On the Road with Grief

The other day, I felt the whispers of adventure tickle my spirit, and decided to go for a long drive. It had been a long week, in a long month, in a year that seemed to have passed rather quickly, if not for the eternal grief that served as the hands of my internal clock. Still, I answered adventure’s call, eager to go forth and meet the stranger I had once known very well.

The drive started off as most of my days do- a well-intentioned to do list coupled with indecision and multiple course corrections.  I wanted to get some Chipotle, I needed to make a Sally’s run, and at some point I would need to get some water and eventually find a suitable restroom to use.  Ideally the route would also provide me a scenic, two hour drive and the chance to unwind and listen to one of my audio books.

I headed off towards town and immediately knocked a couple things off my list- Sally’s run check, bottle of water check, and continued driving south towards the desert plains. To my right, Colorado’s majestic mountains peaked over the horizon.  They called to me, nagging and taunting at me as I drove further away from them. An hour later I arrived in town, unsure if I should continue onward, stop and get some food or change my plans all together.

PuebloCliffs
Photo Credit: Regina Dawn Akers

I wasn’t quite hungry enough for food, and the route I was taking was mostly lackluster highway views mixed with powerlines and interstate signs.  This was not an adventure- this was a drive.  After two miles and another 10 minutes of indecision, I turned my car around and started driving again, this time towards the mountains. Twice I stopped and thought about grabbing some Chipotle for the road, but I knew I would need a bathroom in another hour or so, and I didn’t want to stop twice. Plus it was exactly noon on a sunny Saturday and there were bound to be a million people standing in line.

I drove past Chipotle, made another u turn and started back the way I came. Just as I suspected, I had to use the bathroom about an hour later. I could have just gone back home, but I still thirsted for adventure. Plus I know how vital it is that I get out and about and immerse myself in the contaminated world.  I suppose it also helped that I was getting hungry. So I settled for a small restaurant I was familiar with in a quiet city, just 10 minutes from home.

The food wasn’t particularly good, but the bathroom was clean enough. Not exactly what I wanted, but I have learned to be content with less. In my eyes getting through an okay meal without being triggered was just as good, if not better than eating an amazing meal while battling obsessions. OCD if anything, had taught me the subtle art of settling for less. Still, I had wasted a ¼ tank of gas and a good 2 hours of daylight. When I hit the road again and headed towards the mountains, I felt slightly irritated, but two steps ahead of defeat. As the city gave way to winding roads, the irritation gave way to a dull apathy, and then quiet contentment. The drive was beautiful, more so than I expected.

turkey pic
Photo Credit: John Hafner, RealTree.com

At first I am winding through dark canyons with red rocks jutting through the shadows of the foothills, and then I am immersed in evergreen trees. I feel the free floating anxiety that follows my shadow slink away as I drive deeper into the foothills. A group of wild turkeys gawks in a clearing to my right and there are deer tucked between small shrubs and rock ledges. My sense of adventure kicks in just as I turn right onto a route I’d never traveled.

After an hour or so, the winding canyons gave way to a wide open plain. Cows munch on dried grass and roaming buffalo stood strong in the afternoon Sun. Snowcapped mountains sat on the horizon like a tiara. The site of them, just floating at the end of the road, momentarily overwhelmed me. I felt grounded, then humbled, then fragile. I started to think about this long week, and this long month in this whirlwind of a year. Grief overcame me.

mountain pic 2

At first it was a jolt of grief, enough that I felt my throat tighten as I reflected on the narrow world my life has become. Having OCD just sucks the joy and life from every nook and cranny and fiber of my being. It’s paralyzing and agonizing doubting your thoughts and fears and future. I’ve lost more than my gumption for life, I’ve lost my mojo, my sense of adventure, my thirst for new experiences. I am exhausted with the never-ending cycle of routines. Shopping, showering, brushing my teeth, eating, drinking, running errands, and meeting friends have all become emotionally taxing. I feel stuck. My self esteem deteriorates daily. When I watch movies, or look at jobs or think about moving into a tiny home, I am plagued with anxious thoughts. So I don’t make plans unless I absolutely have to, and instead of dreaming, I play make-believe.

Usually when these thoughts come up, there is anger and a sense of betrayal. But today there were only tears and a profound type of misery, that was bleak but oddly beautiful.  I have carried this heavy burden of OCD and depression with me for the past 2 years. And despite the marked improvement I have felt from an intense vitamin regime, I have still yet to grieve for the beautiful, bold and carefree creature I once was.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t hold onto emotions for longer than 90 seconds because they can become trapped into your energetic field and eventually manifest as illness and disease in your body.  I wonder if that’s why I eventually came down with an autoimmune disorder and strange food allergies. Either way, it makes sense to me intuitively. The thoughts are almost always the same, as are the sensations in my fleshy being.

