Tag: OCD

This model brain of mine: Obsessive Quests Edition

Quests Are Us

This morning I’ve been obsessively searching for a 1:6 scale Vespa toy model that’s affordable and available to buy. I have an idea that I want a vintage looking one that I can pair with a made to move Barbie because I saw an example of what I want and now nothing else will do. This is a constant brain itch of mine that never quite goes away, obsessively searching for SUPER SPECIFIC ITEMS THAT BARELY EXIST. I’ve already spent at least 16 collective hours searching for the right Vespa model and Barbie. Because I am convinced I need this in my life. It’s becoming a severe annoyance to me. It happens constantly.

I get an idea of something I need to find or figure out or buy and it’s always extremely SPECIFIC. I don’t just need to know if horses can survive gunshot wounds, I need to know if Clydesdale horses can survive gunshot wounds to their hind quarters and how would they act and how would you bandage such a wound? I viewed a lot of distressing images of gunshot wounds to humans before I found any information on horses and their ability to survive a gunshot wound and specifically how fragile Clydesdale horses can be to – well – anything, yet also strong. The amount of hours I spent going down that rabbit hole was significant.

I want to find the exact dried beans used in the Trader Joe’s canned gigante beans but gigante beans aren’t easy to find except as expensive imports and I’m convinced there must be an affordable source for exactly what I’m looking for so I spent at least 6 collective hours intensively searching the internet for dried gigante beans and also trying to find a definitive answer to the question of whether lima beans are essentially the same bean or not. I do not have the beans or the answer yet and I have not given up. The itch won’t go away. It’s a quest. Like, a real quest with an out of proportion sense of importance to me.

I’m on perpetual quests for difficult to find information and things and it takes up a lot of my time. It’s always exciting at first. I love to dig for information or search for treasure or find EXACTLY what I have in my mind. But soon it becomes an obligation. It becomes a quest that I can’t easily turn away from. And even if I turn away from it for a while it doesn’t go away. I’ll come back to it again and again. And each time I attack my quest with a tenacity that could be much better used to achieve my dreams. But even in the pursuit of my dreams this obsessive nature of mine derails me constantly. Looking for the perfect soundtrack for a single scene I’m writing in a novel can take me hours. And those are hours I’ve sat down to write but ended up trying to create the PERFECT ambiance in which to find the PERFECT words and with which to shut out the rest of the noise both in my head and outside of me.

But I want to be clear that this isn’t something I intend to do so much as I can’t help it and I can’t stop it. I have to do it. The more frustrated I am the more determined I become to never give up the quest. It’s a fucking compulsion, make no mistake about that.

I imagine that there are some people for which this tendency works wonderfully well. Or that they just aren’t bothered by it. And that’s great for them. Sometimes this quality or habit of mine serves me well, because if it never served me to behave this way I wouldn’t have developed the habit in the first place. But it overwhelms me easily. I can’t stop. And don’t suppose for a second this is just a technology problem of the modern age. I spend time going to every single store in my city looking for specific things and I’ve done that since before I could also do a deep dive online. I used to spend just as many frustrated hours scouring the shelves of libraries and card catalogs before personal computers could do the same kind of work but take you literally worldwide without having to adhere to library hours.

I’m trying to untangle this behavior into components and can’t tell whether it’s the response to another facet of my personality or if other aspects of my personality stem from this habit. Why does it matter at all? Who fucking cares? ME.

I used to think Jazz Handz were stupid until I realized I’m one giant Jazz Handz away from becoming a black hole of schmaltz

I kind of suspect that this habit and my obsession with attempting to limit myself to “essentials lists” is because my spirit is too big for itself like it’s always on the verge of exploding. Yeah, way bigger than my body and right now my body is obese. My spirit? IS JAZZ-HANDS-Y LOUD-ASSED SUPER EXCITED ABOUT EVERYTHING AND NEEDS TO CONSUME EVERYTHING AND DO EVERYTHING AND GO EVERYWHERE AND DO NOTHING BY HALVES AND BE AN EXPERT AT ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING AND GET OUT OF MY WAY YOU TIRED AND LIFELESS AUTOMATONS AND CYNICS BECAUSE I HAVE MACRAME TO LEARN, SLINKIES TO COLLECT, MINIATURES TO MAKE, ANIMALS TO BECOME FRIENDS WITH, MUSIC TO LEARN TO PLAY, NEW CRAFTS TO EXPLORE, NATURE TO IDENTIFY, EVERYTHING TO DOODLE, EVERY RECIPE IN THE WORLD TO MAKE, ALL THE FOOD TO PRESERVE – LIKE – I NEED TO PUT UP ENOUGH FOOD THAT IF NO ONE GROWS EGGPLANTS AGAIN FOR A FEW YEARS WE’LL HAVE RATATOUILLE FOREVER, AND WHERE THREE CHICKENS ARE ENOUGH FOR MOST CITY PEOPLE I MUST HAVE THE MAXIMUM NUMBER ALLOWED ME, AND WHY ON EARTH SHOULD I HAVE TWO ROSE BUSHES IF I CAN HAVE THIRTY AND EVERY DAMN FLOWERING FRUITING PERENNIAL MUST BE MINE, PLUS I MUST READ EVERYTHING, KNOW EVERYTHING….

