are we not old friends?
are we not old friends?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you are flawed through and through
and have been from the start
must you always disappoint me?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
I’m tired of giving excuses for you
and accommodating your whims
don’t you think you owe me by now?
I want to love you
but you make it so fucking hard
I want to find freedom in acceptance
and yet I slip back twice for every inch I gain
are you as tired as I am?
o this fucking well
have I not learned my lesson
I abide in stone
“This Is Your Brain On Anxiety”
frozen like a rabbit
under the shadow of a hawk
I’m paralyzed at my desk
what did she mean by ‘incident’?
why can’t I email [REDACTED]?
am I about to be demoted?
am I about to be fired?
no, b r e a t h e
answer an email– no!
what if I’m about to be fired?
why didn’t they clean my cubicle out on Friday?
why didn’t she put anything on my calendar?
what does this have to do with [REDACTED]?
is this a dream? I think this is a dream
wake up wake up wake up
come on come on come on
okay, not a dream
wait – this wasn’t about me at all?
I feel like I’m going crazy. Literally.
Over the last two years, I’ve frequently felt like my own brain is gaslighting me. At work, I miss red flags that I specifically looked for; I calculate budget numbers but then can’t figure out how I came to those totals the next day; I forget tasks or duties I’ve never had trouble remembering before; I swear I started a project but then find no evidence in my files; my completed documents are riddled with obvious mistakes I thought I checked or corrected; emails I have a vivid memory of reading were never sent to me. I’ve even run two red lights – not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I could have sworn that the light was green. Every day, I feel tripped up by false or missing memories, by basic math that makes no sense, by this frustrating “Past Elyssa” who keeps fucking everything up for the present me. Sometimes I find her mistakes the next day, when I can fix them before my boss notices, but other times I don’t find her mistakes until months later, when a tiny issue becomes a monster. I find myself apologizing over and over and over again, promising I’m a hard worker, dedicated, detail-oriented, that I’m not who Past Elyssa makes me out to be. But what if I am?
For two years now, I’ve felt like I can’t trust my own mind. This paranoia leads me to second-guessing everything I do. I double and triple-check information I’ve long had memorized; I have shadow systems for everything I might possibly need to track or remember; I leave myself sticky notes for the most obvious of tasks. I read and reread emails and documents before I send them, and I check my math however I can. But it’s not enough. Things still slip through at an alarming rate. And it scares me. It scares me because this isn’t who I am. I am detail-oriented. I am good at remembering deadlines and tasks. I am able to complete complex tasks. Yes, I’m bad at math, but I’m not usually this bad. I’m not usually inept.
When the brain weirdness first started, it had a definite cause. I had just gone on Topamax, a medication well known for reducing the user’s cognitive functions. And boy, did it slow down my brain. I was like a different person at work: forgetful, prone to missing obvious mistakes, and overall just slower at grasping even simple tasks. When I forgot to take another important medication for an entire week, I finally went off the Topamax. I assumed the side-effects would linger for a while, which they did… and did… and did… and do. I still feel like I’m on the Topamax, though I was only on it for a couple months and I’ve now been off it for over a year. At this point, whatever I’m experiencing simply can’t be caused by the medication. My doctor has suggested my migraines (for which I was taking the Topamax, ironically) might be causing my forgetfulness and decreased cognitive function. This is a good theory, but I don’t buy it 100%. This stuff just seems to happen too often to be the result of a migraine.
So what is it, then? None of my other medications cause such side-effects, and they’re all meds I’ve taken for years without issue. My diet and general health are good, so it’s not my body trying to run at half-capacity. The issues happen no matter what my mood, so it’s not anxiety or depression related. I don’t fit any of the other symptoms of adult onset ADD. I don’t love my job, but I’m dedicated and focused, so it’s not just that my brain is checked out. Plus, that doesn’t explain the times I’ve run red lights.