I feel the knot in my throat that comes when I think about all that I have lost. I feel the tension in my shoulders and neck when I think about how it has impacted my family, friends and those I care about most. Finally, I feel the rot in the space where my rambunctious spirit once lived. My chest quakes and I heave. The grief rolls out me of me like hot air from a fire breathing dragon. It does not belong inside of me. It wants to be felt, witnessed and freed.

By now the tears are flowing and I am sobbing. Tiny wails escape my lips as my shoulders fall and relax. It comes and goes like a riptide, only I don’t fight it, I let it carry me out to the big wide ocean where I can be purged from the shame of it. Eventually the tension gives way to surrender and my body relaxes into the weight of the car seat.  My breathing returns to normal and the muscles in my face relax as the last of the tears falls from my cheeks.

I go through this grieving process three or four times in the course of my 2 and a half hour drive. Each time grieving for a bite-size portion of my quiet misery. I go from the general to the specific, thinking about the last couple years of my life, to the most impactful moments- giving up my dog, going to bed hungry because I didn’t want to wash my hands, watching my relationships crumble. And each time, I sing to the grief and call to it with sweet, deliberate intention. I do not judge it or fight it, but invite it to flow out of me into every corner of the universe until it’s essence dissipates across the vastness of space and time.

Eventually, the moments between heaves and tears becomes further and farther between. Just as I sense I have done enough grieving, I come to a literal fork in the road. I decide to turn my car around and head back home-racing against the setting sun.

buffaloranch2
Photo Credit: Steve Garufi

On the way back home, I let my mind wander.  As I watch the cows, and the buffalo and the wild turkeys and several groups of deer, I  am still the same person, plagued with the same afflictions, but I am somehow lighter and freer. I see them deeper and truer than I previously did. I see myself deeper and truer than I previously did and so I am grateful. As I drive further into the canyons, away from the mountains, I feel the anxious energy of the rolling plains and lowlands greet me. I resist the urge to tense, and instead let it rest alongside the spoils of today’s adventure.

Grief is a dark and heavy blanket. It covers me in heavy shrouds of sorrow, offering shelter and protection from the world of woes. When I am blinded by the light of eternal optimists, I find shade and refuge in it’s dark crevices. When I am tired from the muck of the day, I disappear into the folds of its curved hammock. When I am too ashamed to enter the home of my heart, it is the mat where I rest my head and cry my worries to sleep.

florence pic

Tiny Miracles in the Making

I did it. I quit my job and moved back to CO. What once seemed an impossible dream, is now an overwhelming reality.

You’d think that the road from DC to Colorado was paved in effortless intention. But in reality, it was a hot mess of frustration, exhaustion and desperation. Shortly after writing my last post, I discovered mold growing on my shoes and along the baseboards in my unit.  I had already been considering transitioning back to Colorado in November or October, but decided to speed up my timeline when my landlord refused to test the mold for toxicity. After dealing with night sweats, eye pain, bloody noses, lethargy, bulging veins, allergic reactions to every day foods and a full body itch that burned and caused bruises, I assumed the mold was making me sick and figured that this was the universe’s cruel way of kicking me out of the nest. So I stowed some of my things at a friend’s place, and moved out 48 hours later.

I spent the next three weeks hopping from Air BnB’s to hotels throughout Virginia, Takoma Park and Chevy Chase. This included booking a super Air BnB steal, only to find the unit infested with cockroaches. Needless to say, I didn’t last five minutes there and opted to sleep in my car outside the Arboretum after discovering every hotel in DC was booked.

Every Air BnB brought a unique challenge. There was mildew in the wash machine of the first unit I stayed in, spots that looked like body fluids on the comforter in one unit, water damage and the musty smell of mold in another unit and visible mold growing on the shower curtain, coupled with a slow draining sink in the final unit.  It was too difficult to keep moving my things back and forth so I left my pots and pans at work and tried to maintain my low histamine, organic diet by eating out every day. I kept myself to a strict $20 a day food budget, which meant I spent more like $23 dollars a day on food, and ate poorly when I got off my second job at 10 pm and all the good food options were limited.  I had to navigate overcrowded metro rides every morning at the unit in Arlington, and a bird that pooped on me during my walk to the Chevy Chase metro.  I tried to dry out my shoes during the hot sun at one unit, only to throw them away after returning to find them infested with tiny bugs.

Every day seemed an impossible struggle. After showering and snuggling into my strange bed each night, I cried and thanked God for the tiny miracle of having survived another day. Then I prayed that tomorrow would be better, or that I would at least be a little stronger.

