thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


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All Bodies Have Issues

Lately I’ve seen several videos or general Internet posts about loving your curves. Thank God. As a teen, I was chubby. I felt like I was wrong. There were no idols or messengers readily available to say that I should love my chubs. I vividly remember a magazine that on one page chastised the modeling industry for promoting blatantly unhealthy body types, and on the next page used those same models with microscopic waists to demonstrate fall fashions.

Today, there are role models. There are women with curves who say that curves are good. They provide a younger generation with hope for acceptance. They make larger ladies feel more confident and less self-conscious. All of this is good.

But there is a price. It seems like many of the spokeswomen for curves can’t speak up for curves without either directly or indirectly saying something negative about thin women. It’s as if in retribution for not being classified as the current cultural ideal, there is a need to vilify individuals who fit the current “model” mode.

Ladies, let’s be real. Why can’t we exalt being fat or thin, and everything in between, without putting down our opposites?

Ideals on body size are malleable. My mom told me that in the 60’s, she used to get teased for being skinny. Her classmates called her Olive Oil, after Popeye’s girlfriend. Her scrawniness was not considered a blessing. If she’d been a teen in the 2000’s she’d probably be considered crazy hot.

Socially desirable body types change over generations and across cultures. Germany’s Renaissance artist, Rubens was famous for commemorating fleshy women. A few centuries later and the English Victorian era brought on corsets that made every effort to reduce waists to zero while lifting breasts to impressive heights (the only casualty being lung capacity).

Today, it seems clear that the model ideal is tall and thin. Everything else is just so-so according to fashion week. I’m sure some women believe that growing inches and dropping pounds is all it takes to achieve perfection and happiness. But truly, no physique is perfect, and curvy or thin, it’s most important that we’re happy with ourselves and we treat our bodies well.

In my life, I have purchased jeans in sizes ranging from size 2 to 18. I am 5’10” and my height combined with former size 2 frame might be considered ideal. At a size 2, I still had cellulite. My thighs still touched. My waist was tiny and my body fat was low, but I can testify that it was not perfect.  

I still felt awesome as a skinny minnie. I ate unending vegetables, drank infrequently, and was able to run at super speeds. My body felt healthier and more energetic than ever. It wasn’t perfect, and I definitely had body image issues. I can honestly say I obsessed over my shape and felt disappointed that my body didn’t look like those in magazines. It was like I’d leveled up to the ultimate size, and found that I was still lacking. But over time I realized that I physically felt good, I felt comfortable in my skin, and I could let the other stuff go and be happy with where I was.

Right now, I’m hanging in around a 4-6. I’m out of marathon training, which usually sees me gain a few pounds. Training for my next race starts this week and I anticipate I may go back to the minute frame after a couple of months in the regime. Unfortunately, I know from experience that being thin garners as much judgment, both positive and negative, as being overweight. Frankly, I didn’t want to be judged as a chubby chick, and I also don’t want to be judged as a skinny one. I’d rather have folks form opinions on me based on who I am. I am smart, I like to read, I like to play music, I run obscene distances and I watch an absurd amount of trash tv. All of this says more about me than my pant size.

It feels like anyone who calls attention to being awesome for being any specific body type shifts the conversation from being about personal attributes to being strictly about size. I understand that body image is an important part of the female psyche, but should it be the most important? In a perfect world, would we judge ourselves on our size, or on something else?

So ladies, I’d like us all to make a pact. Let’s all agree to love ourselves, regardless of our size or shape. Let’s agree not to judge each other for being big or small. Let’s agree to focus on mind and body health. Let’s decide to change the conversation from being fat or thin, to a discussion on what makes us tick.

This is me.  And I’m going to try to to keep happy with that.

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Mr. D

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At 4, I started begging my mom for violin lessons. I would pantomime the motions I’d seen somewhere and cry when she said I was too little.