There is no time for what my spirit wants to hold. There’s not enough time in a single life for everything I want to do and know. There’s a part of my brain that literally holds up that level of noise at that level of ALL-CAPS urgency 24 hours a day. When I’m giving voice to this part of myself, people get overwhelmed by my lack of volume control. When I say this out loud, most people deny it “I don’t get overwhelmed by you!”. But I KNOW it’s true because my whole life people have put their hands up between me and them in a defensive way as though their hand can diffuse some of my loud energy when I’m telling them excitedly every single thing I’m thinking. Or they tell me to simmer down or pipe down or cry mercy “I get it, sheesh! No need to shout!”.

So there’s this other thing I do that is as futile as trying to water a parched garden with spit. I am constantly trying to edit myself, my interests, my urge to collect things, my activities. I like to decide on “bare essentials” of things. If I can only plant ten herbs, what would they be? What are the ten roses I can’t live without? I decide that that’s all I’ll plant. I’ll keep things simple. If I have the ten best roses on earth I never need to buy another rose which means I don’t have to spend a hundred hours searching for a specific rose I used to have, or that I heard about, or found in a garden I visited.

Right now I’m culling my dried herb and potions shelves because I need to reduce what I keep on hand so it all fits in one single cabinet. I keep thinking about what I absolutely HAVE to have on hand. What herbs can’t I live without having a supply of in my house? I’ve done this before. And before that. And also before. But inevitably, at some point, I get really excited about trying some new potions and I hate to buy a small very expensive bag of meadowsweet when I can buy a half a pound at the fraction of the price. But then I also buy twenty other bags of herbs and roots and sometimes I run out of energy to do anything with them because I only had the time and energy to work on one herbal project. I bite off more than I can chew. I waste money buying more than I need. I hate this. This time I’m sending all my extra stuff to a dear friend and that’s great.

But meanwhile I want to can all the foods. I can’t make a small batch of anything to save my life. I intend to but it feels wrong. In theory I don’t need to be canning at all. Or making my own herbal potions. Or growing my own flowers or roses or herbs or fruits. I don’t have to sew anything just because I know how to do it. I want to do everything BIG. I make giant batches of soup. I make enough tortillas to last three dinners but gotta hope I get the extra put away properly before they go bad because when I run out of steam, I fully RUN OUT OF ALL STEAM.

The biggest mythos around me is that I have tons of energy. My mom says it all the time. Friends say it too. I do a lot so I must have endless energy. But my time is divided severely between periods of activity and looooooong periods of downtime.

Here are some lists trying to make order and limitations in a limitlessly messy and noisy brain driving a life that is always trying to be more do more find more grow more.

Pocket Wardrobe (if I can limit my wardrobe to these simple pieces I’ll never have to worry about clothes again, blah blah blah):

  1. 6 skirts with shorts sewn in, all in black
  2. 10 inexpensive black Target t-shirts
  3. 1,000 pairs of socks but all in 95% cotton 5% spandex
  4. 20 pairs of underwear all in old lady style 100% cotton prints

Boom! Done. No more trying to find clothes that fit and get stained and ruined. Just make six of the skirts I always make for myself and everything in black. Done. Simple.

The Essential (only) dried medicinal herbs to keep on hand:

  1. Comfrey (leaf and root)
  2. Thyme
  3. Myrrh because what if I need to embalm a body?!
  4. Orris root because it smells interesting and one day might cure the obscure disease I don’t know I have yet.
  5. Obviously must have gentian root for reasons you’ll never guess
  6. Plantain
  7. Sage, because it tastes like it fixes sore throats

Or how about the one my brain is working on right now?

Canned goods my family won’t forgive me for not making us:

  1. Tomato sauce
  2. Marinated artichoke hearts
  3. Ratatouille
  4. Pickled beets
  5. Do they really need or deserve dill pickles since they haven’t finished what I made last year?
  6. For fuck’s sake, I rarely eat jam, so why the hell did I make 14 jars of plum jam when I still have a billion jars of pomegranate jelly I never ate from last year? Most of that pom jelly (second ginormous batch) doesn’t taste that great anyway and how many hours did I dedicate to making it?!)
  7. Roasted tomato salsa because we’ve nearly finished it all and everyone LOVES it.
  8. Basically stop there and you might have time to write a book and shit. Cheesus!

