hair my head will sweat less? And summer is coming and Chico is hella hot and I sweat a lot." Or should I talk about how much I hate getting dressed every day and doing my hair? It takes so damn much time. Time I could be reading or blogging or anything other than spending it on superficial stuff like fixing my hair or picking out something other than sweatpants to wear. It shouldn't matter if I look like a wreck or socially unacceptable for work -- I'm great at what I do whether I'm stylish or look like a bag lady. Ugh. I hate social expectations. Or should I talk about how much I hate the media and patriarchy and I hate performing my gender in stereotypical ways (femme) even though that's really who I am and I want to cut my hair because fuck blow drying and flat ironing and fuck long hair and fuck stylish hair and maybe I'll just shave it all off and give a middle finger to the world because my value is on the inside instead of my external appearance? But oh god. What if I look hideous? What if I look like a fat headed militant dyke...which is an ok thing in the conceptual world, but not ok for me in my real life I stare in the mirror everyday look...and oh my god I not only sound like a judgy asshole but that's totally me playing into patriarchy and media and gender stereotypes...and god I am so tired of thinking. Let me ask all of my closest people what they think. Nice. Ok. Good. Yes! I'm pumped! Oh, that was underwhelming. Oh, huh, that's not so great. If one more person says "it's just hair" I'm going to throat punch them. It's MY hair. If my hair is tragic I'll be obsessed with it's ugliness for the next 2 years while I grow it back out. Maybe this isn't what I really want. Maybe I'm giving into some compulsion and it's not really what I want. I'll sit on it and not make a hair appointment because I'm now paralyzed with doubt and conflicting feelings. Oh my god, I've dreamt about cutting my hair for the last three days in a row. I have been obsessed with cutting my hair for the past month. The past decade actually, but really I've spent hours each days thinking about my hair. This is ridiculous. No one obsesses about their hair this much. You're bonkers. Fuck it. I'm making a hair appointment.

And until my stylist turned me around in the chair and I caught a glimpse of how I now looked I still wasn't sure. Actually, I'm still not sure what my motivation was for cutting my hair. But now that I don't look like an ugly troll I'm at least happy I did it. Whew. Good choice. Nothing bad happened. Now I can move on to a new obsession.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Crow Mother

You know that question "If your house was burning down and you could only grab three things to save, what would they be?" I've never had a good answer to that question. I am very much a non-materialistic person. I don't care so much about stuff. I usually say my computer, because getting a new computer and setting it up is annoying. But all my important docs are saved to cloud servers so it wouldn't be all that tragic to lose my computer. I just didn't really have much of value that couldn't be replaced.

I now have a different answer. I would absolutely save my Crow Mother Kachina.

Kachinas are Native American dolls that have a lot of meanings. While those meaning are important, the meaning of my kachina is more important.

My Grandma Gatlin collected, sold and knew vast amounts of information about Native American art. I learned much more about my Native American roots from her (who was not Native American) than from my grandfather (who was). When I think about and remember my grandma one of the more prominent things is thinking about her vast collection (on the positive side). From the time I was itty bitty and can remember my first memories I associated her with Native American art, and specially kachinas.

Crow Mother was always my favorite kachina. I would stare at her on the shelf and sometimes my grandma would let me take her down and look at her. I loved all her kachinas but something in particular about Crow Mother spoke to me. Maybe it was my young feminist side who loved her power and respect as one of the highest female kachinas. Maybe it was her gentle look, although her role is not so gentle. But for whatever reason, I loved her. And my grandma always said that when she died I could have her.

Fast forward 30-ish years. My grandma died. The events and family web of complications around her death were messy and somewhat strained. I gave up hope that Crow Mother would make her way to me. I made peace with that.

Fast forward to 6 months after she died, and I was home in Indiana for Christmas. I was downstairs and went to the bathroom in my mom and stepdad's room. I walked in the room and there she was. It very literally took my breath away. There were some other things sitting in the window ledge with her, but all I could stare at was her. I couldn't believe it.

Not one to be able to hide my emotions or keep secrets, I ran upstairs and asked my stepdad about it. He was like "Oh, that was supposed to be a surprise." Later that night when my mom was back at the house she brought all of the treasures upstairs. My sisters didn't have as close of a relationship with her as I did, so my mom picked out some nice pots for them and they seemed happy with them. But she remembered that Crow Mother was what I'd always had my heart set on. I was overjoyed and overcome with emotion. She had also brought three ceraminc dolls with her, since we are three sisters. I chose the one that had the sun god painted on it. I didn't have any real attachment to the dolls, but since that doll had a painting of another of my favorite kachinas on it, that held some meaning.

Crow Mother has some broken parts that have been re-glued and fixed. I don't care. Her value is not in her quality and pristine appearance. Her value is much more deep and meaningful. She symbolizes some of the good things about my grandma and some of the happy memories I have of her. In some ways, the fact that she's a little banged up is even sweeter. My grandma was a clumsy clod of a person. I share that with her. We tried to be careful but our bodies always betray us. Crow Mother has been moved from several houses, has probably been dropped a zillion times, but her worth is more than her bumps and bruises. She's beautiful and has survived. Much like my grandma, and much like me. Crow Mother is my prized material possession. I'd save her in a second.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Grannies

Last year, I lost both of my grandmas in a span of 3 months. In some ways it was bittersweet, but in some ways it presented me with some serious moments of reflection and grief. 