As I approached my last day of work, I made final preparations for the big move. I cleaned up my desk and packed my things at work. I obsessed as to whether or not the belongings I stored at work from my year of carliving, would fit in my car with the remaining items I had moved into my apartment. I also obsessed over how I would move my computer and guitar and vitamins and laptop from my car to the hotel each night while on the road, so as not to have my car broken into. I called friends in Tennessee, Texas and Missouri to see if I could stay with them instead of paying for hotels. No luck. One friend was graduating and had her family in town, another would be finishing Ramadan and the last was throwing a massive pool party that night. At this point I was used to disappointment and figured that the roadtrip home would be another tiny miracle to look forward to.

I bought two boxes, hoping they would fit my desktop and some plates and pots. I couldn’t measure my laptop, since it was at a friend’s house, so I guessed the size and hoped that if I packed it with clothes and labeled it pots and pans, it would be safe to leave in my car overnight, and save me the pain of moving it to a hotel after a long day of driving. I had no idea if the boxes would fit in the back of my car on top of the large plastic  bins, which were also stowed at my friend’s house. I measured my car from memory and prayed they would fit- less I would have to un-pack and re-pack the two boxes the same day I hit the road.

When I wasn’t obsessing about the move, I tried to complete some of the more formal parts of my transition. I visited every doctor I could, in anticipation of losing my health insurance. I picked up the deposit for my rental unit and forwarded my mail. I picked up the last few things I stored at my sister’s house- some paintings, wall hangings and remaining mail. One of my favorite hangings- a mid century world map  I scored from a second hand store in college, was in the basement with dead birds. As you can imagine, I decided to leave that. I also took my car in for the repair I had been putting off, only to find I needed a new timing belt and water pump, in addition to extensive repair to my exhaust pipe. Then I gave notice to my co-workers, asked that they didn’t try to organize a going away happy hour and prayed they wouldn’t try to hug me when I left.

Finally, I said what would probably be my final goodbye to my dog Prudence, before she died of old age. I spent $80 dollars I didn’t have to buy her expensive, but all organic mushroom based medicine to ail her aging joints. I told her mom that when her health started to fail, she should make a list of her favorite five activities, including eating food and that when she could no longer do three of those five things, it would be okay to put her down. I told her that the decision was hers alone and asked that she just let me know before it happens. She had at least a couple years in her, but I knew I may not make it back to DC and I wanted to say what needed to be said, in person. We prayed before I left, and she gifted me Prudence’s dog chain, which I made a mental note of never to clean. We both cried. I gave Prudence a belly rub, told her she was a good girl in the sweetest, strongest voice I could muster, and then washed my hands before leaving. Her mom insisted upon taking a final picture, so I put my hands up in a stay command and gently rubbed her head. She took a quick photo and I walked to my car in tears, before sanitizing my hands and driving 40 minutes to the Air BnB I was staying at in Arlington, Virginia.

I took the bad with tiny miracles the universe gifted me throughout the remaining days of June.  By the end of the month, I had spent nearly $2,300 dollars on housing, $1,140 on car repairs and only God knows how much on food and metro fare.  But that wasn’t the worse of it. Without cleaning supplies and a limited ability both financially and otherwise to stay in places that met my rigid OCD standards, every dirty shower and mystery spot turned into a snowball of avoidance, rituals and stress.

I had to cut corners in order to stave of depression and panic. Changing my routine increased my anticipatory anxiety and reduced my ability to resist compulsions. As a result, the intensity of the OCD doubled almost overnight. It was the second most exhausting and soul sucking time of my entire life- the first being when I first came down with OCD after going cold turkey off a cocktail of psychiatric medication, giving up my dog and taking a 3 month leave of absence to complete ERP treatment at an inpatient facility in Massachusetts. On the plus side, I made it to the Museum of African-American history without an entrance ticket by chance, and somehow by magic, everything fit perfectly into my car.

Unfortunately, the drive to Colorado was paved in obsessions- from the moment I left the Whole Foods in Chevy Chase, to the time I drove up the unpaved road that led to my parent’s house. I worried about contamination from the street, and later had a false memory about an interaction with roadkill that left my face contaminated for the entire 27 hour drive. I spent a night sleeping upright in my car, so I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, or move anything. Somewhere outside of Indianapolis, I ran into some bugs (I think) that splattered blood all over my windshield, contaminating the entire shell of my car. As a result, I almost ran out of gas while driving through Kansas. When I finally arrived at a gas station to fill up and deal with the blood splatter on my car, the restroom had no soap in it. I waited patiently for the attendant to fill up the soap in the women’s restroom and then decided to drive straight through to Colorado without stopping.