While re-reading what I’ve written so far I hear voices suggesting that I sound manic. Perhaps I’m bipolar because I go on sprees of buying all the herbs. It’s typical of people with bipolar disorder to go on great shopping sprees. But I don’t really do that. And what reads as manic energy might actually BE manic but then it’s important to recognize that

  1. My over-excitement and obsessiveness isn’t a mood that comes and goes. It isn’t cyclical. That’s who I AM at my core. It’s the genuine undiluted Angelina.
  2. I don’t shop to feel better. I don’t even like shopping at all. I like knowing I have everything I need to DO things with. Shopping is something I tend to dislike. But owning the “perfect” socks is an essential for me because I can’t wear most socks without being filled with rage at sag-attacks or weird textures on my skin.

Two fairly important distinctions, I think.

 

I’m tired. I get tired of the part of myself that never really sleeps, never quiets down, never stops. Only five things have EVER been effective at really slowing my brain down to a level that offers significant relief: reading, writing, drinking alcohol, smoking, and watching television.

I’ve read at least a thousand books in my life so far. But in the last ten years or more my reading is sporadic at best. I find it almost impossible to get lost in a book anymore. I can’t shut the rest of the world out of books the way I used to. But also, I’ve come to a point where I find a lot of books incredibly tedious. Too much sex, too intellectual, too action-y, too depressing, too boring, too ambiguous, too much like real life, etc. I basically want Mary Stewart to posthumously write a hundred more of her suspense/mystery novels. That’s what I want to read.

I can’t smoke any more. I haven’t smoked in 15 years. I’m really happy to not be smoking any more and I don’t miss it. But I don’t miss it because I’m still drinking and watching endless television. I keep working on removing drinking from the list because I know it’s so unhealthy at the level at which I drink. And yet it’s so deeply comforting and it makes my brain shut the fuck up and simmer the fuck down. Same with endless television. I re-watch the same shows all day and all night long. Nothing new. Nothing to tax my brain. I can’t sleep without the tv being on.

Writing. Sigh. Writing is hard for me to get lost in anymore. I don’t give up. Never give up. I’m working on a few projects and I’m excited about them but am incapable of getting lost in writing the way I did when I was writing the first Cricket and Grey. I miss that. I want that ability back. Music really fueled that novel but music has become very problematic to me.

I’m excited all the time but also tired all the time. This is just business as usual living in this meat-cage of mine. Being a constant contradiction within myself is how I am and dialectical behavioral therapy has shown me that we can be and believe two apparently opposing things at the same time. What about a hundred?

I want to do all the things and also nothing at all.

I think my dreams last night wore me out, as they often do. Distressing and just as busy as my waking life.

I’m going to get my shoes on now and go down to happy hour to try to write a little fiction. Then I’ll go to the store, then come home and do all the things I meant to be doing while I wrote this post instead. But at least I’ll be able to say I spent most of my day writing and not canning more jam I don’t need.

 

All Roads Lead to OCD

strange life

I grew this peculiar mold on some mushroom stuffing and I couldn’t be prouder of it if I’d done it on purpose. Part angora bunny, part alien spore, and part sea anemone, I think it has the potential to inoculate us all against congenital misconceptions, diseased ideals, and tumors of ill will. Because – LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL BEAST!

Today was a big day for our household (in a good way) and I’m over-stimulated, tired, wired, unquiet but desperate to find a great big static void in my head so I can wake up refreshed and continue with my most important project – the Suicide for Beginners project.*

One of the things buzzing loudly in my head is the discovery of “Pure O” or “Purely O” which I never heard of until one of the respondents of the survey said they were diagnosed with it. So I looked it up. SHITE. IT’S A DESCRIPTION OF THE STATE OF MY BRAIN AT ALL TIMES. WHETHER SLEEPING OR WAKING THE SAME SHIT IS GOING THROUGH MY HEAD AT ALL TIMES AND IT’S THE REASON I WAS FINALLY DRIVEN TO SEEK MENTAL ASSESSMENT AND THERAPY.

My assessing psychologist was reluctant to diagnose me with OCD because, while I clearly had the obsessive thoughts, I seemed to lack the compulsive behaviors that are generally associated with OCD. So he simply put in the notes “shadings of OCD”, though a few years later a psychiatrist said I definitely had OCD, no shadings about it.

I think it’s important to note that I was much too ashamed to tell my psychologist about the compulsive twisting of fabric around my thumb and fingers that I’ve been doing since I was 7 years old. I have a permanent callous on my thumb from this. I do it all day long if I’m not consciously NOT doing it, which takes a lot of work. I also failed to mention my dermatillamania that results in my scalp being covered in scabs and sometimes I pick at my arms and legs too. It’s shameful and awful and until I realized I was purposely not telling Dr. Judine about these two compulsive habits I hadn’t openly admitted either of them to myself.

Does it matter? Maybe this shit doesn’t matter to people who don’t live with a constant flush of violent, inappropriate, and horrible images flashing through their heads all day, but it matters to me to find out WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING SHIT THAT THERE’S NO DISCERNIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MY DAYTIME BRAIN ACTIVITY AND MY NIGHTMARES?