Janet "Alice" Gatlin
April 4, 1931 - July 12, 2014

My mom's mother, Grandma Gatlin as we called her, died in July. It wasn't a surprise. She had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in January. She smoked off and on (mostly on) for 60+ years of her life. She had been having some additional health issues in late fall of 2013. When she was finally diagnosed it wasn't a huge shock. She had a reasonably good attitude about it. When we talked after her diagnosis she said felt like a) duh, she had lung cancer, she smoked her whole life so what did she expect?!?! and b) that she had lived a long, plentiful life. She didn't feel like she was being ripped off or losing so many years of her life in some grand tragedy. She was as at peace as you could be with impending death.

I made it out to visit her in late June. By this point she was in hospice care and my uncle Matt had come to stay with her for the end. In many ways I felt guilty for not visiting her before this point. But in many ways it was understandable. She was a very complicated woman. Many of my family members were alienated from her at this time. Some for years and years and some for only the past few months to a year. To say she was difficult personality to deal with is an understatement. She could be hilarious and fun and lovely. She could also be biting like a rattlesnake and generally was very narcissistic person. And depending on who you were, you got more of the sunshine or more of the rain. My grandma played a game of favorites. It wasn't always stable, it wasn't always super clear, and it was not based in any kind of objective reality. I was almost always one of her favorites. I got mostly sunshine from her. But even then I would get bitten on occasion. Many more of my family members would get her stormy side. And the pain she caused to a great many of people in our family affected me even if it wasn't directed at me. I put off seeing her for so long because I knew there were many fractured relationships in the family with her and I didn't want to be in the middle of all of it. There was also part of me that was scared that in her illness she would be more stormy than normal and I didn't want one of my last visits with her to be shrouded in bad memories. In the end, I feel good about when I saw her. She was very ill and was in and out of sleep most of the time Andrea and I were there. But when she was lucid she was on her best sunshiney behavior. We talked, we laughed, we sang. And I got to say goodbye one last time and carry sweet memories with me.

The day she died I was notified when I was at a party with friends. I excused myself to go to the bathroom for a few minutes to absorb the information. I had so many conflicting feelings. Relief that she was out of pain. Relief that she couldn't cause anymore new hurts for anyone in my family. Sadness that I'd lost my grandma. Sadness that so many of her relationships were broken and unamended before death.  Happiness that I had made peace with her before she died. Gratefulness that my examination of my feelings around her death helped me to understand my own life and struggles more. Andrea and I listened to my and my grandma's special song, Forever in Blue Jeans, all the way back to Chico and up into the foothills so I could look at the stars and grieve in the quiet darkness above Chico. It was sweet and beautiful and I was so glad Andrea was by my side.

Having compassion for someone who was so complicated and difficult was hard. So many times I just wanted to be angry at her for the way she treated her family. But from the little I know about her childhood, I began to understand that her childhood was not great. And that the way she had been treated as a child invariably affected who she was as a person and how she treated her family. And how my family had been treated by her had affected the people they were and how they treated their families. And that was one of the biggest seeds of compassion I had for her, for my family and for myself. Mental illness and personality disorders are abundant and apparent in my family. She was both a root and a symptom of this cycle. In her last months, her death and after I learned to love her completely while not excusing all the hurt she caused. And now in her death, I can focus on the fond memories and the good times I had with her and not feel as conflicted and confused with recognizing that who she was to me was not who she was to everyone, and that faults and all, I believe she did the best she could with a very limited skill set. Everyone else is entitled to feel about her as they want. I would never ask them to make peace with her or her memory because their experience of her was much different. I choose to have compassion and love for them as they make sense of their feelings about her whatever they may be.

Mary Ann Briggs
October 30, 1927 - October 7th, 2014

I lost my last grandparent, my dad's mom, Grandma Briggs in October. Her death was also not unexpected. She had Alzheimer's, and in many ways, had stopped being my grandma before she died. She was my grandma, yes, but Alzheimer's had robbed her of so much that it was more of a long process of saying goodbye to the person she had been my whole life. Even when I saw her in the summer for the last time, there was still so much of her sweetness, humor and loving kindness even though she was very sick and wasn't quite sure who I was anymore. She was also in hospice care for the last few months of her life.

The Tuesday she died I didn't feel much. I had the vague feeling of sadness because she had died, but in many ways, also relief that my family wasn't waiting on her death anymore. And that closure could finally begin. So many of my family members had been paralyzed by their grief since she went to live in senior home when her Alzheimer's had gotten bad enough that she could no longer live on her own. Now that her life was over I hoped they could move through their feelings in a more permanent way rather than bobbing like buoys with each new change in her condition. I didn't even cry that first day, which actually disturbed me more than her death. I had cried when my Grandma Gatlin died and yet, here at the death of my sweet, sweet grandma I couldn't cry. I felt terrible. As if I had loved her less or something.

The next day I woke up and felt like I had absolutely no energy to teach. And that feeling was made worse by the fact that I taught a once a week 3 hour block class. Cancelling class would make making up the work way more difficult, but making it through 3 hours when I felt so hollow seemed impossible. I decided to find a documentary related to the day's topic to show and I decided to bring snacks for my class. My grandma LOVED to feed people. It was her greatest joy in life. It felt like a good way to remember her by feeding my class. As I started to explain to my class why there were snacks at the front of the room and that we'd be watching a documentary instead of our regular discussions and activities I started crying. Public crying has always been hard for me, but crying in front of my students felt a little horrifying. At the same time I thought "Oh, well there are those tears that didn't come yesterday." So many of my students came over to hug me and express their condolences before they got their snacks and we started the movie. That was actually more horrifying. I am not a touchy-feely person. I really hate touching people besides my closest, most intimate people. But I also felt like I couldn't be a jerk when I had just made several of my students cry from my raw emotion. So I hugged them all and thanked them all.