After two days of driving, the second day of which consisted of over 14 hours, and a brief stop at Taco Bell that left my mouth contaminated, I arrived at my parents’ house at 2 am the next morning. Too tired for a full body shower, I moved the expensive items out of my car and fell asleep on the couch in the clothes I had been wearing for 3 days. That next morning I unpacked my car for the first time in a year in a half, and washed my body from head to toe. It took me 40 minutes. By the time I was done, I was utterly exhausted.

lg-Welcome-Colorful-Colorado
Photo Credit: Nic Oatridge, 2015

I’ve been back for three weeks, and I wish I could tell you that a load has been lifted off my shoulders-  that the weight of the world, my obsessions and limiting beliefs is lighter, more manageable. But they’re not. Instead, the exhaustion of working two jobs in the soulless city of DC has been replaced by the emptiness of space and time in quaint southern Colorado. Now there is space for shifting obsessions and time for my fragile consciousness to wander.  So I sleep and dream, and obsess and cry, and pray and scheme- in that order.

Most days I search for jobs, in hopes of securing a low key telework position that will afford me time and space to write and pay off the rest of my student loans. In between applications, I knock off my never ending to do list- transferring bills to my new address, trying to find a new behavioral therapist, doing exposures and waiting for the results of my blood work in hopes that the mystery of my chronic depression, anxiety and allergic reactions will be discovered.  I have a hankering that I am undermethylated, and that the results from Walsh testing, will prove that a vitamin deficiency is wreaking havoc on my body. Unfortunately, those tests aren’t covered by insurance, will cost me another $800 dollars (including out of pocket doctors visits), and require even more blood tests (I had my blood drawn three times in June already, and all those test came back normal). And if you don’t know from previous posts, visiting the doctor’s office is one of OCD’s favorite activities.

But I still obsess about each and every little thing- like the lizard that crawled into the window seal of the room I am staying in, for instance. After two hours of obsessing, I stuffed the crevice with several objects, before settling on a plastic bag. I’m unsure if the lizard made its way out or if its slowly dying  there, leaving me to inhale bacteria or a virus from it’s decaying body. The window curtain is smudged with lizard poop and so the entire room I am staying in is somehow contaminated. Moreover, I don’t have a safe place to escape the contaminated world after a stressful day. So I struggle to unpack my things, and find places in common spaces where they won’t be moved.

Mostly, I know my mom went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, and I feel embarrassed and angry that her efforts aren’t good enough- they never are. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced in my life-seeing the look on her face when she goes to extraordinary lengths to ease my suffering, only for me find something she missed.

But it’s not just the lizard-the door handles are stained with paint, the light switches with random smudges, the cabinet walls, sink handles, wash machine, dish washer, refrigerator along with all the table tops and towels are tainted  with mystery marks. To the non-obsessive mind, the house is clean, fully stocked and orderly. But for me, nothing is up to my OCD level of cleanliness.  And of course my parents don’t adhere to my OCD rules, because they are exaggerations of my troubled mind and pretty much impossible to adhere to.

So here I am. Finally in Colorado- free to heal, but lost in my mind. By day, I consider the incalculable odds of a future full of obsessions, shame and the agony of self-defeat. By night, I let dreams of triumph, faith, and the prospects of complete remission tickle my tormented soul. I think about my past and the sum of choices and happenstance that led to this moment- the depression and suicidal ideation that consumed me on and off from the age of 15. How that depression led me to leave high school a year early and enroll at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I fell in love with the Earth. The sense of invincibility, independence and adventure that compelled me to move from state to state after graduation, in search of a perfect job.  Getting my master’s degree and moving to DC with no job, then finding a job and living in my car to pay off my student loans only to leave five years later out of desperation.  To loosing almost 3 hours today to rituals, and finally to this moment, writing to you as the movie Interstellar plays in the background- echoing the ironic play of time and space in my mind.

I am lost in my mind, trapped in a misery of my own making. Yet still, I hold on fast to faith whenever it finds me- though it be with fingers slippery from hand sanitizer. These days, my life is a series of tiny miracles in the making, so small and seemingly insignificant that even I forget they’ve come to pass.

I do not know how this ends- if I will suffer like this for months and years to come, or if I will eventually overcome OCD and experience happiness and joy and confidence again. But what I do know is this: after posting this blog, I will crawl into my strange bed and thank God for having made it another day. And then I will close my eyes and try not to cry as I pray that tomorrow will be better, or that at the very least, I will be stronger.

If you’re reading this, please pray for me.

Grounded

I’ve been meaning to write for nearly 4 months, but life got the best of me. So much has happened since I last wrote, that I don’t even know where to start.

