this thing happens when i travel where my mind loses its grasp of past and future and i feel like ive only ever been in this shitty airport, i wasn’t even born ive just always existed in this stretch of fluorescent lights and fast food restaurants and people who can’t be bothered to recycle their plastic water bottles, thanks for contributing to the death of our planet, and the longer im in this stasis the more it feels like im dead and this is purgatory or maybe ive gone crazy, who knows, is there even an outside world? im starting to doubt it, maybe im in a closed loop and if i get too suspicious of my reality the people all around will start to notice me and realize I’m an intruder and mob me to protect the fragile structure, im trying to make an inception reference if you can’t tell, but everything i write these days is just awful, truly awful, and anyway what i was trying to get at is that when i travel im always just like a little tiny bit on the edge of hysteria and that’s why i freak out when some small inconvenience happens, security tells me to take out my tablet or my headphones get stolen, really i just like totally fucking lose it cause what if im stuck here forever waiting for a plane that will never come, we apologize for the inconvenience, another hour, another minute, and i can’t go anywhere without lugging all my baggage with me and if that’s not a real hilarious metaphor for my whole fucking life then i dunno what to tell you, after all im just trying to take up space and pretend im a writer when what i really am is full of shit (both literally and metaphorically)
It’s “the holidays”, so let’s talk about… eating disorders! (Wah wah.)
I’m about to throw a big ball of crazy at you, so fair warning. Possible triggers: eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, and chronic illness.
I don’t want to bore you with my whole life story, so I’ll try to give you the relevant highlights. I have always had stomach problems: cholic as a baby, a lactose intolerance diagnosis in elementary school, and an IBS diagnosis in high school. Add to this an anxiety disorder that makes my stomach rock and roll whenever I’m nervous, excited, angry, or upset and you have a bad, bad combination. Basically, my stomach hurt all the time when I was a kid and I rarely knew why. Food became dangerous and untrustworthy; something that was fine the day before might upset my stomach the next day. I was miserable (and frequently still am).
In college, I added to all this a healthy dose of body issues. I was a chubby child but it never bothered me, as I eschewed most of society’s expectations for the female body. Sometime in college the bad body vibes hit me, though, despite my best efforts, and I’ve never been able to shake them. My food anxiety and OCD combined with the shiny new body issues and morphed into a stronger, faster, meaner obsession. I counted calories, carbs, portions, and anything else that was trackable. About a year out of college, I had managed to get my body, which likes to be between 132-135 pounds, down to 111. I had even managed to cease my menstrual cycle completely, which was awesome but not super healthy.
Nowadays I’m back to a proper weight, but still in a weird limbo where my anxiety-ocd-body-issues monster is constantly at war with my queer, feminist side that strives to cast off all the gross social conditioning and love my body exactly how it is. Every single day I expend so much energy worrying about my weight, my IBS, what I should eat to be healthy, what I should eat to be skinny, what I should eat to be comfortable and happy and not-crazy that I exhaust myself. If I have one cookie on the weekend, I mentally berate myself for it. If I take a day off from exercising because my stomach hurts, I swear I’m already a pound heavier. Even this very moment, while I write this, I’m craving Chex Mix but no, it’s so many calories, what if it makes my stomach hurt, I shouldn’t! Rinse and repeat forever.
All of this is to explain why Thanksgiving and Christmas have gone from being my favorite holidays to ones I dread through all of September, October, and November. See, I love eating and the winter holidays have the best food – pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, candied yams, mashed potatoes, honey rolls, hot chocolate, donuts and cheese danish on Christmas morning… mmm! More than anything, though, I love eating my mom’s stuffing. It’s soaked with butter and chock full of dried and fresh fruit, and I would eat it every day of my life if I could. But stuffing isn’t a good food according to my OCD brain. It’s bad for my stomach; it’s high in calories; it has no nutritional value. How dare I have even one bite?! So for the last ten or eleven years, the holidays have involved far more anxiety and internal panicking than enjoyment of the dishes I love. I drink water to fill myself up to the point of pain, and I eat a big, healthy breakfast so I’m not tempted by the Christmas donuts. When I have one anyway, I then spend the day wondering how I can sneak away from the festivities to work out. It’s pathetic, honestly, and majorly depressing.
I am going to change that this year. Or at least, I’m really going to try. I want to eat a nice dinner without worrying about my stomach beforehand and hating myself afterward. Wouldn’t that be nice? It really would. And I deserve that. I deserve to enjoy the holidays with my friends and family. I deserve to nourish my body with food that is healthy and good, and to not feel guilty for giving it the fuel it needs (or the treat I want!). I deserve to live free of anxiety and obsession. I deserve to live my life, to be present in every moment, and so does everyone else in similar situations. There are so many of us hurting out there, starving our bodies and souls to meet impossible ideals, and there’s just no reason. We weren’t put on this earth to make ourselves suffer.
I think this will be my goal for 2018 – to be kinder to myself and to love myself, not despite my various burdens but because of them. Maybe 2018 will be the year that I get to know my body again. We’ve been at war for too long.
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.