As I processed the feelings and events that week I realized why I had such a delayed reaction of grief. My Grandma Briggs was probably one of the sweetest and kind people to ever grace this earth. I didn't have a single bad memory of her. Every single memory I had of her was happy, joyous and funny. In contrast to my Grandma Gatlin, my Grandma Briggs' death felt almost "easy." It was sad, yes, but not complicated or problematic or overwhelming. I had a lot of time to make peace with her vanishing memory from Alzheimer's and I had absolutely no sorrow for how she had loved her family and the relationships she had. Even in death I was comforted by her sweetness. There was no bitterness, no hurt, nothing unresolved. And until I fed my class I didn't realize how much of my sweetness and gentleness came from her. My tears were more about how I'd lost a loving role model in my life, but how much of an impact she'd had on her family in a positive way. I had nothing to resolve and in that I found my ability to grieve her.

It was a rough year for loss, but I made it through and have come out the other side stronger, 
more stable and with a clearer sense of self than ever before.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Shark Nose

I have a shark nose. By that I mean I can smell pretty much everything at a super human level. This is so very annoying. If something stinks, it's like it's been shoved right up my nose holes. Even if something smells good, it's often times too intense and distracting. I am constantly bombarded by smells that overwhelm my senses. As I'm already often overwhelmed because of my OCD and social anxiety this makes it even harder to regulate myself in a overloaded world.

The other day Andrea came home from a trip and I gave her a welcome home kiss and immediately recoiled. "Why do you smell like metal? It's like kissing a fork!" She was like "WHAT?" And then after a minute said "Hmm, now that you mention it, my mouth does taste metallic..." It took about 3 days for the smell to go away. We don't know if it's because she ate a lot of fish when she was in Monterey, or if it was the coffee at the conference, or something else. But for 3 days I had to hold my breath and stifle the urge to recoil whenever she kissed me. That night in bed I had to have her turn away from me (rather than spoon me) because the metal smell was overwhelming and I couldn't sleep.

I can't use too heavily scented shampoos or conditioners because then I can smell my hair all day and I can't concentrate.

I can't stand scented lotions that are overpowering. Andrea has a vanilla lotion that makes me cringe it's so fragrant. She used it one morning because she ran out of regular lotion and when I saw her 12 hours later it was the first thing I noticed (even though she'd washed her hands and used other lotion during the day). She was amazed that I could smell it from that morning. And then she went and scrubbed her hands and arms as much as she could to reduce the smell. I could still smell it, but it was more tolerable.

I can smell when Andrea is about to get sick (not like barfing, but like cold/flu/respiratory infection). She has a "sick breath" smell to her mouth that apparently only I can sniff out. The good news is that we can pump her full of vitamins and zinc and it often reduces the illness. In that way I'm kind of like a service dog sniffing out a seizure before it happens. But I'd gladly give that up for a normal sense of smell. There's mostly only downsides to it.

Just one more weird thing that makes my life more difficult than it needs to be!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fat & Happy (mostly)

I talk a lot about body diversity, health at every size, body love, body acceptance, and any numerous things about loving your body. I pontificate about it pretty much non-stop. I do it even when it's hard to believe my own words. I want people to be happy and healthy and weight has nothing to do with that. It's taken me a long time to realize that, embrace that, and continually I struggle to believe that. It's hard. It's a struggle. Some days I win, some days I don't. I win more than I struggle, but I think it's important to talk about struggling.

I went to a workshop during our campus' Love Every Body Week -- which is our celebration of Eating Disorders Awareness Week -- where we focus not only on eating disorders, but the wider spectrum of wellness, health, body image and body love. The workshop was hosted by the author of Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!), Connie Sobczak. The workshop was several hours and explored many topics but one of the activities we did was draw a flower or tree that was emblematic of our body stories. The roots were supposed to be the messages we got in our youth, primarily from our family, about our bodies. The trunk or stem was supposed to symbolize how we feel about our bodies now, and the flower or leaves were supposed to express something about how we hope to use our bodies to  shape others in the future (I can't remember how exactly she phrased it). This was my drawing:

I love sharpies. So although we had a range of art materials to pick from, I picked the shaprie. I don't know what it is about sharpies that I love...maybe because I love the sharp, harshness of black, maybe I love its permanency (I'm not so good with change), or maybe because sharpies always seem so damn serious, like "oh shit, she just brought out the sharpie, shits about to get real!" (and that's kind of how I think about myself a lot). But anyway, I chose the sharpie.

I chose a palm tree. I've always loved palm trees, but I've loved them even more since my therapist used an analogy using a palm tree. My therapist is the friggin best with analogies and metaphors. It's one of the things I love most about her. We were talking about strength and flexibility and she compared an oak tree and a palm tree. Oak trees are strong, hard woods. But in a tornado or major storm an oak tree will snap in half. A palm tree is also strong, but it's extremely flexible. In a storm a palm is much more likely to bend and then bounce back after the storm is over. Most of my life I've lived as an oak tree. Trying to be strong and impenetrable, but ultimately that strength is my weakness. When the storms of my life or OCD come blowing, I snap and break. Instead I should try to be like a palm tree and learn how to be strong enough that I can stand tall but flexible enough that life can push me around without breaking me. And if that isn't fucking beautiful I don't know what is. So when it came to drawing a plant, I drew a palm tree.