Should I fill you in on the grueling 3 months I spent on Zoloft- only to find the depression replaced with a never ending brain fog that made writing nearly impossible and caused me to shit myself silly every morning for three months? Or how depression and stress forced me to end my journey a month sooner than I planned, leaving me with no cash on hand and less than a month to find housing before my Belize trip? No, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that.

Maybe I could write about the transition from carliving to mainstream society and how I quickly went into debt to pay for 1st month, last month’s rent and all the things it takes to live in a house- towels, linens, pots, pans, spices, light bulbs, hangers, utensils, a mop, a bucket, a broom, a comforter, Tupperware…you get the idea.

Perhaps I could share with you the magic of Guatemala- the beauty of the Tikal and Yaxha ruins- the excitement of kayaking Lake Peten, with howler monkeys swinging above me in the jungle trees? I suppose that would be a great place to start, only then we’d have to talk about how that was crushed under the disappointment of Belize, where I was stupid exhausted and anxious from starting Zoloft and lost my footage of snorkeling with sea turtles and all my pictures of Guatemala. How I spent the entire last day of my vacation crying and obsessing in my hotel room. No, perhaps I will save that for another post, when the memories aren’t so fresh.

I suppose I could just fast forward to the bitter sweetness of the present-  I could write about how I spend $1,300 a month for a quaint, fully furnished English basement that I rarely enjoy because I work two jobs. How rent has made paying for doctors appointments out of pocket and paying off my remaining student loan debt nearly impossible. How I just returned from yet another trip to Belize for my 30th birthday, that ended in moments of bliss mixed with quiet disappointment and the heaviness of a failed attempt at redemption. Or how the random bouts of anaphylaxis and night sweats I had before heading to Belize may be indicative of a chronic, life long autoimmune disorder that is also the cause of my OCD and depression? But I’m also not quite ready to write about that either.

Or what about your boy Trump and the assault on the Earth, communities of color and the possibility of loosing protection for pre-existing medical conditions? Certainly not, as I’m sure you need a break from that train wreck anyways.

Don’t get me wrong- it’s not all doom and gloom. There are pockets of wonder and adventure and joy from delving into my spirituality more deeply and peace from a renewed sense of self, which I promise I’ll get to. It’s just my heart is heavy about this past year and I don’t feel compelled to narrate my story in sequence. Plus I’ve been questioning my motive for blogging. Is this another delusion of ego, or is this meaningful and cathartic? And if it is the latter, why not just journal and get it all out? Why do I feel the need to be heard, witnessed, understood? Why do I feel like this is part of something bigger? A book maybe?  And if that’s the case, do my words speak to you? Do they move you and stir something profound in you or just capture your attention for a fleeting minute?

I guess what I am trying to say is, I am still here. Still struggling, still questioning, still trying to reach out to humanity across the great digital divide and hopefully find some clarity in the process. Still craving financial freedom to explore and experience my own spirituality.  Still yearning for the part of my story when the Earth and Stars and Universe align and I find my way out of mainstream society to some small plot of land where I can commune wholly with the universe and ask big questions with no plan or agenda or distractions.

For now, I am grounded-learning to be grateful, trying to be strong and ready to share again. Tell me, are you still there?

 

 

 

 

FAQ’s

Where do you shower?

For some reason this is the #1 ranked question I get. The answer is, I shower in lot’s of different places. I usually end up at my 24 hour gym, but also shower at work and or friends house. Occasionally when I am out camping I will freshen up with a wash cloth.

What do you eat?

Right around the corner from work is a Harris Teeter’s so I often get away with a piece of fruit or oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of soup with an avocado or a sandwich for lunch. For dinner I usually eat out, and have established a list of go to, healthy places.

On average, I spend around $15-$20 on food, which sounds like a lot but is relatively nothing compared to what I would pay for an apartment, utility bills, etc. Plus it gives me the opportunity to try a boat load of eateries, farm to table restaurants and catch up with friends every now and again over happy hour.

Where do you sleep?

Typically I sleep in my car because it’s exhausting and cost prohibitive to camp in the nearby parks. I sleep in the passenger side and prop my feet up on a bog of clothes- it’s actually pretty conformable. Very similar to when you are at the dentist getting your teeth cleaned. I would say it’s about 87% comfortable.

What kind of car do you have?

A lot of people assume I have  huge sports vehicle or a truck, but I have a small, 2006 4 door Hyundai Elantra sedan. Nothing fancy, but I own it outright and we have been on many adventures.

How long do you plan on doing this?