4 years later, she finally agreed. By 8 years old, I was big enough to be trusted with an instrument. I was over the moon. We lived in Michigan at the time, and once a week I would ascend the stairs to a music studio and take short lessons with a pretty young woman who was always fixing her hair.

She left the studio after 6 months, and then I saw Tony. All I remember about him was a red beard, and knowing vaguely that I will always associate him with Vivaldi.

I do not recall much of the specifics of my early violin education. I know it was tedious. I know I didn’t sound very good. I know also that I loved it. I was able to perform a Little Mermaid ballad at a school recital. Nothing made me feel cooler.

2 years after I began, my family moved back to California, and I had to find a new instructor. I have no idea how my mom found him. But I ended up in the garage studio of an old man, Mr. DiSaro.

Mr. D had been teaching music for more than half a century. It was the mid-90’s, and my teacher had been alive most of the century.

I’m sure I was intimidated at first. He was older than my grandfather, and he could be stern. I hardly remember those days now. Instead I remember working on advanced techniques and cracking jokes. We had the type of friendship where even as a high school student, I could rib him, and he’d tease right back.

He had been a WWII fighter pilot. I’m not certain when I learned this fact. Sometimes when I hadn’t practiced as much as I should have, I would try to get him to tell me old stories. He told me he met his wife in Texas.

It was either right after the war, or sometime during when he was on leave. I can’t recall which. He and a few friends in uniform wanted to get dinner at a restaurant that was full. The restaurant staff wanted to accommodate the service members, and sat them at a table with a group of single women. One of them became his wife. He loved her for decades.

Another time he told me about a night he stood watch with a buddy. Mr. D knew his friend had been out all night the evening prior enjoying himself. Midway through the watch, the man literally fell asleep on his feet from exhaustion. Mr. D had to rouse him to make sure he wouldn’t get in trouble.

When I started lessons with him at 10, he towered over me. By the time I left for college and ended my tutelage, I easily cleared his stooping frame. Every time I walked in the door he’d start to raise the music stand.

I always wanted to learn the next advanced technique. When would I learn third position? When would I learn vibrato? When would I move on to a new song? Mr, D had the same answer for all of these: “In due time.” After a while it became a running joke. I started asking when I would do the next ridiculous piece, just to get that answer.

It wasn’t smooth sailing with me and the violin. My parents had to bribe me to practice, and there were several times I almost quit. I’m not sure if I could have handled disappointing the old man though. I stuck it out.

He believed in me. He said my pitch was perfect. He wanted nothing more than for me to play music and love it.

One of my deepest regrets is that I didn’t keep in better contact with him over the years. I visited him once after I left for college. All he wanted to hear about was how much I was playing. As college drew on and I didn’t join the orchestra, it seemed too hard to keep in touch. So I left him in my memories.

After college I began playing in bands. Improvising and playing with atypical groups felt freeing. It was not as rigid as my classical upbringing. I decided I wanted to buy a viola to add to my repertoire.

I’ve only ever bought instruments though Loveland Violin Shop in Santa Rosa. I was living in Monterey, but I called up Mick Loveland one day when I was about 22 to inquire about viola pricing. I told him he’d sold me a violin, and I’d been a student of Dom DiSaro.

“He was a great man,” Mick said.

“Was?” I responded.

“He died about 6 months back.”

It was my lunch break at work. I sobbed until I had to go back. Viola pricing completely left my thoughts. I should have known. He was in his mid 80’s when I left for school. He must have been pushing 90 when he died. Mick told me a small orchestra played at his funeral.

He devoted most of his life to music education. He conducted orchestras and played in others. Towards the end he only saw a few students, and I’m so proud to have been one of them.

Last year, I started teaching violin lessons. Part of me thinks that Mr. D would be proud. Another part knows he would have chided me for not learning some obscure advanced technique first. But that was him.

I took an intro course to teaching music in preparation. The instructor mentioned that for many students, their music teacher is their most significant student-teacher bond. Grade school instructors will change every year, but a music teacher usually sticks around for a long time.