It’s the middle of the night or just about and I’m awake and haven’t written anything in days and no one really gives a shit so here’s a list of things I’m afraid of because why not. I’m afraid I’ll be at work when the mega quake hits and I’ll either die in the initial building collapse or I’ll be trapped in the rubble for days and smother to death. I’m afraid I’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m afraid the house will catch fire when I’m not home and all the animals will die. I’m afraid my cat’s spirit won’t visit me because he knows i made the choice to put him to sleep. I’m afraid everything i believe is a lie I’ve carefully crafted to make myself feel special and not crazy. I’m afraid I’m a shitty daughter. I’m afraid I’m a shitty friend. I’m afraid I’m a shitty lover and my girlfriend will one day leave because I’m asexual and have no libido and she’ll realize sooner or later that i can’t give her what she needs and deserves. I’m afraid she’ll die before me. I’m afraid my boss keeps delaying my promotion because she thinks I’m too incapable to do anything harder. I’m afraid my performance issues aren’t caused by anything physical or mental and I’m just bad at my job. I’m afraid I’m of painfully average intelligence and only the sub par public school system convinced people otherwise. I’m afraid my carpal tunnel will keep getting worse until i can’t type or write. I’m afraid I’m going to be alive for the end of the world. I’m afraid there’s nothing i can do to delay that fact. I’m afraid humanity is going to destroy every living thing on this planet. I’m afraid I’ll be alive for world war 3. I’m afraid donald trump will be president. I’m afraid someone i know will read this and want to have a Conversation about it. I’m afraid there’s nothing after death. I’m afraid that i already believe that and just can’t admit it to myself. I’m afraid I’m bad for my girlfriend and she doesn’t realize it. I’m afraid my life will always be compartmentalized. I’m afraid I’ve already written everything of value and will never create anything good again. I’m afraid I’ll eventually accept that fact and so many others and let apathy replace any drive or hope i have left. I’m afraid that nothing ever change and I’ll die in the same shitty world i was born into and the same shitty world i live in now. and now my fingers are going cold and tingly because my body is a piece of junk so i guess it’s time to go to sleep so i can wake up and pretend this counts as writing it really really doesn’t.
I’m going to spend my lunch break freewriting instead of reading about kitties because I’ve been really lazy with the whole writing thing lately which I like to blame on the boys being silent but really it’s my own fault for just not trying, or at least not trying hard enough, putting sweat and blood and tears into it, I used to but I don’t so much anymore, not sure why, maybe just more things to spread the crazy over so the writing doesn’t get hit with the full force of an anxious, depressed, obsessive compulsive mind like mine, though it doesn’t help either that I’ve been doubting, wondering just how much of my belief really is that crazy mind just wanting to cling to nice ideas, goddesses that care and gods who exist outside of the chambers of my mind that is so many hallways and so many doors and so many rooms, it’s easy to get lost, equally easy to turn a corner and think you see something, someone, but probably not, they’re probably not really there, you’re probably just lonely or scared or angry, yeah, I can do anger well when I need, though these days the spark isn’t so easy to coax into a roaring flame, it’s more like a pilot light you forget about or maybe a lighter with no liquid left so you’re just flick flick flicking the switchy thing to no result, I wish I could be angry at a world that might not be as magnificent as I hope, that might honestly just be what you see is what you get, no magic or mystery, I wish that could make me angry but instead it just makes me, I don’t know, afraid I guess, but that fear that comes from not wanting to admit something might be true, if you say it out loud you might make it real but if you never say it, if you carry that dead coal deep in your chest maybe it’s not really real, not quite, and maybe one day you’ll have that experience that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that everything exists, everything at all, but let’s be honest, probably not, that’s just a little too good to be true, not everyone can be right about everything, and anyway I guess the mystery is the point of it all, the not knowing, the believing despite the lack of evidence, but that’s stupid, honestly, that’s bullshit, what’s so bad about evidence? what’s so good about blind faith? and when some say it’s good to doubt and others say it’s bad to doubt, who’s right when everything right or nothing’s right or whatever, I’m losing steam here, and my train of thought, and really it’s only been like fifteen minutes, how did I ever do this before, this roundabout whirlwind wordvomit that somehow made sense before, had a point, seemed maybe even a little fucking profound, at least to the me that was writing it at 2 AM, and maybe that’s the problem, maybe that sort of thing can’t be written at 12:09 PM on a lunch break but I’m asleep at 2 AM these days and I like it, I like the not pacing and weeping and tearing at my hair, though I guess I do miss the result, haven’t really written anything I could call good in who knows how long, even stuff like this feels like cheating, just strings of words connected by the occasional swear because I’m edgy, see?, but I remember how it was once upon a time, the urge, the compulsion, the flow, fierce river of words that didn’t suck so fucking much and didn’t need to be framed in a haiku because otherwise there aren’t enough to make anything of any value, and yes every time I write a haiku I know it’s a stopgap measure, water on one plant in a desert of dying vines, wow, getting real poetic here aren’t we, maybe 12:12 is the magic minute, though probably not, this lunch hour might have been better spent reading someone else’s words, especially since I’m really winding down, no anger or sorrow or indignation or other words that would sound nice here, no, I’m down to one maybe every twenty seconds, twenty five at the end of a thought, the what now? with no answer, I guess another few words, I forget what I wrote about up there but it was probably stupid, this is too so I probably won’t do anything with it, I’ll delete it all in a burst of another word that I can’t think of, maybe I should take up nope don’t backspace can’t backspace here that’s not how it works, there are rules, stupid rules but if we don’t have rules then everything’s chaos or whatever, though then again everything IS chaos right now, isn’t it? so maybe no one would even notice, and honestly no one’s going to read this anyway, not even me on some far future midnight because ugh, what’s the point, why walk the same old same old same old circles, it’s 12:17 now, can I be done? I can manage to eke out a few more words if you really want, banana combine harvester ecclesiastical wow I spelled that right on the first try, oughta get a sticker for that, and oh hey stickers! maybe those would help, though I doubt it, but at least it’s 12:18 now, see how the time flies, here are a few more words for you or maybe not, maybe my mind will go completely blank like a thing that’s really blank I guess, fuck off simile, which I guess I can’t spell, some grade level teacher would be disappointed in that but you know what Ms I can’t think of any teacher names well they can fuck off too, I’ll spell all the words wrong if I want, not trying to get published anyway, just yelling into the void and I guess taking up some precious storage data or something but hey it’s 12:20 so fuck this