To know that others experience this, that there may be a bunch of people like me, who live with this same shit – that matters a lot to me. To have a name for it or a succinct summing up of what this shit IS matters a lot to me.

In any case, I did some reading tonight (much too stimulating, should not have done that after a long big day) and I discovered that not all mental health professionals recognize Pure O as a real diagnosis. I read one irritating article that was totally interesting that pointed out that there are covert and overt compulsions and that many professionals may not recognize that many compulsions are largely invisible.

I will have to do more reading on this all later.

It’s already 1 am as I write this and my brain couldn’t be more wired. My body is so fucking exhausted from a long week and a constantly hurting back. I want to spend all day tomorrow working on sorting the survey results for Suicide for Beginners. I should try to sleep. Not sure I can.

I’ll try. Soon. You should too, probably.

 

*Philip doesn’t want me to call it a “project” when it’s clearly a book I’m writing. I would argue that it’s more than a book, it’s arguably the most useful thing I’ve ever worked on and because it didn’t start with the survey and it won’t end with a book – it feels distinctly project-ish. I almost said “project-ile” because my brain won’t stop. “Assicle” happened earlier today and just a couple of hours ago it started repeating “Sarah, syrup, syrup, Sarah, Sarah, syrup – ad infinitum”

What Not to Say: To People With OCD

I know you’ve seen this picture before.  It was too perfect for this post, I couldn’t resist.

What not to say to people you know have OCD or other clinical anxiety diagnoses:

“You worry too much”  (No shit, Sherlock.  You breathe too much.)

“Mellow out, it’s not that big a deal”  (Maybe to you it isn’t, to us it’s a punishable offense)

“Stop obsessing about… (whatever)”  (That’s what we DO)

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill”  (If I could make a mole out of a mountain I would totally stop making a mountain out of a molehill.)

“You’re probably deficient in vitamins.”   (There is no possible way to answer this appropriately)

“All you need to do is stop FOCUSING so much on… (whatever you’re focusing on)”   (If I could paste a picture of Richard Armitage on the inside of my frontal lobe I would most certainly do it asap.)

“Your fears are irrational.”  (I had no idea.  Now I can just stop having them.)

“If you expose yourself to your fears repeatedly you’ll desensitize yourself to them.”  (Okay.  So if I’m afraid of hobo spiders I should go get me some a them babies and scatter them around my house and I’ll either be dead in a fortnight or cured of my fear of them?  That’s got a twisted brilliance to it… looking for some a them babies stat!)

“There’s nothing wrong with you- you’re totally normal!”  (Dude, if you think I’m normal it’s time for you to get your own psyche eval)

“You can’t have OCD.  You don’t count shit all day long and you don’t do anything weird”  (50% of my energy is exerted in making sure you don’t SEE the weird things I do)

I reserve the right to add to or change this list any time I want, subject to new revelations and idiotic comments.  Those who have said these things to a person with OCD or other Anxiety without KNOWING that person had such issues is wholly exempt from the full scope of my irritation which is quite formidable.

 

 

Lost Shots and Hammer Punch

(There are two things I never want to live without: coffee and cameras.  These are two things I’ve made my fictional characters live without.  They say you have to make your characters suffer.  I think I could almost get away with not having them get shot at and tortured after forcing them to drink only herb and root teas and depriving them of the pleasures of I-phones.)

I can’t believe how important cameras have become to me.  I say that and immediately remember hours spent lugging my barbie dolls around Lithia park to find great spots to set them up for photo shoots with my barely more than a paper box Vivitar camera.  I think I won the camera in a drawing or something.  It was cheap and crappy and I loved it.  Then I upgraded at some point to a slightly sturdier version (maybe a Pentax or something?) and took photo shoots of myself and my friends dressing up.  I still have, and get pleasure from, all these early photographic efforts.  Then in high school my dad gave me his Canon camera, the one he lugged with him to Thailand and India when he was 18 years old.  The kind you need a light meter to use well.  I never did use it very well.  I took a photography class with that one and did lots of dark room time.

(I just deleted a huge chunk of distressingly boring text all about the agonizing two days I’ve spent trying to decide which point and shoot to buy to replace my beloved SD850.  If you want all those details, please tell me, I’ll write up a separate post just for you and we can discuss it!)

Learning to use a new camera is like starting a new love affair.

I just bought the S95 camera and immediately spent 24 hours freaking out because I thought I might have made a terrible mistake.  (I haven’t).  I am amazed, even after years of informative personal experience that ought to have crushed such amazement, at the level of obsessiveness my mind can reach over the smallest things in life like the question of exactly what I need from my cameras, the perfect number of cameras to have (two), and how I can (without cessation) read the technical specs of almost every single camera on the market just to make sure I have the best option.