Mr. D taught me violin for 8 years. By the time I left for college, I realized I probably knew him better than my own grandfather. I loved him just as much.

I’m still playing. I’m still teaching when I can. Every time I get a student to understand something new, I think of him.


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The Facebook Problem

I started having anxiety dreams about my 10-year high school reunion a few months back. I love my husband and I like bragging about getting to live in Hawaii, but I was afraid that it would seem like my marriage was the only thing going for me. While I know this isn’t the case, I’ve never wanted to be perceived as defined by my relationships. I tried to think of ways to make myself seem more awesome to my former peers who I never see anymore but for some reason still care what they think of me.

In the end it didn’t actually matter. There wasn’t enough interest and the reunion was cancelled. We all know what’s going on with each other because of Facebook.

On the one hand, I feel robbed of a reunion. Back in high school I was weird and fat and nobody wanted to date me. I wanted the satisfaction of showing off the svelte chick with the handsome husband. (High school me, for reference):Image

I wanted to tell off my former best friend for breaking my heart by cutting ties after graduation. In that lesser part of myself, I wanted to see who wasn’t doing so well.

But I realize I can do that anyway, for the most part. It’s all available online. I’m already “friends” with everyone who I can readily remember from high school. I’m also friends with countless people I’ve met in the last decade and inexplicably need to stay connected with: that guy who made me laugh uncontrollably once at a party in college and I never saw again; the girl who was in my GRE class, that one navy spouse who was at an event but I mustn’t delete because who knows if we’ll ever live in the same spot again and I wouldn’t want to offend her if we do.

I try to go online and purge my friend list every so often. But I can’t force myself to remove connections, even when I only vaguely recall the person. It’s like a personal memory box and each person brings me to some story or special memory.

I also like to see what people are doing. Facebook and other social media make us feel like we are connected, but are we? Just because you liked my quip or I saw your vacation photos doesn’t mean we actually talked. Of the 500+ friends I have online, I have no idea who is looking at what I put out there, nor do others know when I keep track of them. We’re all passively following other’s information without actively maintaining relationships.

And maybe this is part of why I am so sad at the lack of a reunion. I like seeing what people are up to, but I also want to rekindle old friendships, and it’s nearly impossible to do without personal contact. Otherwise how do you say to someone online that you haven’t been close with in a decade that “I miss you.” How do you explain to people who saw you at your worst growing up that “I’m a better person now.” We’re probably all ashamed to some degree of the half-adults we were as teens. Maybe the real purpose of a reunion is to show that we became grown ups, even though our teen selves never seemed like we’d make it.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way I feel I am missing out on a rite of passage. In this world of ultimate connectivity, it seems a certain human presence is missing. I’m glad to be able to see what my great aunt is up to online, and I am amazed by the way that technology has progressed. But I wish that the result of Internet profiles wasn’t the dismissal of active communication.


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Worst First Date

Before I met my husband, the dating world was a bleak place. I once went on a date with a man who openly used racial slurs, and another with a man who turned out to be homeless. Shockingly, I met both online.

Of all my bad dates, one sticks out as a special gem.

At a local pub’s trivia night, I met a handsome fellow, henceforth known as “Dan.” Dan was a Stanford-educated lawyer who was new to town. He was a gorgeous black man with a physique that should have been commemorated in marble. I have a problem with staring at people when they’re not looking, then awkwardly avoiding eye contact when they turn my way. I spent many interludes during trivia gazing in Dan’s direction.

For some reason this Olympian had come down from on high and thought that I was cute. At this point in my life, I was chubby, out of shape, and working a menial secretarial job with no real career prospects. I could not understand his attraction.

(My chubster physique for reference):

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I could only imagine that the fates were apologizing for all the shitty man-luck I’d had.

He asked me to go rock climbing then out to dinner as our first rendezvous. Sure, I had no upper-body (or any-body) strength and am still afraid of heights, but I could totally make a good impression. We set it up.