My journey is tied closely to how long it will take me to pay off my private student loan debt. I estimate it will take me 12 months, which means I should be finished before January of 2017. In reality though, I may just winter for a while and car camp again when Spring comes around to save money for traveling. I have also thought about buying a Winnebago or trying to find someone who will let me put a tiny home on their property.

How do you get mail?

I originally rented a mail box (not a P.O. Box) from UPS for 3 months, but opted to continue having my mail sent to my sisters, which is cheaper and easier than switching all my billing info to another address.

How do you do laundry?

I go to a laundry mat usually. Sometimes I do laundry at a friend’s house over beer or at a hotel when traveling.

What do you do when it gets cold?

I layer up and I also have plenty of sub zero camping gear. Generally I can stay pretty comfortable around 11 degrees if I bundle up in my sub-zero mummy sleeping bag. Eating before bed also helps.FullSizeRender (2)

This is Your Brain on Drugs

The sun is shining big and bright, but I can’t shake the feeling of doom. It’s the week before my period, and per usual I can’t stop crying. A mix of exhaustion, tension and depression has clouded my judgement and sense of self. The sun is shining, but I don’t feel it’s warmth or sense it’s brightness. The air is crisp and cool, but I feel hot and bothered. At any moment, I feel like the very sky will collapse on me. It’s been almost 2 months that this doom feeling has lingered over me, and once again Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is holding me hostage. At this point I am no longer subclinical, meaning I am spending more than an hour a day obsessing and ritualizing.

I have to go back on medicine.

I make an appointment to see my Doctor. It’s a fancy, clean office with fixtures out of Crate and Barrel. I hate coming to the Doctors. I feel like sick people come to the Doctors and leaves their germs and body fluids everywhere. Pretty much everything is contaminated to my brain – the buttons in the elevator, the door handles, the cups and water in the lobby area, along with the magazines and arm rests on the chairs. Pretty standard stuff. I get a cup of water, ignoring the fact that it feels dirty to me and somehow my brain equates hydration with bathroom breaks, with stress. I take a sip, remembering not to gulp. “Come on brain”, I think to myself, “same team”.

I handled the rest of my visit pretty well. Despite a red spot near her keyboard being confirmed as salad dressing and her insistence on hugging me after three rounds of travel vaccinations, none of the obsessions lingered much later. Of course I did shower that evening as planned so I am sure that helped. Still it was hard to convey to my doctor what I have been experiencing. I totally forgot the last time I was there we didn’t talk about my carliving situation so she had no idea what I had been up to. We talked more about the PMDD and how terrible the symptoms of irritability, sadness and anger had become. We decide a low dose of Zoloft before menses is the way to go. I’m hesitant- I don’t like the idea of altering my body with chemicals that retard my brains natural ability to absorb serotonin by blocking receptors (Select Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRI’s for short). On the other hand, no amount of positive thinking or perseverance can rouse me from reality. I’m ritualizing way too much and little tasks feel like monumental efforts. The combination of OCD and depression is unbearable and I’ve been down this road before. It doesn’t end at a good place.

For a full day I obsess about whether or not I can keep my drugs in my car or if the cold will do something weird to them or if it’s safe to leave them at work or if someone will take them or taint them. I know what you are thinking, ridiculous right. I spend another 1/2 day pretending I I don’t need the medicine and will stop ritualizing with shear will power. After getting up to use the restroom at work and realizing how anxious and angry and exhausted and trapped I felt with this simple task (I hate the bathroom at work because the trash is located beneath the paper towels. My job is also kind of life sucking at the moment, so the irony of it being the only place I can get a reliable bathroom and check adds to the  drama). So after a moment of brief defeat, I popped the 25 mg of Zoloft in my mouth and drank a glass of water.

Taking medicine is the ultimate mind fuck. I can feel the zoloft ooze over me- a hot swoon of sweaty, focused energy. Everything feels different, almost like someone dipped reality in cocaine cotton balls and stuffed them around my senses.  It feels like I exist in an alternate reality. Maybe that’s why I feel nauseous and sweaty-clearly this is jetlag from traversing the space-time- continuum.

The first few days are the worst. I feel stuffed and tense. I forget to eat and drink. My lower back and legs prickle and tingle. It’s hard for me to fall asleep then it’s hard for me to stay awake. I get the shits and I feel even more anxious than I did before. My body feels twitchy and I want to pace and tick and tap things. I sweat through the nights and my face starts to get oily. I try to write but no words come. Everything is muddled and messy and confusing and my skin is crawling on top of me. Finally, my mind starts to quiet and the energy comes back. I’m focused and alert. For a moment, the clouds part and I can feel the sun again.

I needed this.