I’m all worn out from the mental efforts.  I didn’t even start my shift last night until 6pm.  All because I couldn’t think about anything else until I was sure I didn’t need to return the S95 (I don’t).  My child never got out of his clothes.  I think it’s safe to say that the writing was on the wall back when I dressed brunette Darci up in her negligee and posed her against the fancy dry concrete fountain with sad Ken and conducted a very serious photo shoot without caring about the baldly staring passersby.  I remember feeling brilliant when I moved the shoot to the little waterfall near the stairs that lead up to the Shakespearean theatre.  There were swans.  There was the verdant spread of cool green.  There was the pounding summer sun reaching into the shadows.  My bicycle must have been tossed to the side nearby.  Unless I walked with my plastic entourage through the streets of softened asphalt to do my shoot.

I took some great photographs yesterday and something malfunctioned in the transfer from the camera to the computer.  I erased them from the camera immediately, because although I’m a slob in my housekeeping, I’m tidy in my digital life.  I can’t get those pictures back.  I can try to recreate them.  Lost pictures are like lost words, it’s best to let them go and do something fresh and new.  You can never completely recreate that great poem you thought of while waiting in line at Winco witnessing the circus life there.  You can never go back and shouldn’t spend much time mourning.

My obsessive nature is almost as uncomfortable for me as it is for my family.  Yesterday was pissy.  My head wouldn’t let go of the digital bone it was shaking around and by the end I was ready to tear heads off of bodies, throw things through windows, and other dramatic expressions of a head too full and a life spinning away from my control.

Single parenting for a week exacerbates any extant rage or frustrations.  Once again, may I salute all you phenomenal single parents out there?  I am a spectacular parenting wimp.

What saved me from bursting into flames yesterday was taking another private Kung Fu forms lesson.  When I sell my novel and it’s made into a movie and the royalties start paying off I will spend my wild riches on private lessons every week.  I know three full forms now: Wushu basic stance, 8 chain punch, and The Hammer.  I just started learning Yet Yi which requires me to do a power yell.  Yell hell.  I’m not comfortable yelling out loud.  Once you start yelling like that, what’s to say I’ll ever be able to stop?*

I hope my knees don’t fall off my legs before I finish learning Yet Yi.

(I just deleted self deprecatory comment because it has no place in my forms journey.)

On my way to the Kung Fu school I was over-full of stress.  My head was in a severe mess.  Then for one hour I didn’t think about my life for a single second.  I didn’t think about what I can’t do, what I can’t be, what I don’t know, or what I’m afraid to know.  For one hour my Sifu said “do this” and I did what he told me to do.  I did a power yell.  I did the fancy-ass jump/slide thing that seems an improbable move for a fat 41 year old to do- I did it.  For one hour I tried to remember to breath.  For one hour I imagined how The Hammer form could be used in real combat.  Everything else slipped away.

That’s meditation.  I find it very hard to achieve that here at home.  Which is why if I can ever afford it that will be my big extravagance.  It’s worth it.  That’s the kind of meditation you can’t achieve with writing or photography or medication or therapy or cake.  I have some serious ground to cover to reach some personal goals I won’t let go of in spite of how impossible they are appearing at the moment.  I don’t truly believe in impossibilities.  I have some serious personal problems to overcome.  I’m getting at it in my own way, my own time.  So I keep asking myself to be patient and every day try again.  Try again.  And practice forms.  Dig holes in the garden.  Talk fierce walks.  Ride my bicycle.  No efforts we make for our own well being and the well being of others is ever wasted.

When I came home from the forms lesson I was much more relaxed.  Walked right into chaos and the need to clean the kitchen and cook some food and feed my kid and start my entire work shift and put the camera question to rest.  Life doesn’t change because you meditate.  Life doesn’t stop being challenging or getting in your face and up in your rage.

But let me tell you something, if you can do 8 chain punch for an hour, you can handle anything.

 

*Just saw a Simpson episode in which Homer starts yelling and can’t stop, so obviously this fear is completely rational.

Your Light is Equal to Your Dark

This broadcast is brought to you completely by chance and my inability to go to sleep now that Philip is back from New York and I’m perfectly free to go to sleep and not be a sick single parent.   This physique and brain are perverse and as soon as I am off duty I can’t calm down, sleep, relax, or shut the brain faucet off.

Philip has been in New York Since Saturday night and returned in the wee hours last night.  I’ve gotten up for four mornings in a row and navigated the crabby child through his ablutions (rituals) while swallowing knives and gasping for air because I have the delightful seasonal disease whose flavor is:

chest cold with hard acceleration to bronchitis

shortness of breath

tightness of chest

earache

sore throat (the knives!)

Anyway, I say this every single time, I’ll say it again: single parenting SUCKS and I take my hat off to all you amazing people who have done it successfully.