What does a chubby girl wear to a workout date? Deodorant was (and frankly still is) no match for the perspiration that ensued whenever I performed the slightest physical task. Walking documents upstairs at work could give me pit stains that nearly hit my waist (if you could find my waist). I needed something comfortable and breathable. I settled on capri-length yoga pants, a sports bra, and a light tee.

At the rock climbing gym I could see his pecs- that were a larger cup size than mine, and his perfectly sculpted abs through a T-shirt that was probably originally sized for a 9-year-old boy. I later found out that while he was studying at Stanford (did I mention he went to Stanford?) his GPA was higher than his body fat percentage… on a 4.0 scale. He told me so himself. I could believe it.

For some reason, it made sense for the novice climber to take the first turn at the wall. Rock climbing harnesses are the least flattering contraptions in existence. I couldn’t wait to be done. I don’t want to imagine what my ass looked like.

Somehow I managed so scramble up the short kiddie-wall. The wall should have only taken a few minutes, but took me close to 20. By the end I had sweat not only under my arms but also on my brow. Sexy. It was my turn to hold the rope while Dan went up the big-kids wall. About halfway up he paused, leaned back, and asked to come down. Maybe he’d decided to call it quits now before wasting more of the evening.

He looked woozy when he reached the ground. Once out of the harness, he quickly made his way to the bathroom. I waited around. It was at least 10 minutes before he emerged, and by that time I was pretty certain he’d been puking.

Dan explained that he had several food allergies that bothered him from time to time. So he wasn’t entirely perfect, but food allergies aren’t that bad, especially compared to being homeless or racist. He went on to tell me he’d “destroyed” the toilet. Lovely.

I’d driven us to the rock climbing gym, so I offered to take him home. He accepted gratefully. I drove about a mile before he needed me to pull over so he could vomit some more.

What do you do when your date is vomiting in the bushes? I thought checking my phone would be the most innocuous task I could perform. I’d give him his privacy.

There were 3 texts from a number I didn’t recognize, but the area code was local. I investigated, and sandwiched between two messages with nearly incomprehensible grammar was what appeared to be a video recording. I thought I spied a confederate flag in the thumbnail. Maybe it was a friend pulling a joke?

Dan was still puking, so I clicked it to play. Indeed it was a confederate flag in the background. Then- oh holy hell- VAGINA! The camera tilted south and I was confronted with an inexpertly shaved vagina and what I assumed was the owner’s middle finger caressing it. I couldn’t watch.

Wrong number. I had been wrong number sexted. Someone had actually mistyped a phone number, and before checking it’s authenticity had shared her vajay-jay. It was so ridiculous that I laughed uncontrollably.

Suddenly I heard from the sidewalk: “are you laughing at me?”

Oh God. Oh God no. It was Dan. My dreams of salvaging this date and remodeling myself as a trophy wife were quickly disintegrating. I knew I could never pull off platinum blonde.

“Oh! Nononono! It was just…” I replied.

He looked at me in a way that said he thought he might have misjudged my character. I felt helpless. So I told him about my sexting debacle.

Dan didn’t seem convinced of my wild story. I did the only thing I could think of, and showed him. I could only hope he wouldn’t think I had a deep-seeded love of the Confederacy when the film opened up to the rebel flag as I hit play.

And then there I was, watching porn with this creature of near perfection. It later occurred to me that likely the only person who would send this sort of crude recording was probably under 18, meaning that we had almost certainly actually watched kiddie porn. It was my only date to crescendo in a felony.

Thank God he laughed. I breathed a sigh of relief. We sat in the car and joked for a few minutes. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was only a little bit of a stranger’s vagina mid-date after all.

Dan said he was feeling better and asked if we could still get dinner to help settle his stomach. Phew. I agreed. He suggested sushi, because who doesn’t want to eat raw fish after being violently ill? At the restaurant I learned he was a vegetarian (definitely not perfect), so he ate vegetable rolls as I scarfed down a few fishy bites by myself.