At my base I had two simple statements: You are more than your body & all bodies are beautiful. These are true statements. One of the best gifts my parents gave me was the gift of growing up in a home where bodies were not only NOT shamed, but were really not mentioned at all other than our bodies do lots of magnificent things for us. My mom is an artist and so we saw lots of diverse bodies through art. My mom also grew up in a home with intense body shaming and regulation and she didn't want to pass that on to her children. My feminist father was raising 3 daughters so he made sure to a) follow my mom's lead and b) embrace all facets of human diversity. I also grew up in a hippie beach town where we had no qualms about stripping down at the beach on a whim or running naked through the yard. It wasn't really until we moved to Indiana and I entered the tween years that I even really realized that bodies were something that people valued, berated, etc.

I made it through the teenage years slightly better than most, but not without the constant pressure from the outside to hate my body. I've always been on the larger side of my peers, but of course when I look at pictures of my teenage years the difference is negligible.

In my early 20s my sister and I joined a gym together to "get healthy" and "lose weight" for her upcoming wedding. We decided to try running on the treadmill together and gradually progressed to wanting to run a couple 5Ks. At the same time I started using a Fitness/Calorie counting app on my Palm (oh how I loved my Palm). It started out ok, but over time I became obsessed (this should not be shocking to you -- though it was to me in hindsight). I was running 3 miles a day 6 days a week and maintaining a 1200-1500 calorie diet. I felt like YES! I'm doing this! I'm doing what society tells me to do! I lost 30 lbs!

But I hated getting up and going to do something I loathed. I kept waiting for that runner's high to hit me. Or thinking that as I ran more it would get easier and I would learn to like it, maybe even love it. I didn't. Ever. I hated every single second of it. The only thing I loved about it was hanging out with my sister every day. That's the one and only thing. We bonded, we laughed, we had fun together in spite of the running. I wouldn't take any of that back for a second.

I hated counting every single calorie. I hated being a slave to my fitness app. I hated all of it.

I hated it even more when I plateaued at 30 lbs of weight loss. I hated that I pushed myself for so long and so hard that I fractured my foot from the stress of running and the lack of nutrition I was getting. I hated that even after 30 lbs of weight loss I was still fat.

And then it hit is only one part physical. An equal and valid part of one's health is mental. I was not happy. In fact, I was miserable. I was miserable and still fat and now had a fractured foot. Was dismal mental health worth the so-called physical health I was achieving? Was my physical health really all that better or was I just 30 lbs lighter? What would happen if I participated in fitness I enjoyed and ate sensible meals without worrying about calories? This started a long period of self-reflection. That reflection continues to be on-going. And I continue to find new and well-documented information to support my feelings.

EVERY body is a GOOD body. Every day we wake up and our bodies do amazing things for us. We only have one body so we might as well make the most of it. It's much easier to learn to love your body (not that it's easy) than to hate and try and transform your body. Trust me, I've been there. 

So the middle of my drawing is who I am now. I am a (mostly) solid message of body love, and I try to spread that whenever and wherever I can. It's not easy. All those arrows up there? External messages trying to tell me I'm not ok as I am. I've had to build my bark up thick and strong to keep those messages out. It's not always easy. Sometimes arrows get wedged in-between my layers, but I just keep on growing layers around those arrows. I grow through activism, I grow through heavily editing and considering what media I expose myself to on a daily basis, I surround myself with other people who share my beliefs, I follow the tenets of the Health at Every Size movement, and I forgive myself when icky thoughts sneak up on me.

My branches are my desire to spread this love and awareness and sense of self to everyone around me. I may not change the world, but I will damn sure try.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tic Tock, Tic Tac, Tic, Tic, Tic

One of the more visible parts of my OCD are various body tics I have. Mostly on my face. Can I be real for a minute and just tell you how fucking much it sucks to have your face be the loudest megaphone of your OCD? Facial tics are the fucking pits. I have a lot of other self-soothing behaviors that help me cope with my anxiety and OCD, but none have wreacked as much havoc over my life as my facial tics. They're my scarlet letter. A big scarlet T. Times a zillion.

At this point in my life I'm much better with my body and facial tics. Part of it is because I'm medicated for my OCD and I've learned other coping mechanisms for my anxiety. And part of it is because I've gotten used to hiding them or making up lies about them. For instance, this past summer my best friend ever noticed one of my facial tics. She said something about my eye twitching and wondered what was going on. I happened to be facing the window so I quickly said something about the light bothering my eye. Total fucking lie. I was really anxious that day and obsessing about something and that happened to work its way out through my face. I also realized that even though we had been friends for 3 years and really BFFs for 2 years I'd never told her about my facial tics. Huh.

That's not uncommon. I don't tell a lot of people of all the weird, strange ways I display and cope with OCD. But in most periods of my life people have noticed my facial tics and commented on them. I usually brush them off or make up bigger excuses about why I'm doing whatever it is they noticed.

But my BFF is very observant. So that she hadn't really noticed it until now was surprising to me. And of course I obsessed over it. Part of it was that my life has been relatively stress free and stable lately. Win. But the other part of it, is that my hiding of my tics has gotten very good. Maybe win? It feels less of a victory. A victory would be not having tics in the first place. Or not feeling like I needed to hide them because they were shameful. Or if I lived in a society where tics weren't so noticeable and no one commented on them. Although that last one might not be a win. If I have hardcore tics it's because I'm really anxious. If I'm really anxious I want my friends to check in with me. Mostly I wouldn't want to have to feel ashamed of my tics. I'm trying to work on that. Clearly. Or I wouldn't be writing this.

