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It’s my constant battle with myself:  to stay and face the danger, or flee from it. 

Except, there is no real danger.  My brain is playing games with me.  

Except, it doesn’t feel like a game.  It feels real.  It feels like actual danger.

The past twelve months have been book-ended by two truly unhappy events.  Last August, I was at Nashville airport ready to board a plane to San Diego, what would have been my first trip to California.  It’s a long story, but in the end, I didn’t make it to San Diego.  I sat in the airport and cried, and popped Xanax.  I even got another flight for the next day but never made it.  I haven’t written about it because it was too painful.  Too embarrassing.  

It was like something you’d see in a movie, or see happen to someone else.  It’s something you never imagine would happen to you:  this is what would happen to someone else. This would never happen to you because you are in control, you can control your anxiety, you are strong.  This is the narrative in your head.  This is what you tell yourself in crowds, in movie theaters, on planes.  You are strong.  You’ve been through worse.  You have anxiety but it’s under control.  You would never let it get out of control.

This narrative has worked for you for years.  You don’t need medication because it’s under control.  

And then, you find yourself screaming in the last seat of a plane, a plane that is taxiing away from the airport, a plane already heading towards the runway.  You scream until they turn the plane back, go back to the gate.  You have to get off of the plane.  The entire cabin full of people knows it’s you because the captain has announced that there is an ‘anxious passenger’ that has to get off.  You are in the last seat and so you must walk past each and every passenger on the way to the door. You are embarrassed, humiliated.  

Two nights ago, Tori Amos played at the historic Ryman Auditorium.  I had a ticket and was looking forward to seeing her again at the Ryman.  I live less than five miles from the Ryman.  I took a xanax and got ready for the show.  

Well, you can guess how this turned out:  I never made it to the show.  Just being in the car caused me to panic.  Agoraphobia?  Probably.  But it’s been a year– a year in which I had ups and downs, went back and forth to work, traveled.  It’s tiresome, dealing with anxiety.  It wears me out.  It tears me down. 

In our culture, people don’t take anxiety (or depression) seriously.  Everyone has felt anxious about something in their lives: speaking in public, or flying overseas.  There are a thousand reasons to feel anxious, to feel nervous.  But having an anxiety disorder is so much different than nervous butterflies.  It’s so much more threatening.  Constant anxiety isn’t healthy and it’s not productive.  I myself have not taken it as seriously as I should have.  It’s already caused tremendous changes in my life: I’m unable to work, I’m unable to function like normal. I can’t bear to be away from my apartment.  I feel stuck, unable to make necessary changes.  

My body and mind are in constant fight or flight mode.  The question I’m asking myself is this:  will I run away or stay and fight?  

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I’ve written about this so many times that it feels like a broken record.

Pills: tiny, mostly white, totally innocuous in appearance. Normal, even. Pills are the answer to everything, if you believe Big Pharma. But for me, pills are still one formidable foe, one I haven’t been able to defeat entirely in eighteen years.

Why eighteen years? In 1996, I was an undergrad at UT Knoxville, living alone, isolating, yelling at my cat. I was miserable and had no idea why. It was one of the hottest falls I can recall, and walking to school each day, I felt the heat. I had headaches for hours on end, for months, yet each time I made the trip down to the local drugstore (many, many trips), I stood in the pain reliever aisle and stared. And moved bottles around. And obsessed. And walked away. I could not even purchase a pain reliever, much less get one down. So I suffered until the headaches went away.

This was just me in the very early stages of what would become a very serious journey into OCD. Not only could I not make a decision on taking a much-needed pain reliever, I couldn’t make decisions about anything.

Indecision seems like such a small thing. For me, it’s a sign that things are not quite right. It means that I may not be able to do the things I should do, the adult things, the things most people find easy. It might mean that I am wearing out already thin grooves in my brain. Those obsessive thoughts are easy to resurrect, happy to torment me once more.

It’s time to take stock: it’s been 18 years since I was diagnosed with OCD, and how far have I come? What have I accomplished since then? That’s not fair to myself, really, seeing as there’s no cure for OCD and I have done remarkably well for extended periods. I’ve worked, finished grad school. Finished a book, even. And yet, pills.
Pills still haunt me. Pills still have the ability to ruin an entire day.

OCD makes my life much more challenging. If I’m having a bad day, whether due to obsessions and anxiety or whatever else, meaningless, habitual tasks become mountains.

So what did I accomplish today? I got out of bed.

Years ago, there was a hugely popular theme park in Nashville called Opryland. It was torn down and replaced with a mall, stupidly, and I think whoever made the decision to tear down a perfectly wonderful and popular theme park to put in a horrid discount shopping mall must be regretting it. At least I hope this is the case.