4 Weeks to the Finish Line

There’s only 4 weeks left to go and I am fighting OCD, unrest  and an awful sort of exhaustion that words cannot express. I don’t even know where to begin. Should I explain the never ending exhaustion that comes with mustering up the strength to coordinate bathroom breaks? How badly I wish I could just end this car living experiment? I mean, what’s the difference between 337 days  and 365 days? I guess 365 days has a nice ring to it. On the other hand, I’m the only one who’s counting anyways.

Or maybe I should talk about the perils of OCD- the never ending self-doubt , the shame of rituals, the quiet fear and mistrust I have for my own brain? The gnawing feeling I get when I think about my upcoming trip to Belize and Guatemala and the probability of someone bleeding on me?

Folks, if you are just tuning in (insert news anchor voice), I’m having a real mind blowing experience over here and I just wish you all could see the look on my face because it says it all. This is core work- when you start to make sense of the mess of your very identity- the things that make you, you. Core work is about re-writing the narrative you have written, fed and shared with the world. I think that’s what this whole journey was about- finding the strength to craft my own narrative by doing something worth writing about.

​So let me get some updates out of the way, and then we can get to the juicy existential stuff…

The weather is perfect and holding strong.  Night temperatures have yet to hit freezing. Most days still reach around 60 and the lows are around 35. October is officially my favorite month and Fall has displaced Summer as my favorite season.

My body continues to thrive off the fasting and I have lost a good 15 pounds since I left McLean. I have been eating super clean since last month (few carbs, no refined sugar and no dairy) and happy to report the anxiety I sometimes get after eating and the incontinence that came back last month, has since subsided.  I just hope that sleeping in my car and breathing stale air won’t have any long term effects on my body. Fingers crossed, I haven’t turned 30 just yet, so I will be milking the last of this youthful glow until the last drop.

I am still working 23 hours a week at my second job, which has put a big strain on my energy level but added tremendously to the bank account. I enjoy the mindless work of selling footwear. I feel so in the moment and so present when I am helping customers. And as long as they aren’t bleeding, constantly touching the bottom of their shoes or digging in their mouth, things aren’t too bad. In fact, I think this could very well be the perfect part time job to transition me from DC to somewhere else.

The OCD continues to challenge me at work- I cringe when people’s fingers touch mine, or when co-workers want to share beers and of course the never ending high fives with band aid covered fingers, freshly cut from unpacking boxes.  On the other hand, I’ve learned to remember people’s names and not get to annoyed by small talk, which I hate just as much as bandaid fingers. I think I am making friends, and I think my co –workers like me well enough. Still, it’s terrible trying to fit in and make friends. Apparently I haven’t kicked that I want to be wanted and need to be needed feeling I associate with middle school and high school. Mirroring is still my predominant form of getting to know people, which is helpful in normalizing social interactions but terrible because at any moment I may ask for your permission to create a safe space for some 100% authentic expression (my optimal state). So I try to dampen it down,  in hopes that people can digest my intensity in small bites.

My car still makes the occasional random noises and I continue breaking little things that have also reduced my quality of life-the pulley for the back seat, the pulley for the trunk, the glove compartment snaps, etc. Plus, I will have one hell of a clean up after this is all said and done. No amount of vacuuming can rid my car of the food bits, hair and slight sweat smell-especially with all the cracks and crevices. I will also have another $700 of repairs when my exhaust pipe gets repaired, but I won’t get to that until January` or February and atleast I will have a place to stay.

I bought my tickets for Belize and Guatemala- a gift to myself for enduring 12 months of car living. I even plan on splurging $500 bucks to take a  2 ½ hour helicopter ride to meet with an archaeologist excavating El Mirador. Once fully excavated, it will be the largest of all the Mayan ruins. The best part is that it will be exactly 1 year to the date that I decided to live in my car. I will also be vising Tikal, presently the largest of the excavated Mayan ruins, before catching a small flight to Belize City and then another to San Pedro. The last part of my trip will be sea kayaking, snorkeling, parasailing and eating at top notch restaurants on Caye Caulker. I might even snorkel with sea turtles,  sting rays and sharks at Shark/Ray Alley.

I want to be honest with you all, because I know that I should be super stoked about this upcoming trip, but I am honestly scared shitless and I wish I could cancel it. I am stressed because it means two full days of traveling and six different flights spanning two countries and an island. I will be switching hotels, traveling first thing in the morning and have to ride on small planes, all things I generally try to avoid. The real issue here is anticipatory anxiety. The OCD is still pretty bad from last month- the worst it’s been in the last 6 months so I find my general anxiety MUCH higher than usual as my mind begins anticipating triggers before they happen. As a result, things that were already difficult, like using the restroom without washing my hands twice or leaving my car without checking the windows, lights and doors for ten minutes is even harder.