When I was younger, I was a twitchy tic-y mess. I got LOTS of commentary about it.

"Why do you make those weird faces?"

"Don't make that face. It makes you look ugly."

"What the fuck is wrong with your face?"

That's some motivation for figuring out ways to disguise your tics as natural body movements. I've become the master of acting like my contacts are bothering me, like I have an itch on my nose, or daydreaming with half my face covered. All of those? Hiiiiiiiding.

I've also built up my strength for tolerating anxiety. I can teach an hour and 15 minute class without having hardly any tics. But as soon as class is over my face explodes for a few minutes. When I get home from a long day I'm like a giant twitchy octopus that's being electrocuted for about 30 minutes. Andrea has become my safe space. The closer we got the more I could let my guard down. We talked about it. But now we don't really need to. She knows I'm letting all the anxiety of my day and dealing with people tumble out of my body. She lets me twitch and twist while we talk about our days. She makes it seem like it's normal. One of the many reasons I love her. Every once in a while I bring it up and see how she's feeling about it (always gotta check to make sure I'm not one tic away from being dumped for being a whacko). Bless her soul, she usually says she doesn't even notice anymore. It's just part of me. Ooof. I love her loving all of me. Even the twitchy parts.

But my tics do give her information sometimes. She can tell if I'm struggling with some thought that's crossed my mind or if she's inadvertently triggered something. Usually within seconds of me feeling the crushing feeling of anxiety and the need to soothe through tics she asks what just happened. Sometimes she asks what happened before my mind has even caught up with my body and I have to think before I respond. But she notices when it's important, and doesn't when it's not. She's the fucking best.

I don't know if I'll ever really feel totally comfortable with my tics. Or talking about them. And I doubt I can unlearn 30+ years of hiding skills. But the more I talk about it, the more people know, the less awkward conversations I have to have, and the less lies I have to tell. Just know that if you ask me what the hell is going on with my face (even if you say it really nice) and I straight up lie to you, it's so not about you. It's about me. I just don't want to talk about it. Or maybe I want to crawl under the table at the moment, but let's just pretend all is fine and I'll bring it up later if I feel like it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

But why?

I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Why in the hell are you sharing these things? These are things that should take place in private conversations with your closest friends!" Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe someone else will be helped by these very public admissions. Whether they have OCD, anxiety, depression or just struggle to live their full, authentic life, maybe this will help them.

Regardless, it's helping me. There is power in vulnerability. I didn't know that until recently. But the more of myself I bare, the stronger I feel. If people don't like it, or want to avoid these things, that's a-ok with me. But it's not ok with me to continue keeping all these things to myself. They've lived in shameful dark places inside me for a very long time. And I've had enough of that. I've spent the past three years in therapy working my ass off to be able to share these things. So here I am.

In addition to the above, it's also easier for me to write than to speak. Particularly to people's faces. I have pretty intense social anxiety. And I'm an intense introvert. Which is often confusing to people. They always say "HA! No way are you an introvert. You're always the life of the party! You're a professor!" Those are sorta true statements. But until recently I've never had anyone know me well enough to know that the life of the party persona is a total farce. My best friend said something to me like "You transform into this different person in groups. It's weird. It's like I don't know you when there are more people than just me and you." (She said it much kinder and flowery, because that's who she is, but I'm not so flowery so that's my paraphrasing). She was really the first one to a) notice and b) comment and c) ask me to explain. Not in a judgy way. But in a curious way. She asked me to put words and thoughts into a behavior I'd been performing my whole life. Damn her :) And thank her. I love her. She continues to inspire and push me. So I thought about it. Consciously. For the first time ever. Named it. Described it. And only then did things start to feel any better. Not great, but better.

People make me anxious. All people. I can get used to people, duh, I have friends. But I actually have very few close friends who know "the real me." Lots of people think they know me. And they do. They just know a very small slice of me. Very few, lucky, determined souls get to see all of me (and even then, it's like pulling back the layers of an onion. There's lots to unravel and reveal). So I get a lot of practice with acting and presentation. Who I am in public is a very carefully crafted version of me. It's fucking exhausting. People who get to see me in sweatpants, crazy morning hair or nearly comatose when I come home from a day of performing (some people call this "a normal day") and need a lot of time to unwind and recoup some of my energy know the real me. The less guarded me (I'd like to say unguarded...but if I'm being real, that doesn't happen as often as I'd like).


"The real me" scares even me a lot of the time. I don't expect people who are not me to understand or like the real me. I've been wounded by many people in this lifetime that I thought loved me for me, but I later found out that they only loved some parts of me, not all of me. The real me has been made fun of and bullied for many of the things that I do that make up me. And those little jabs and jokes and comments have built up troughs full of shame. Whether it's noticing the array of lovely facial tics I have, the fact that I feel SO MANY FEELINGS SO VERY MUCH ALL THE TIME and they therefore label me a drama queen or high maintenance, or jesus can I just let something go every once in a while? Those things have made me want to hide so much of me for so long. Who I am, in real life, under the facade and acting, has always been too much for most people. Over time I've learned what is likable, palatable and funny and quirky rather than annoying, depressing or just too much. This constant hiding is making my life hard. Sometimes unbearable. And it's taken 3 years of intense therapy to say...

No more hiding.