Dan didn’t vomit during dinner. But by that point the chemistry had left the equation. After throwing up then watching porn there wasn’t much left to talk about. I drove him home thinking that I might have made a new friend. At his door I was surprised that he leaned in for the kiss. All I could think about was puke and sushi. If kissing that was the price of being a kept woman, I decided that I could keep myself. I declined the kiss, and we remained cordial friends.

About a year after this date, I went to a mustache and wig party where I met a man in a mullet wig with a handlebar mustache drawn on, drinking Cobra malt liquor out of a paper bag. We’ve been married almost 2 years. Sometimes fate likes to tease us, and sometimes, unexpectedly, it works out.

 

 


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On the road again

My husband, Cameron, and I are halfway through our military PCS move from Rhode Island to Hawaii. Sitting in California, we are literally at the midway point between the two locations.

In April our belongings were packed up and crated away. A week later we began a meandering trip with our dog, Gus, in our 2005 Kia Sportage across the country. We spent time with family in Virginia and Tennessee, meandering through Dollywood at the latter. We visited Cameron’s alma mater, The Citadel, and I fell in love with Charleston, South Carolina (especially the food).  

Me at our “fancy” dinner in Charleston:

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This was my first trans-continental drive, and I honestly was not looking forward to it. I’m not good on long car rides. I tend to whine after 10 minutes. So my husband and I equipped ourselves with snacks, sodas, audiobooks, and a neck pillow to fortify against boredom and discomfort. For the most part, this worked, although my bladder required frequent breaks.

Along the way we spent time in 20 states. Our route had to change more than once due to spring storms, but we made it into CA by our planned arrival date. Most of the states were new to me. I made many observations along the way. The most poignant observations are recounted below:

Drivers in New England will stop to let pedestrians in, but will never change speed to help you merge. Drivers in the South will always let cars into their lane, but never stop for pedestrians. Drivers in New Jersey can go to Hell.

The Northeast tries to trap you in with tolls. You want to leave the airport? Toll. You want to go across a bridge in either direction? Toll. You want to drive anywhere in New Jersey? Tolls everywhere. It cost around $50 just to get from Rhode Island to Virginia, and that was all done in one day.

In New Jersey, Missouri and Colorado, I saw signs in public restrooms warning women not to drink booze while pregnant. My favorite was one that proclaimed: “you never drink alone… when you’re pregnant.” That was at a Chili’s. In Nevada, the public restroom implored users to report human trafficking.

Kansas may very well be the most desolate and boring place on earth. I now understand why Oz was so appealing.

We got snowed in just before Idaho Springs in the Colorado Rockies. It must have been cosmic retribution for happily exclaiming “NO MORE SNOW!” as I skipped into the car on the way out of Rhode Island.

Our hotel patio after a night of snow:

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In Salt Lake City, we stayed at an airport hotel on the outskirts of town. In our room there were two books in the nightstand: The Holy Bible, and The Teachings of The Buddha. The Buddha was on top.

Everything doubles as a casino in Nevada. I bet there are churches with slot machines. We stopped for gas twice and both gas stations had slot machines. I lost a total of 75 cents while waiting for Cameron to pick out what snacks and beverages he wanted.

California really is the prettiest state, and the best part of the drive. After driving through the dark side of the moon (AKA Nevada), the mountains and trees along the California border are heavenly. Everything feels like it’s going to be ok, even at Donner Lake.

I thought after living in California and Rhode Island, I had a pretty good idea of what the country is like. I’d lived in two extremes and I assumed everything else was not just physically, but culturally in the middle. I was wrong. There are similarities, but every location had its own vibe. The culture changes from state to state, and in some cases, so does the language. I heard Gullah spoken for the first time, and learned while in Tennessee and Nevada that there are incomprehensible accents outside of Boston.

Kansas aside, it’s a beautiful and vast land. We’re headed to Hawaii, and I’m sure that will be another cultural adventure. I may have loathed the idea of being on the road for over a week, but I’m glad I got the experience. I wonder what I’ll see next time we make the journey.