I feel crazy. That isn’t me co-opting an often misused word – I truly feel like I can’t always fully trust my mind or my perception of reality. These things have happened too often for me to just laugh off. Now every time I find a weird mistake or have a memory that apparently didn’t happen, I feel myself unravel a little more. It’s a creepy, frustrating, scary feeling. I don’t like being a bad employee. I don’t like being unreliable. I don’t like putting myself in danger by accident, or questioning even bland, innocuous memories. I already deal with anxiety, depression, and invasive thoughts; I really need my brain to otherwise work okay. If something’s wrong, I want to know so I can treat it with therapy or medication or whatever will work. It’s the not knowing, the not being able to act on a problem, that’s eating away at me.
[ I feel like this sounds really dramatic, and maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m going to make myself post it. Blurhg, brain bad. ]
Why I’m An “Apologetic Vegetarian”
This month marks the one year anniversary of my decision to become a vegetarian. Neat! Instead of reflecting on that choice and my journey over the last year, though, I instead want to talk about why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. To understand where I’m coming from, you need a little backstory. First, I have had chronic stomach issues since I was a baby. Lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety induced stomach aches… my stomach basically hurts at least once a day. If I’m not painfully constipated, then I have what I fondly refer to as the “fire poops”. I can’t safely ingest fatty food, greasy food, fried food, highly processed food, red meat, coffee, milk, artificial sweeteners, black tea, chocolate, soda, or anything else good tasting. Half the time even my safe foods make my stomach upset. It sucks major lollipops.
Second, I have chronic anxiety and OCD. Many of my issues in this department revolve, understandably, around food. I am constantly paranoid about eating or drinking something that will make my stomach hurt, make me constipated, or otherwise isn’t “healthy” enough – based on my own neurotic standards. I can send myself into a panic attack at a restaurant if nothing on the menu seems safe enough to me. It’s bad. On top of this, I also obsess over my weight. Several years ago I was restricting my caloric intake to such a degree that I had dropped from my normal weight of 135 to 111. My period stopped for nearly a year (which was pretty sweet but also apparently not good). My doctor put a stop to that, and a couple years of therapy helped, but it’s still very easy for me to start fixating on my health and weight to a dangerous degree.
Okay, so now you know. Dietary restrictions and obsessive compulsive personality. Awesome mix. I am such a functioning adult.
When I decided to become a vegetarian, I did so because I could no longer take part in an industry that causes pain to billions of animals every year. Therefore, it made sense to become a vegan – the production of milk and eggs in factory farms is just as horrendous and destructive as the actual meat industry, after all. To say you won’t eat a cow but you’re fine with letting one be traumatized its entire life so you can eat cheese is somewhat hypocritical. However, I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t convert to full veganism. Taking any meat-containing meals off the menu would already limit me more than my stomach issues already do. To further limit myself to IBS-safe vegan meals would most likely cause me issues everywhere I went. If I could give myself a panic attack because the only salad a restaurant offered was made with iceberg lettuce, I’d be totally doomed if on top of everything else, I had to question whether the bread housing my veggie sandwich had eggs or milk in it. It just wasn’t going to happen.
When I became a vegetarian, I promised myself one thing: if I was on the verge of a panic attack or wobbly with hunger and a ham sandwich, for example, was my only IBS-safe option, I had to choose my immediate mental or physical health over my morals. Knowing how obsessive and anxious I can become when faced with a dietary lose-lose situation, I had to give myself an out. I felt like a hypocrite and a coward for even doing something like that in a theoretical future situation, but I didn’t have much choice. I’m glad to say this issue hasn’t come up yet, and my first year as a vegetarian went by pretty smoothly. However, I still feel supremely guilty when I consume something I know (or suspect) has eggs or milk in it. I try to avoid such things when I can, but without an ingredients list you can never know for sure. And, unfortunately, OCD thrives on the things you can “never know for sure.”
So that’s why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. I wish, truly, that I was at a place in my life where I could take on a challenging and rewarding lifestyle like veganism – but I’m not. I hope I will be one day, and I’m definitely trying to move in that direction. Until then, all I can do is minimize the harm I cause to my fellow animals, and help as many of them as I can.
Skeletons in My Closet
Trichotillomania, according to the internet, is an “impulse control disorder” wherein the person suffers from the (oftentimes uncontrollable) urge to pull out their hair. Dermatillomania is its sister disorder, only dermatillomania causes the urge to pick at ones skin. The two often go hand-in-hand and frequently occur in people who suffer from OCD, anxiety, and/or body dysmorphia.