In addition to the usual joys of raising a kid who has a difficult relationship with food and the world, this week has seen Max landed in the principal’s office for singing a verse or two of the Weird Al Yankovic song about being fat to a couple of kids who (apparently) are a little on the largish side.

Plus he had the flat out audacity to deny that I am myself fat and might take offense at having a Weird Al song directed at my corpulence.

This was a hard sell since I could barely keep a straight face in trying to take this whole thing seriously.  I mean, what he did was NOT NICE but hardly constitutes more than an insensitive barb being thrown at a couple of kids.  And it was WEIRD AL YANKOVIC.

I am so fixated on the fact that my kid is into Weird Al that there is no way I could take offense at having his fat song sung right in my face.

And this is why my kid is going to end up in jail and be a very bad person.  Because I fail to take this as seriously as the principal did.

Please believe that I did have a very long and serious talk with Max about how his actions must have made the largish kids feel.

It used to take throwing punches to get sent to the principal’s office when I was a kid.  You know what kids do?  They tease each other and hurt each other’s feelings.  You know who’s kids have never done that?

The number is too small to even record.  EVERY KID DOES THIS AT SOME POINT OR ANOTHER.  EVERY KID.

I have much more serious problems to worry about with my kid than him being insensitive via Weird Al.  So excuse me if I have a hard time feeling as horrified as I should.  It’s kind of like when Max comes home and tells me that a kid called him an idiot.  I say “Well, are you an idiot?” and Max tells me he’s not an idiot, he’s smart.  So I ask him what difference it makes to him if some kid tells him he’s an idiot if Max knows for himself that he’s not?  The point is that the kid has stuck him with a barb meant to hurt him and it worked but it is nothing more and there are two things Max can ask himself in any similar situation:

Is the insult true?  If so, perhaps it indicates something he can work on.  If it isn’t then it’s nothing.  Max must let it go.  Max must know his own worth.

Then I tell him his worth because that’s my job.  And because I love him.

I’m having a little writing crisis.  I just started the third draft and am not sure if my first chapter is even necessary.  Three damnable people have mentioned “taking a break” and I rail and scream and pound the walls because I’m on fire with this goal, with the mountain being half climbed, with being closer to realizing my life’s potential than I have ever been before and I don’t want to take a step back.  I want to work.  I want to blaze through it.

What I want is someone else’s perspective but everyone I know who could give me the kind of perspective I need is too busy to read right now.  So Philip (one of the damnable people) has asked if he can read the second draft.  I have to say I’m a little scared to let him read it.  He’s actually an amazing editor but I don’t need an editor yet.  There’s also this terror that he won’t like it, that he’ll think it’s crap.  After eighteen years of being married to him I still want him to be impressed with what I can do.  Aside from my awesome ability to get fat and alienate people.  Letting someone read your second draft is like-

You know, I can’t finish that sentence because at this hour the only expressions that come to mind are all coarse and inappropriate in one way or another.

Raw.  A second draft is still raw.  Not as much as the first one.  Once you get this far it isn’t daunting to do another draft.  Once you get this far you are so invested in your work it’s a matter of great pride to make the work of so many hours better than you thought you could make it.  I feel the push in myself to make it count because I might die of this pestilent new year.  Pulled muscles, strep throat, bronchitis, fatigue, and more of the same muscle getting pulled again and again- I’m not so robust this year.

It’s okay.  The main thing is to get a better version of this novel written before I kick it.

I haven’t even gotten to mention the scary-strong garlic and greens soup my mother made for us.  A truly healing soup (it tasted like medicine) because she’s had bronchitis for a month.  Plus vertigo.

Plus my dog wants to kill her cats.

Her dog wants to eat our house.

It’s all going to be fine.  I feel almost certain that I won’t die until I’ve taken my novel past the raw stage.

Thank god for child psychologists.

The kid is going to the pediatrician to discuss medications.  Not for the ADD but for the OCD.  Yes, it’s come to this.  I know how a lot of people feel about medicating children for anything mental.  If my kid had diabetes no one would suggest I withhold insulin from him but these brain issues scare the crap out of people.  Lots of people don’t even believe they’re real.

There are a lot of people who still think ADD is a euphemism for a rowdy child who just needs a firm hand and a parent who isn’t too lazy to keep them “under control”.  I am feeling a lot of anger at such people lately.  There is no longer any excuse for people to “not believe” in mental illness and mental disorders.  Pictures of the brain are proving a lot of things psychologists and neurologists and doctors have been theorizing about for years.

Max’s psychologist told us that strep throat makes OCD symptoms much worse and sometimes makes previously undiagnosed OCD present itself.  Why?  How strange!  How improbable!  He says that strep throat affects the part of the brain that controls the same functions that are affected by OCD.  It’s too bad I can’t explain it like he did.  It’s totally fascinating.  He says they’ve got images of brain activity during strep infections that prove this.

I’m going to have to deal with my anger over the rampant ignorance about mental disorders in some way.  I imagine I’ll hash it out here, like I always do.