 


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Farewell Newport

It’s almost time for me to leave Newport, RI. My husband, Cameron, and I tried to generate a list of things we’ll miss about the town itself. It consisted of:

  • Being able to walk to most places
  • The architecture is nice
  • The neat characters in town, including bongo man, who plays the bongos poorly along to his boom box behind a purple metal grate, and lacrosse man, who wears all black spandex and twirls his lacrosse stick as though he was the town’s drum major

That was it. The first item can generally be found by looking at specific neighborhoods in any town. The second is endemic to the whole of New England. The last item wasn’t specific Newport either. Most small towns have their fair share of oddballs. For years, a man in Santa Cruz, CA walked up and down the main street dressed in all pink and smiling broadly at all passersby.

The list of items we won’t miss about Newport is too long to recount here. Suffice it to say that we’re ready for a bigger house and eternal summer in Hawaii.

There is something we will pine for after we leave though: our friends. Cameron and I have connected with some of the kindest, funniest, most caring and intelligent people here. We will undoubtedly miss them.

When I first got to Rhode Island, I had a little trouble making many friendships. Mary-Jaq was my first friend who I regularly spent time with, then Sally. But I knew with every bond I formed that there would be an eventual expiration date. I didn’t want to put too much energy into something ephemeral. I could only handle a few companions.

Then I met Tricia and Jessica. Jessica is the wife of one of Cameron’s best friends, and Tricia and I should have met years ago. She married my friend, Ben, but prior to that she and I ran in the same circle in Monterey before either of us were in the military family. We all clicked.

Suddenly I felt like I had a group. I felt involved. I felt cared for by people other than my husband in this town. I felt like I wanted to spend as much time with my friends as possible before they went on military moves, instead of feeling like I should keep my distance.

Unfortunately, they all PCS’d within a few months of each other. It looked like I was on the friendship dating market once again.

Spouse functions seemed like a good place to mingle. I went to a few, hoping to meet a few ladies. Every time I met someone who acted cool, I’d whip out my phone and request digits. Moments later I’d take this information and facebook stalk my new best friend to make sure she was really as awesome as I’d assumed. This tactic is now lovingly referred to as “forcing my friendship” by a few of my pals.

After months of forcing friendships, I began setting up lady lunches with new best friends. A lot of the spouses in Newport, RI, are unemployed. RI boasts an extremely high unemployment rate, and many spouses are only here for 6 months. It was the perfect recipe for midday hangouts.

The first big lady lunch made me realize that I liked these gals. We were all around the same age and we’re all in Rhode Island because of the Navy. That was enough to get the conversation started.

The group decided to do weekly lunches, and we’d attend as our schedules permitted. One of the early lunches, maybe the second or third, took place at Pour Judgment Bar and Grille. We still didn’t know each other particularly well, but we enjoyed the company. Every now and then there was a brief lull in conversation before a new topic was introduced.

I have no recollection of how this came up, or in what way it was pertinent to the conversation that day. All I know is that after a brief pause someone said she had a friend with two vaginas. Manners were forgotten as mouths fell open. Nobody quite knew how to respond.

Then one gal piped up: “Did you see it? I mean see them?”

Now we were laughing. The vaginas had not been verified by eye witness. The questions and speculations started pouring in.

“Does she have two uteruses? Is that a word?”

“If so, can she get pregnant once in each for pseudo twins?”

I casually mentioned a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread from a man with two penises.

“Those two are meant to be,” somebody responded. Everyone guffawed.

Somewhere amidst the questions and laughter, I realized that this was my group now. I had friends. I had friends who responded with inquisitiveness instead of disgust when medical anomalies were introduced to conversation. I’d had a few friends still in the area before the group started up, and we’re all still friends, and I still love them.   But the larger group made me feel like I had a safety net. It gave me my first inklings of what the extended military family can really mean.

I have male friends and Navy friends here too.  There are too many to name, and I am so grateful for that fact. They will all be missed. Every time one of my friends has left I’ve felt the void of their absence, and it is now just dawning on me that my departure may do the same for those still here.