This is me. All of me. Take me or leave me. And if you leave me, that's ok. Less people to make me anxious! I have found love and friendship and self compassion and value in my life again. A lot of it from therapy. A lot of it from my closest friends. A lot of it from an unconditionally loving partner who has never once asked me to change. Being surrounded by people who seek to understand me, and at the very least, not shame me even when they can't understand.

My dad has severe anxiety. I lived with him my entire childhood through adolescence. I saw what it was like to live a life shaped by fear. I saw what it was like to have someone so wonderfully passionate about life let their anxieties make their world very small. When I was younger I vowed to myself to do things that make me scared, because if I didn't, my life would be made small by anxiety and fear. So I continually do things that make me afraid. This is why I'm a professor. It would have been much easier to be researcher. I wouldn't have to talk to many people (cause you know I'd do all internet-based research). But every fucking day I push through my anxiety and introversion so I can stand up in front of students and help change their lives. It's exhausting, sometimes it's terrifying, but it's also the most rewarding thing I do. If I had chosen to live a small, fear-based life I might be like my dad. My dad has a degree in education and he's never taught. He works at an insurance company and talks to as few people as possible. It works for him. It would not work for me.

Writing these blog posts have been terrifying. And for a long time I lost my way. I was brave in some areas but let my life be ruled by fear in some major ways. I'm regaining that tenacity. This is scary, which means I MUST do this. This is what I've always done. I took a break for a while. I was hiding behind all this scary shit. I have funny stories too. Funny and hilarious stories. Once I clear out the backlog of scary hiding pieces I've held on to for so long I'll get back to lighter, funnier things. But I will strive to keep balance. Funny can't be appreciated as much if you haven't faced the dark. So stay tuned. There will be more. Some happy. Some not. That's my life. And I'm sharing it with you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sharp Memories

LOL. I was looking for a picture about how scary knives are in the kitchen...but I was being very careful not to google search any terms that would bring up graphic pictures that would scare the bejesus out of me. This was one of the first ones that popped up and it's actually perfect. Whew.

Knives terrify me. Not just big, scary, hunting knives. But even little weenie kitchen knives. I don't know where my knife obsession started. I think I've been scared of knives as long as I can remember.

My family tells stories. We are a family of story tellers. Sometimes I remember the story vividly because I was there, but sometimes I remember the story vividly because I've heard it so many times that it feels like I was there. Sometimes I can't remember if I was there or not, but I've heard the story so many times it doesn't really matter.

My Grandma Gatlin was a complicated lady. But one thing for sure was that she was a clumsy, blundering oaf with a wicked sense of humor (when she wasn't being flat out wicked). Some of my favorite ridiculous stories are of her in her essence, just being her. One of those stories involves knives. I wasn't there; I think it happened before I was born. But as the story goes, she got a new set of knives. She was excited and bragging about them (as she was wont to do). She held up the box to show them off and she happened to be holding the box upside down and the knives came tumbling out and into her feet. Ouch. But also? Sorta hilarious. Maybe that's where my fear of knives started, but I'm not sure.

I remember being younger and trying to help cook. The knives always scared me. I'd have visions of me slicing off my fingers on accident. I still have visions of doing that. I am a lot like my Grandma Gatlin (hopefully nicer). I could never be one of those chefs that chop things a thousand miles a minute. I shudder just thinking about it.

When I see those minimalist knife strips in people's kitchens I purposely go NOWHERE near them. I'm always afraid they'll fall off and slice my feet off. Dear god I would never have one of those in my kitchen. Nightmare.

My first partner was an alcoholic. I've dated several alcoholics. Alcoholism runs through my mom's family like blood runs through everyone else's. It was my first serious adult relationship. It was also my first out lesbian relationship. She was and is a good person; we are still in contact. She was also a crazy alcoholic. I was with her for three years but had been breaking up with her continually for the last two. I'd break up with her and kick her out. She'd beg for me to take her back. She'd wear me down because I was too busy, too crazy, too emotionally underdeveloped to keep saying no. Things continued to get worse and worse. I continued to get meaner and meaner. I didn't know how else to convince her to stay away. We would scream horrible things at each other when she was drunk and me at her while she was hungover. She was habitually losing or quitting her job and I was the one who managed our finances.

One night she had plans with her asshole friends. I hated her friends and they hated me. Our relationship was truly dysfunctional. I gave her $20 for the night and a new pack of cigarettes (she was also a smoker). I was studying for finals (I was in my MPH program at the time). She came home that night drunk and belligerent. She came into the office where I was studying and demanded I give her money so she could go buy more cigarettes. I said no way. How she had smoked 20 cigarettes and spent $20 in 4 hours was not my business. She'd have to wait until tomorrow. She was pissed. She kept trying to argue with me. I told her to shut up and leave me alone because I was busy. This went on for several minutes. I was getting more and more angry that she would not shut up and just go pass out in bed. She came over to where I was sitting and drunkenly tried to grab my book that I was studying from. She missed and clumsily punched me in the jaw. It didn't really hurt, but in my anger and frustration and years of being worn down, I snapped. I jumped up and pinned her against the wall and told her she better never lay a hand on me. She lost it. She was kicking me in the shins and shrieking. I let her go. She walked into the kitchen and grabbed the cordless phone and turned and hurled it at me in the doorway. The dogs scattered. I told her to calm the fuck down. She was absolutely hysterical at this point. Screaming and crying and threatening. She walked over to the sink and leaned against it. Then she started grabbing knives from the knife block and hurling them at me like she was a ninja or something. Luckily she was so very very drunk. I strode across the room dodging her knives and grabbed her by the waistband of her jeans and dragged her to the front door. I opened it, threw her on the porch, closed and locked the door. She stood outside screaming that she was going to call the police and press charges.