My heros are all the people who have mental disorders and have no shame, discuss it openly, let it be a part of their everyday story, who share out loud and foster understanding and brave ridicule and censure to bring light into the still medieval views so many people have about brain function.  My heros are all the people who live with mental illness, who get through each day so that they can help others through the turgid waters of mental dysfunction to find their gifts.

There is a median for everything, a spectrum for normalcy that includes a median along which most people lie, but which has infinite variation.  We all fit on there somewhere.  Not normal is on either end of the spectrum with the averages falling closest to the middle.  No matter who wants to believe there is no such thing as “normal” or “abnormal”, there is.  But it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

Those who daily have to struggle through a quagmire of inefficient brain function, often rendering their experience (and therefore their expression of) the world dark and dangerous, have in them the ability to effervesce with a corresponding light.

However dark your darkness, your light is equal.

Hope I Can’t Account For

I love this minute.  I love this hour.  I have a bit of a fever, as I always do, as though my blood was boiling over and my head might explode with excitement waiting for the turning of the calendar.  I tried working on the novel but I can’t settle into a groove, I can’t hang onto a single thread tonight.  I was about to say that I wish it wasn’t so symbolically important to me, the new year, but it stuck in my throat as such a strange thing to wish.  Why not?  I get excited.  I spend plenty of time being a crusty old curmudgeon, why not get childishly excited about something completely abstract for once?

I am grateful for a lot more than I probably let on.

I feel hope I can’t account for.  That may be the best kind.

Sometimes we do things our whole lives and don’t understand why.

I think it’s fascinating to suddenly understand something that’s always been there, always been a shadow puppet in my life, always pulling my strings out of my control and yet I have simply called it this uncomfortable freakish thing and then let it fade against the more stark settings in a circular life inhabiting sharp square spaces.

I’ve heard it said that the devil is in the details.  I think this is true.

We don’t generally eat at table as a family.  I register a sense of guilt that this isn’t a bastion of strength in our lives as it seems to be in other families who take the dinner table as a sacred event.  No one shall be excused from the dinner table without they happen to be dying!  I have thought mistily about what it might be like to have a kid who can eat food without being distracted from the fact that he’s eating food because then we could all sit at the table together.  It’s a nice fairy story and it’s so facile to lay this at the kid’s feet.  He’s quirky and we accommodate him.

The joke is that we are all so quirky we have no way of drawing meaningful lines between normalcy and freakitude.  It came up in casual conversation the other day with Philip, something about eating at the table, the fact that we almost never eat in our dining room, I can’t remember how the conversation twisted out between us but at some point Philip pointed out that we never have really been people who ate food at the table.  Even before Max.  The only time we eat at table is when we have guests.

The light went on like it does in grungy cement basements where a single bulb switched on can feel like the inquisition of Christ in interview room #1.

I did grow up eating at the dinner table.  We sat down every night the way all families are supposed to do.  My whole youth I ate at the table with four other people and the thing I’ve never ever articulated until this week is that it was a constant exercise in self discipline to sit and eat while hearing four other people chew.  Hearing the various noises associated with mastication: teeth grinding down, saliva mixing in mouth cavities with food, open mouthed chewing noises, lip smacking, fork scraping against teeth and against plates, the sound of swallowing… all of these noises were like canons going off constantly in my ears and made it difficult to eat myself.  It wasn’t just being disturbed by the noises that my family was making but knowing that they could hear me making the same noises.  Someone once told me I’m a very loud swallower and I’m still traumatized by the thought of that being true.

It makes sense now.  It makes sense in my current life where we put these “quirks” up to the light and accept them for the part of our overall maze of mental issues that make us who we are.

I don’t have issues sitting at a table with guests, the kind of dinner where someone is always talking (me, for distraction), and where the general clamor acts as a mask over the sounds of eating I find terribly disturbing and unappetizing.  I don’t have these issues in busy restaurants or at parties where everyone is carrying food around on plates and generally chatting and shuffling so much you can never hear teeth clamp down on crunchy things.

My family, I think, may never have known about these issues.  We didn’t live the way Philip, Max, and I live now: in great acceptance of our differences and figuring out how to live in such a way that our issues don’t interfere with our quality of life.  Back then I was a chatterbox (as I am still) but in a different way.  There was a lot I never said, never expressed.  A lot of what I did express wasn’t heard anyway but I could never know if I let something slip, if it would let loose any repercussions that would prove bruising.  I’m pretty sure I told my sister to stop chewing with her mouth open and I’m pretty sure I scolded my brother for slurping milk in great luscious gulps, but never did I say what intense distress it was to me to hear the sounds of eating at the dinner table.

I have always hated eating anything in front of people not eating.  I have generally preferred to eat in private.  Where no one can hear and hate the sounds of my chewing and swallowing.

I was once told that I chew like a cow.  I don’t think I’ve recovered from that one yet.  I think I was seventeen when it was said to me.