My last lady lunch is drawing near. I’m not sure where we’ll go. (Ladies, I’m thinking this looks good:)

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In the last 6 months or so we’ve done high-end and low-end locations, and even had one violin concert potluck. I hope I can make friends in Hawaii who make me feel the same sense of community.

At times I’ve felt like Newport wasn’t worth it. Many people love it here, but in my core I’m not meant for New England.  I despise winter, and I can’t understand a Boston accent. (Excuse me, Baaaaahhhhhstaaahhhn.)  Even with these inconveniences, I’m glad we came.  The people I’ve connected with have made it one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of my life so far.

 

 


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I’m so OCD

It took the world’s fourth most powerful super computer 40 minutes to model a single second of human brain activity. I frequently imagine computers to have vast intellectual processing abilities, but really, each human brain is a more powerful processor than even the most advanced computers. The brain is an amazing machine that is constantly taking in sensory information and processing it in such a way to help each individual survive and prosper.

One thing the brain does quite well at a subconscious level is to try to determine all possible outcomes of a given situation simultaneously, and decide what is the most likely to occur. For example, someone extending a hand is likely trying to offer a greeting, but our brains will process other possibilities so quickly that we don’t even register them. The extended hand could be a trick and they may punch you instead, or they may grab you inappropriately, they might turn away before you get the chance to extend your hand back, or if you do shake their hand, they may have rubbed their palm through dog poo right beforehand. While unlikely, these are all strange but legitimate possibilities that you are always somewhat aware of, though little credence is ever ascribed to them.

 Unless, like me, you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. One of the most pervasive problems associated with OCD is something called “intrusive thoughts.” Someone with OCD is usually very sensitive to what is and isn’t considered socially or morally appropriate. Whenever a passing thought pops up that is in some way reprehensible, the OCD brain plays it out repeatedly causing severe anxiety. Frequently the only way to at least temporarily relieve this anxiety is to perform compulsive actions.

OCD doesn’t mean being fastidious.   It doesn’t mean being a perfectionist. It doesn’t mean keeping a clean house. It means living a life feeling apart, abnormal even. I cringe a little when I hear someone say: “I’m so OCD!” simply because they keep a spotless kitchen. That’s not OCD. There’s an almost positive connotation to OCD because it is associated with being driven and hygienic. Either that, or there’s an assumption that we’re all just like Howard Hughes. For most people, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Here’s an example of the obsessive-compulsive mind. You may see a person crossing the street from your vehicle, and think that you could physically run them over. You would usually dismiss this as an odd thought because, of course, you would never actually do that. Someone with OCD might think the same thing, and the thought will replay over and over again causing debilitating stress. The OCD individual may even check their front fenders a few times after driving, or return to the crosswalk to make sure that they did not actually run someone over. They will know by memory that nothing happened, but the fear and anxiety of even considering causing harm to another human being is so intense that checking to make sure it didn’t happen seems to be the only option.

There are many foci for worry to the OCD brain. Some people fear causing harm to themselves or others, some fear disturbing God, and some fear for their own health, among infinite obsessions. Some people are more obsessive, and others more compulsive. The compulsions are usually rituals that are preformed as a way to temporarily ease anxiety on a particular obsession.  Some people may touch something to make sure it’s still there, or clean and wash repeatedly to dispel germs, or check the locks a dozen times before finally believing that they may be locked. The relief from doing these things never lasts long. The thought always comes back that maybe one more washing is in order, one more touch, or one more check of the lock.

My OCD normally materializes in intrusive thoughts, hypochondria, intermittent bouts of checking things repeatedly, localized skin picking, and a difficulty in making variations to routines. I make daily to-do lists and get upset or despondent when I don’t complete them. I’m afraid that if I don’t make the lists I’ll forget to do something and my life will somehow eventually spiral out of control, inevitably ending in the destruction of mankind. So I keep to my lists to preserve humanity (you’re welcome).