I called first.

They came and found her hiding in the bushes at the neighbors house with a steak knife. They arrested her and took her to jail. This was not the first time I had called the cops or the first time she had been taken away. But it was the first time they took her to jail. Previously they had taken her to the local public hospital and locked her in the psych ward until she sobered up. And because she didn't have insurance they would let her out the next day and tell her to follow up with a therapist for treatment. She never did. And we'd start the cycle back over. But this time she went to jail. I didn't actually want her to go to jail. I wanted her to move out and stay out. I wanted her to go to rehab. But mostly I just wanted her out of my life. I bailed her out the next day on the promise that we were absolutely and positively done this time. I had a temporary restraining order against her mandated by the judge until her hearing. A month later, she was still out of my life and walked into court and I dropped all charges. The DA's office tried to bully me into not dropping them. But I knew jail wasn't going to do her any good. She needed rehab and it wasn't going to happen there. She went to rehab many times after that, and then was arrested many years later and spent some time in jail. She got sober for good then. Maybe I should have pressed charges and she would have gotten sober earlier. Or maybe she wasn't ready and it wouldn't have mattered. She's sober now. And her life is good. She's good person.

The knife block stayed. Her dogs stayed. I had 4 dogs and me in the house. I was spiraling down into the worst period of my OCD in my life. I started worrying that I might lose my mind. I might lose my mind and have a psychotic break with reality and might stab all the dogs to death. Every time I walked by the knife block I worried I was nanoseconds away from losing my grip and I would slaughter all my dogs. I had vivid visions of the blood bath. It was terrifying. This was before I knew anything about violent, harming obsessions and scary intrusive thoughts. I just thought I was fucking nuts and a latent homicidal maniac. I loved my dogs more than anything in the whole world. I would never kill them. But I was worried I would. I was so worried that I ending up hiding the knife block in a far back cabinet. I knew they were there, but if I didn't see them every time I walked by the kitchen it felt better. I convinced myself that if I went nuts I probably wouldn't remember where the knives were. When my roommate moved in I got rid of the knife block and got a different one. I was more convinced that I wouldn't go on a murderous snap now that I had a roommate. Why? I don't know. I suppose I thought he'd notice if I started acting like a psycho losing grip on reality. I stopped thinking about killing my dogs. My brain moved on to different obsessions.

But I'm still scared of knives.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Words Have Meaning

When I was 11, my "cousin"/close friend's dad was killed in one of the high profile postal shootings that gained media attention and led to the coining of the phrase "going postal."

Her aunt was her mother's sister and my dad's brother's wife. So we weren't actual cousins, but we shared an aunt and uncle and our families grew up in the same neighborhood and were long time friends so cousins worked for us. We were also the same age and enjoyed each others company which made for good friends and a lifelong connection.

When her dad was murdered I remember my parents telling me what happened and that she would need extra love and compassion as a friend. I remember her confusion and sadness, I remember my family avoiding the news when the children were around for a while (there were many news reports, and not all of them positively covered her father so my family wanted to keep the negativity away from the healing experience), and I remember my confusion and sadness. At 11, it's hard to comprehend murder, anger, workplace violence, mental illness and loss.

As a person with OCD, it becomes an unimaginable worry that lodges in your brain.

This event was definitely one of the roots of my obsession with murderers and my family dying.

I worry about murderers a lot. Not always related to the workplace, but sometimes. It's taken me a long time to manage that fear so it doesn't disrupt my life on a daily basis, but it's a thought/worry that passes through my head several times a week (or more).

Worrying about my family members dying is rarely an obsession anymore. But in my early 20s, when my OCD was at its worst, I was plagued with worries, dreams, thoughts about my family dying. It wasn't always from shootings, actually rarely from shootings, more likely from car crashes. It seemed more likely I suppose. Not that OCD needs a reason to be rational. I woke up crying sobbing for months on end. That obsession gradually faded away and only once in a while does it crop up.

"Going postal" isn't a hugely popular slang phrase. But it's popular enough that I hear it every once in while. It's weird to have an intimate connection with a popular phrase, especially when people use it offhand and have no idea the power behind the phrase, particularly for me. Every time I hear it I have a flash of memories from childhood that pass through my brain. It's not unbearable, it's not even really something I'd call painful, but more this weird feeling of "Oh, you just said that. You have no idea of its weight." Sometimes I educate people about it, sometimes I just let it pass because I know that they didn't mean anything by it and it would cast a shadow over the conversation at hand.

It makes me think about how words have power, even if we don't know it. And it also makes me particularly sensitive to people's requests to not use language that is hurtful. Whether it's the "n word," the "r word," the "t word" or any other word that wounds someone, I don't assume to know why nor do I ask. It's not my business to know why or how it hurts them; I just note it, apologize and pledge to do better. The English language is full of amazing words. Using words that don't hold long histories of pain and personal suffering is a good idea. It can have a tremendous impact on our world if we'd all just try to be a little nicer.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Move

Simple statement: We moved from Santa Cruz, CA to Indianapolis, IN when I was 8 and 1/2.

Only recently have I realized what a huge impact that had on my life.