Anyway, my dad, who is a carpenter by trade, did some work on Opryland, and was able to test ride the famous Wabash Cannonball. I used to love telling this story to friends, adding that my dad rode it before they ‘slowed it down.’ I’m not a huge fan of coasters, but I did ride them when I was younger. Until, one day, when, of course, I had a massive freak-out. In the middle of a ride.

I was 19, and my family, along with an aunt, uncle, cousin, and my best friend, all drove down to Disney in Orlando. After spending a few days in the parks, we drove over to Daytona Beach, just an hour or so from Orlando. Daytona Beach has a boardwalk right on the beach, filled with shops, Ski-ball, the usual attractions. But this boardwalk also had an indoor amusement park, which, to this day, I don’t understand. Why indoors? Especially on a beach?

So I took my young cousin in and we decided to ride the Scrambler. That may or may not have been what it was called, but there was a ride just like this in Panama City Beach (at what used to be the Miracle Mile Amusement Park, also now a shopping mall) and it was called the Scrambler. Two people to a pod, with the pods spinning on their own while going in a circle, and also the arms moved up and down. Quite thrilling, if you like that sort of thing.

This indoor park was really quite shabby, and as we whirled round and round, I heard noises and creaks and things that didn’t sound exactly safe. Not to mention I’m pretty sure that the ride was going way faster than is allowed. Which says a lot– at 19, I was what was termed a ‘speed demon’ and had just earned in the neighborhood of 8 speeding tickets in one year.

The faster we spun, the more unsafe I felt, until finally I couldn’t stop myself from screaming. I screamed until they stopped the ride and let me off. As I write this, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. There is enough distance in time from this event that it’s funny, but with recent events being what they are (a subject for another day), and my anxiety levels being at an all-time high, it’s hard to hold back the tears.

Surely I’m not the first person to do this, but I’ve never witnessed anyone else having a meltdown on a ride. Thank fuck there were no cell phones back then to record my meltdown. I guess that is one huge positive note in an otherwise sad tale.

One of my favorite lines in Pulp Fiction is by Fabienne: “Pot bellies are sexy.”

I find this line so intriguing. In America, we don’t want fat, we don’t want pot bellies. We want tiny, thin, slips of women. We want unreality. We want Paula Deen diets and 90-pound women. We want to eat the fried butter but we don’t want the look of fried butter.

I could go on & on about Tarantino and his take on pop culture, but I write about this line for another reason. When I was a kid, I had a pot belly. There’s even a photo of said belly somewhere.

I thought of that photo today, after visiting the gastroenterologist. He was commenting on my recent weight loss, asking the usual questions. Did I mean to lose weight? Was I eating? What’s the most I’ve ever weighed?

I thought of that photo: me, shaggy hair, huge thick glasses, cut-off shorts, and this huge, round belly. It’s grotesque. Not because I have a pot belly, but because the rest of me seems normal sized. And for the first time in my life I am really curious as to why.

Why do I feel that lately there are underlying health problems that should have been addressed years ago, possibly when I was a teenager (or perhaps before then)? This gets into another area, mainly the responsibility of caretakers, but that is beside the point at this juncture. I have to move forward.

Another funny anecdote from my glorious childhood: according to my mother, I was so fat at the age of two (2!) that I had to be put on a diet of cottage cheese and tomatoes. How fucked up is that? No idea if it’s true or not. Regardless, it’s beginning to feel like a fucked up metaphor for my life.

Looking through my family tree this week, I’ve discovered some unpleasant surprises.

While its true that I’ve always known that my biological father and maternal grandmother died of different cancers, what I failed to pay attention to was their ages. Both were relatively young, and I was very young at the time they both died (19 and 25, respectively). But now, 20 years later, I’m not so young. And I’m very close to the age my father died, which was 47.

At twenty, 47 didn’t really seem that young to me. Now I realize it was incredibly young, especially considering modern medicine. And now it terrifies me. Terrifies.

I hate that lately I’ve had these horrifyingly clear epiphanies about life in general, and my own life specifically. I have obsessed over these realizations, wondered why it took me so long to get to them. How had I not known that I’ve had serious anxiety all my life? Why wasn’t I treated for it? Is it because I minimized it in an effort to seem strong, or did everyone around me minimize it for whatever reason? Why have I suffered through trauma and not be treated for that either? Why are my parents so bad at taking care of their health problems and why have I followed that stupid and dangerous pattern?

It seems my genes have doomed me in a way, have made the possibility of fatal diseases of the mind and body damn near inescapable for me. I’ve often felt, in the last month, in the midst of the multitude of health issues I’m facing, that I was also going through the proverbial mid-life crisis. Which may or may not be the case. With a father dead at 47 and a grandma at 65, it doesn’t seem very likely. My sister did remind me, thankfully, that our great-grandparents lived to their 80’s and 90’s.

All of which has brought me to here and now. And the future. And what I want it to be. And some very big questions.

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