Thanks to my anxiety and OCD, I have them both! Lucky me.
I can’t remember when the picking started; my earliest memory is of lying about the scabs on my scalp sometime during late middle school or early high school. At some point I just started… picking. At anything. At everything. Blackheads, scabs, ingrown hairs, skin tags, cuticles, random bumps, really anything 3D that could be detected on my skin. In addition, I started pulling at my eyelashes and eyebrows. At this point, I have scars from scabs and pimples that weren’t allowed to heal on their own, as well as a receding hairline at my temples from picking and rubbing at my scalp too much. I routinely over-pluck my eyebrows and then have to fight myself not to keep plucking them as they grow back. I also suspect the carpal tunnel in both my hands is a product of so many years spent repetitiously running my hands over my skin and picking or pulling at whatever I found. I’m luckier than many, especially those who have trichotillomania and pull their hair out in chunks, but if you know what to look for, you’ll see the signs on me as well.
Like any compulsion, trich and derm provide an emotional release for the sufferer. Some people pick when nervous or upset, and the sensation or pain offer a kind of comfort. For me, it’s more that picking is satisfying. I can’t properly describe what I feel when I pick off a particularly nice scab, but it’s a weird mixture of victory, physical pleasure, and productivity. When I have nothing to pick or I can’t see what I’ve picked at, I feel frustrated and disappointed. It’s fucked up, I know. I don’t enjoy the pain associated with picking, but it’s not enough to stop my fingers from digging at unhealed scabs or things that aren’t really pickable at all. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that if you pick at anything long enough, you’ll eventually tear into the skin and voila! New scab.
It’s a disgusting habit, I know, and one I can’t really hide. I pick, especially at my scalp, in a totally thoughtless, automatic way throughout my waking hours – I have to be very mindful and constantly vigilant when somewhere where I can’t pick, such as a meeting or other professional setting. Even then, I still find myself attacking my scalp while I sit at my desk, and I’m sure my coworkers know something is seriously weird with me. Honestly, I’m surprised my picking hasn’t chased my girlfriend off, as she’s definitely talked about how gross it is to run her hands through my hair and feel a bunch of scabs. Even while I write this, I’m picking at my skin. I’ll probably continue to do it for the rest of the day, and for at least 20 minutes in the bathroom mirror while I’m getting ready for bed.
The problem is that, unlike people addicted to substances, I can never get away from my temptation. My hands are always with me, and there’s always something to pick at somewhere on my body. Wearing gloves 24/7 is obviously impractical, and cutting my nails just makes the job harder but the victory more rewarding. I have methods of decreasing my picking, like pulling my hair back and wearing a spinner ring I can fiddle with, but those only work for so long. The maximum number of days I’ve gone without picking is four – but I’ve only managed that once. My average is one, and that’s if I’m doing really well. Most of the time I can’t bring myself to even try. This issue seems insurmountable and I feel exhausted just thinking about thinking about trying to fix it.
I don’t have any advice for others in this situation, as I clearly haven’t even begun to get a hold of my compulsion. Therefore, I can only speak to others, to those who might have someone in their life who struggles with something similar. To those people I say, have patience and be kind. Compulsions aren’t just “bad habits” and your loved one isn’t doing it to annoy you. Chances are they hate the compulsion even more than you do, and they’re actively toning it down whenever you’re around. Yelling at someone, demanding they stop picking, or asking them why they pick isn’t helpful at all – all you’re doing is reminding this person that you don’t understand the issue and aren’t trying to. Instead, show your support by giving them gentle reminders to stop picking, to use their redirection methods, or to find something that puts both their mind and hands to action. Be supportive of your loved one and try to remember that this is most likely a life-long battle, not something that can be cured overnight.
To my fellow pickers and pullers, I can only say, you’re not alone and you’re not gross. I know it’s an embarrassing compulsion, but you aren’t your disorder. You aren’t your trichotillomania, your dermatillomania, your OCD, or your anxiety. These things affect you, but they aren’t YOU. Take one day at a time. You’ll get through this.