Of course, moving is hard to do. For anyone. Especially for kids. But the farther, the harder. The younger, the harder. Although if you're really young, it actually might be easier. My sister (obviously) also moved from Santa Cruz to Indianapolis. But they were 3 and 1/2 and 1. Their memories of Santa Cruz are scant (or nonexistent) and filtered through the memories of a toddler. So in some ways, my sisters and I have very different lived experiences of moving.

I know we talked about moving in advance, because duh, my parents are not total psychos. I also know because this was during the time my sister Leslie was obsessed with the concept of death and talked about dying all.the.time. And one of my mom's favorite stories is when she was explaining the move to Leslie she said something along the lines of "we're gonna pack up all the toys and all our stuff into a big truck and we're going to ride in the truck with the kitties and we're going to drive and drive and drive, and then we're going to sleep, and then we're going to drive and drive and drive, and then we're going to sleep again and then we're going to drive and drive and drive and then we'll be in Indiana!" And my little death-obsessed sister said "And then we die?" And my mom freaked out and screamed "NO! NO ONE IS GOING TO DIE! STOPPING WORRYING ABOUT PEOPLE DYING!" and that pretty much was the end of her death obsession that had gone on for months. I can't recall specific discussions, but I'm positive we talked about moving and what that meant.

But I also know that a) my parents don't do emotions all that well and b) they do not have an OCD brain like mine.

Both of my parents were raised in homes where emotions were both ignored and dangerous (in the sense of vulnerability). And as happens in families, my parents weren't equipped to deal healthily with emotions in their childhoods so they passed many of those ill-equipped coping skills down in their family (though with many more improvements over what they had).

I also had undiagnosed, untreated OCD. And I was good at hiding a lot of it. As I've been learning over the past few years, this is the story for many kids with OCD. We don't realize that our fears are disproportionate to most people's. We think everyone obsesses and worries and compulsively does things. It's not until much later, and after much hiding, and much affect on our lives that we realize we're actually very, very different. To compound things, I lived in a family that didn't do lots of touchy feely "let's talk about emotions" and we were a pretty different, not-so-mainstream family. My parents knew I was quirky and different, but in my family nonconformity and quirkiness were (mostly) celebrated. My parents are free thinkers, and my mom is an artist, and my dad is very much an aloof sort of guy (mostly because he's trapped in his own web of anxiety and fear). So between my hiding my worries and my parents focus on different things, my OCD ran rampant and unchecked, and my parents discussed the move with me, but didn't tell me ALL THE THINGS an OCD child needs to think about, worry about, prepare for, etc. etc. etc. And to be completely honest, I don't know any parent could have really prepared me for that move. Medication and therapy probably would have helped, but hindsight is 20/20.

Things that had a profound impact on me related to the move, in no particular order:

My cats almost died of heat stroke in the middle of the desert. They were fainting and gasping for breath and my mom and aunt had to rush them into a rest stop and plunge them under the water faucets.

One night we stopped to sleep in the back of the truck (our Mazda B2000; not the moving truck!). I was out of sorts and a nervous wreck and I peed the "bed." And I happened to be sharing the bed with my entire family. They were not happy. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed.

Right before we got to Indiana, my cats were freaking out. I let Patches out of her carrier and she was so terrified she peed all over me. Cat pee on me + aforementioned peeing the bed = OMG meltdown.

My mom went to work full-time for the first time in my life after we moved to Indiana. Having a stay at home mom in Santa Cruz to a working mom in Indiana likely made me romanticize childhood in Santa Cruz and associate Indiana with the first loss of my mother I experienced.

I became a latch-key kid in Indiana...sort of. We lived with my aunt for the first year in Indiana. She worked night shift as a nurse. I came home after school and let myself in because both of my parents were at work. I was technically not without adult aunt was in the house. But she was sleeping and I pretty much had to have my hair on fire to wake her up without feeling like I was going to be in trouble. So mostly I felt alone and that was scary.

I got a prank call that first year from some creep who was asking me if my parents were home and generally scaring the shit out of me. I remember being terrified and all the adults in my life acting like it was no big deal. The event is very foggy, but the terror is/was not.

I was the weird kid at school. I carried Bay Area surfer culture language with me. I said weird words, I didn't know what a lot of Hoosier-specific words meant. I spent all of third grade trying to learn a new world of Hoosier heartland values, language and culture.

There was a tornado that passed very close to my school that first year. I remember crouching in the hallway at school and thinking I was going to die. I moved to Indiana and now I'm dying from a tornado that is going to hit my school. Great. That was my first experience with tornadoes and it was terrifying. Tornadoes are still one of my biggest fears.

It snowed the week before Halloween. We had to wear sweatsuits under our costumes. I used to be a baton twirler in a leotard and now I was a lumpy princess who was freezing to death. No one prepared me for that shit.

Dry, dry weather and central heat = nosebleeds. Terrible, terrible nosebleeds. Blood gushing from my face. That was terrifying.

My parents bought a house! That was great! But now it was a big house and I'd never lived in a big house with my own room at the opposite end of the house from my parents. That was scary. And this house was in a new school district. Another new school.

I grew up with my cousins on my mom's side. They were my first gang/crew/peeps. In Indiana I didn't have any cousins. My aunt/uncle had a niece on my aunt's side and she became my loosely defined cousin. We spent time together, but lived farther apart and went to different schools so it wasn't the same. This was pre-Internet time so I lost close contact with my cousins for a long time. That was a significant loss.

There's probably more bits and pieces along the way. But these are the major ones that stick out for me. These things have shaped my life in significant ways. I'll keep unpacking these things in the future. Both in therapy, in my life and on my blog. OCD makes everything harder.