If I become uncomfortable at any dinner table I will provide cover in the form of random chatter.  I will wait until someone else provides chatter before I will eat.  There are plenty of times, especially at large tables of people, where none of this could ever possibly be noticed, but the fact remains that eating is not something I’m comfortable about even though I love nothing better than to feed the people I like and love.  They are like irreconcilable siblings.  If you want to know what it takes for something to cross the line from quirk to uncomfortable mental illness, I think this is a great example.

There is no time when eating around other people doesn’t cause me some sort of anxiety.  I deal with it because there is also nothing I love better, nothing I find more meaningful than feeding people.  This doesn’t change my discomfort.  This doesn’t change the fact that “dealing with it” causes me a great expense of energy, part of why I am so tired after socializing.

Crunchy things are a living hell.

The real revelation is that this whole issue made it into the first draft of “Jane Doe” and I didn’t even realize it was me I was writing when I wrote Jane not being able to eat to the sound of people eating.

So even if I had a kid who could eat food without being distracted enough not to see it, examine it, think too much about it, or be grossed out by it, we still wouldn’t be one of those families who eat at a dinner table.

There is the blanket excuse that I need to eat earlier than Philip gets home, and while this is literally true, it is merely a coincidence.  If Philip started getting home at five pm (when I like to eat) I still wouldn’t want to eat at the table.

Maybe this is horrible to other people.  Maybe it’s a sacrilege to the ideal of family life as other people see it.

A lot of people believe that the cornerstone of a healthy family is to eat together.  I think this is because it’s a natural time to share what’s been going on in your day, your mind, you break bread (a sacred ritual) with the people you love and you commune.  I see nothing wrong with that.  Unless you’re us.

Here’s my last thoughts tonight: you have to arrange your life and the life of your family as it works best for you and not according to any impersonal ideal.  What’s important is that families talk together, that they listen to each other, that they come together and love each other as a unit, appreciating each other as is.  That’s what’s important.  How you do accomplish this is immaterial, as long as you are accomplishing it.

It’s okay to make up your own rules.  I will always have these eating issues.  When I wasn’t at liberty to arrange my life how it felt best I was in a great deal more discomfort than now.  I will always find this uncomfortable, food with strangers, food in quiet, food at solemn tables- and it will make me feel like a freak often enough.

In my own home I need not suffer so.  My people don’t want me to suffer so.  My people don’t need table time together.  My son is like me, I just didn’t realize how much I was like him.

I am reminded of my first psychologist, Jay Judine, who is dead now.  He did me a great service by teaching me that it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to make decisions to live in a way that makes me more comfortable as long as I’m not hurting other people in the process.  If it helps me and hurts no one then I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ideals of life.  He taught me that it wasn’t about depending on crutches, it was all about building a life that’s more comfortable and happy.  Being mentally ill has plenty of shit moments to offer but it’s okay to embrace your quirks unapologetically and to work them to your advantage.

That was a real gift to me.  I try to give it out whenever I can to others because I don’t think there are enough people saying it’s okay to accommodate your own freak flag.  It’s okay to arrange your life in such a way that you find more comfort, that you function optimally with an un-optimal brain and less than ideal issues.  It’s okay to be who you are, you are not less just because you don’t function the way others do.

I know it’s always hard for people to not judge us when they observe we don’t observe the holy family dinner table, that we “let” our child eat all his food in front of a movie or a video game.  They have no idea how torturous and impossible it is to get Max to eat when there’s no stimuli to distract him from eating.

I can’t explain it any other way than that it would be cruel to try and force him (or me) to conform to average people rules.  We’re different.  In our house that’s acceptable.  In other houses it’s extremely uncomfortable.

Here in our house, if nowhere else, it’s safe to be who you are.  Unless you are a serial killer or hurt animals.  We don’t tolerate sociopathic behavior but everything else is okay.  I can’t promise we’ll immediately understand your own brand of different, I can’t promise that we’ll know exactly how to make your own quirks work here.  All I can promise is that we’ll figure it out.

I have a hope I can’t account for.  I want you to have that too.

Before I go for the night, for it’s late already, I want to say one last thing, an acknowledgment of sorts.  I had a long talk with my mother tonight which seems like a good thing to do on the last day of the year, and in the way conversations turn and revolve we somehow ended up on the novel writing.  My mom was worried about us not having any health insurance at all and I told her that I intended my novel to be published and to do well and she told me that she had no doubt that my novel would be published and that it would do well.

Hearing my mother say that to me was a vote of confidence I didn’t expect and that I treasure.  I don’t think there’s a moment in our lives when a parent’s confidence and faith isn’t more powerful than the faith we have in ourselves.

I have to remember this for my own son.

Goodnight my peoples.  If you need a little buoy, if you need a little unaccountable hope, I have it to spare, just ask.

Happy New Year to you all!