For years I’ve been convinced that any blemish near my lips was actually a touch of mouth herpes cleverly disguised as a zit, although to this day I’ve never had a cold sore. Every headache or slight dip in energy has been personally scrutinized for fear of cancer or AIDS. While I do not lead the type of lifestyle frequently associated with HIV or AIDS, I have concocted more than one elaborate scenario that could undoubtedly do the trick. This is actually one of the reasons that I rarely get my nails done.

When I think of something that I will need to do eventually, it is very difficult for me to sit still and not do it. I have a hard time leaving dishes on the table as soon as the food is off them. I want to immediately put them in the dishwasher because I can’t relax if I know that sooner or later the dishes will need to be done, or the soda cans recycled, or the laundry folded. Even if I’m in the middle of a conversation or at a crucial plot point in a movie at home with my husband, I’ll get up and perform chores because I can’t sit still until they’re done. I inevitably find more things that need doing while in the process of completing my current chore and the cycle continues until I tire out. More than anything I’m afraid of forgetting, so I try to make sure I get everything done as soon as I think of it.

I also worry for the sake of worrying. On some level I believe that if I worry about a negative possibility the act of worrying will prevent it from happening. In my logical mind, I know this isn’t true. Knowing that what you’re doing is illogical, but not being able to stop doing it is one of the extremely frustrating and depressing aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

One of the most difficult problems I have is in meeting new people, which is very convenient when I move every couple of years. My mind likes to play a little game of “what would be the most inappropriate thing to do right now?” Usually the images of kissing, spitting on, or punching a new person rotate through my brain. I have never, and strongly suspect I will never do any of these, but if the thought is there, the worry is there. And unfortunately, I can’t stop my brain from imagining all of the most horrifying scenarios. The worst is meeting a pregnant woman. I usually keep my distance for fear of what my mind will start projecting on a seemingly never-ending loop through my head.

A therapist once told me that people with OCD and intrusive thoughts are usually very sensitive. That is why we experience such horror at the thought of doing something we deem terrible. We are also usually the least likely to act out any of our terrible thoughts. The compulsions are an attempt to satisfy, corral, or even atone for the thoughts we have. It’s a small comfort to know I’m sensitive.

It used to be a lot worse. There was a time when I attempted to give myself physicals a dozen times a day then made a doctor’s appointment if I thought I detected an abnormality. I missed a week of school once because intrusive thoughts gave me such bad anxiety that I could barely keep food down. I used to get out of bed each night and re-check the locks and stove even though I’d done that multiple times before retiring. These are only a few examples that I feel comfortable with sharing. There are many more.

I’m currently medicated and I lead a relatively low-stress life. Things that used to need doing are less at the forefront of my mind. I don’t always think about spitting on people when I meet them, and as long as I’m not home alone, I’ll allow the door to be unlocked for sections of the day. I still have intrusive thoughts, and I still have some compulsions, but they are fewer, and are generally relegated to areas in my life that aren’t disruptive to living.

I used to see medication as a personal failure. In the spectrum of mental health conditions, the general population supports, for example, schizophrenics or bi-polar individuals to stick to a regime of medications. Those who suffer from depression and/or anxiety are often met with the condescension that they should just deal with it. Everyone gets anxious or depressed sometimes after all. Then I realized that if I could “just deal with it,” I wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. My OCD is defined by my inability to dissuade intrusive thoughts and compulsions. Without medication I can go for weeks with little to no sleep and experience periods of deep depression because I feel so desperately out of control in my own mind.

I recognize that what’s right for me isn’t for everyone. But I hope that everyone realizes that we all have a choice, and no choice is wrong. I have a condition, and I chose to take medication because it has helped. It’s not a failure. Others with similar issues may choose therapy or meditation or any number of options that alleviate symptoms. I did not choose to have an anxiety disorder with depressive repercussions, but I am choosing to be open and vocal about it, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s part of who I am.

 

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