February 9, 2009

Processing

I am trying to make sense of things and, for better or worse, the best way I know to do that is to write.

Thank god I took up writing instead of drugs. It would have been so easy.

All day I’ve been mulling over my life and hundreds of experiences and memories and thought patterns in my head. I have worried for months about what was wrong with me, and on occasion I mentioned some of those worries here in this blog.

I have a lot to learn—a LOT to learn—and I can’t speak for anyone but myself. But the path that I was spiraling downward on was terrifying enough that I want to tell people. I want to tell EVERYONE. I want everyone to know so that they can recognize these things in themselves, in others.

I am learning that obsessive compulsive disorder doesn’t always look like the classic textbook example that everyone is familiar with. It doesn’t necessarily involve washing one’s hands a hundred times a day, or checking to see if the door is locked a dozen times before climbing in bed. It certainly can be those things, but that’s not the only manifestation.

It’s always been roaringly loud inside my head, and I have no way of knowing how that compares to other people. I’ve always had things that I’ve done to calm myself, whether I told anyone or not. For me it was less about preventing some specific feared thing from happening and more about “putting things in order” inside my head. At an early age these things ranged from rocking myself and chanting, as I’ve already mentioned, to long, drawn-out prayers, smelling things, and counting. When my anxiety was more than I could bear and I was alone at night, I would pretend I was in one of my grandparents’ arms, being rocked to sleep. I would wrap my arms around myself, kiss my hand and touch it to various parts of my face, and say, “Sssshhhhh…..sssshhhhh….I love you. Go to sleep. Sssshhhh….”

Given the things I was experiencing as a child it’s no surprise that I needed to find my own ways to sooth and console myself. What I’m trying to understand now is how and why this has continued to affect me—with ebbs and flows—over the years. Especially now.

I’m telling it all now, okay? I’m not holding back. You’ve been warned.

Over the course of the last couple of months I have been on a downward spiral. [Cue Nine Inch Nails, please. Thank you.] I felt like I was losing control over my life. The best analogy I can think to describe it is this: It felt, at times, like there was a tiny person in a rocking chair inside my brain, rocking furiously. When this person started to rock, all I could do was be consumed by it. I was unable to do much of anything else.

A couple weeks ago at work I had a panic attack—the third I’ve ever had. I felt hysterical and inconsolable and terrified and helpless. I called my friend Shannon. I didn’t know what to do. I blurted my terror out to her, and she spoke to me soothingly as long as I needed her to. All I could think was, “What the hell is my problem? How does everybody else do this…this…LIVING?”

I went through several days between Christmas and New Year’s where I was obsessed with the Golden Gate Bridge. I needed to look at it, to read about it, to think about it. I needed to remember the times I stood on it and to visualize the way the water had looked when I was looking down.

Let me be clear. There was no time that there was a train of thoughts where I thought, “Everything is bad and it will not get better, therefore I will _____.” It was just an obsession. An absolutely terrifying obsession.

It felt important for me to know how deep the water was under the bridge. Exactly how far was it to the bottom? I read about the topography of the sea floor under the San Francisco Bay and how it has changed over the years due to dredging. I read that “it’s relatively shallow, and in some places is as deep as 100 feet.” I reasoned that some of the deepest places MUST be under the Golden Gate Bridge, to ensure that the ships could go safely under. In my head I decided that it must be 98 feet deep at the particular spot I was imagining. I would think to myself over and over, “98 feet deep. 98 feet deep. 98 feet deep.”

I had vivid dreams about the bridge. I dreamed of what it felt like when my feet left the side for the last time. I dreamed of what I saw on the way down. I dreamed of the sound my back made when it broke upon hitting the water. I dreamed of the light disappearing over my head and of sinking down…down…98 feet deep.

I alluded to bits and pieces of those thoughts here and here in an effort to channel them into something more creative and to work them out of myself. It wasn’t working, and when a couple of friends picked up on the fact that there was some scary shit going on in my head and wrote to me about it, I felt embarrassed. Touched, but embarrassed. And I stopped trying to express it.

I didn’t have the language to tell my friends what was happening to me. It was like the acknowledgment of this blackness that was overtaking me gave it even more power—telling people I can’t do this anymore. I avoided it not out of pride, but out of fear that admitting it meant I had lost the battle. My aunt said, “Sometimes the depths of sadness within you scare me.” Me too.

I was starting to scare myself so much that I finally emailed my doctor out of desperation. The best way I could think to describe it was, “I’m going down.”

Believe it or not, this is a happy story. Now it has a name. Now it has a face. Now I can finally take back my life from that by which it has been so consumed. The relief is indescribable.

There are still many unanswered questions, but I'll get there. I'll get there.

Thank you for reading with an open mind. I write this out of weakness, because I don't have the strength to hide it all anymore.

1 comment:

Shannon said...

You are love, my dear.