Adding the REI job and working with feet has added tremendously to my overall stress level. Plus I recently had to move the last few of my things from my sibling’s house and find lodging for after I return from Belize. I think this is why I am freaking out…I am ABSOLUTELY terrified about moving into a home. I have not cleaned a toilet or a shower or washed dishes or locked my own front door in over a year and a half.  I know these things are mildly annoying for most people, but at the worst of my OCD, it could take me 7 hours to clean a bathroom and 30 minutes to leave the house if I didn’t have help. I can barely leave my car without starting at the windows to make sure they are up (OCD tells me they aren’t up, even when I am staring at them. I essentially don’t get the feeling that the windows are up, which is why I sometimes say things don’t “feel right”, because something feels wrong or off and I have trouble making and believing the memory).

I have been doing better than before Mc Lean, when I could barely leave my bedroom and worried that my dog wasn’t really inside or that some birds would come in through an open door and poop on everything- leaving me no choice but to engage in a 6  hour ritual disinfecting everything and taking a shower that involved washing everything multiple times because I couldn’t remember if I already cleaned that area (we call this false memories) or simply because it didn’t feel right. I haven’t even mentioned taking out the trash, making sure I don’t leave the stove on after cooking and the prospects of sharing a home with Air BnB guests. Really hoping I can work through fears of being raped at night and not remembering the next day, which I have struggled with in the past.

Sorry if I have overwhelmed you. I know many of you reading this have a hard time putting all of this into perspective. I do too. I’m torn because talking about how I feel is one of the only ways I know how to handle my own mind. But I also don’t want OCD to be the focus of my life either. I hate it, and it’s scary because I have a tough time knowing what parts of my experience are real AND relevant. For example, sometimes when I pass someone on the street, I get a bad feeling or even the thought and physical sensation that we touched, when in reality we didn’t. When I avoid changing clothes or sanitizing or checking the person for open wounds, I can feel muscles tighten in my back and arms. Sometimes it feel like daggers are hitting me in my back and arms, other times like a boa constrictor has cut off circulation around my throat.  I guess that’s what I am trying to articulate- that I experience physical pain when I resist rituals. At one point I developed a tick and used to flail my arms and tap things hard to reduce the pain. This release is also a ritual and so I have forced myself to stop. And it sucks because I am usually doing things that require my attention and focus when this happens- helping a customer try on shoes, giving a presentation or spending time with a loved one. Eventually the pain goes away, but it still hurts.

So now the existential stuff….

With all of this going on, I feel exposed and vulnerable-almost like a child. There are so many times I want to curl up in a ball and lay in the fetal position under dark covers until the OCD monsters go away.  Sometimes I call my mom crying and speaking in a baby voice and try to model behavior by asking how she might react. I usually get what I need to move forward, but I also curse myself after I call her because I should be stronger and able to do this by myself. And because I hate struggling and second guessing myself, I have added a layer of self- loathing and shame on top of the monumental task of trying to fight the OCD and come to terms with my own experience.

I also feel incredibly disconnected from most people I interact with.  Because my support network is in Colorado, it’s been challenging to find spaces where I can let my guard down and just be me. Instead, I feel lonely when I am around other people (and almost never when I’m alone, I might add). I cycle between being emotionally transparent, full of witty jokes and stories, analytical to a fault and over communicative (my natural and optimal state), to my public persona-complete with the resting bitch face that says don’t talk to me, don’t touch me, I’m not really here, I’m just a figment of your mainstream imagination.

I’m working on that though. The last thing the world needs now, is another negative person. Recently, I’ve come in contact with some positive, focused and seemingly dependable individuals. While they renew my hope in humanity, it still takes time to get to know people. And even then, many are not who you make them out to be. Science tells us that having friends, family and touch is one of the most important predictors for happiness. Because I go back and forth between being an open and  closed person, I’m sure many people have written me off as rude or find me too intense to hang out with. Maybe that’s why I am chronically dissatisfied with life?

But I get it- why I am off putting to many people. I’m the animated, anal retentive type, prone to emotional outbursts and brilliant ideas mixed with space cadet moments. Still, I ABSOLUTELY love myself- I think I am one of the coolest people I have ever met and I am fascinated with my own experience and the inner workings of my beautiful mind. 
I know this might come off as egotistical, but I promise this self love fills me up with a childlike giddiness that I don’t want to lose. I hope you love yourself this way too and feel empowered to talk openly and freely about your experience. Wouldn’t it make it easier for us to get to know each other?

And perhaps most importantly, this  FUCKING REDICULOUS election. It is even harder now to not quit my job and just walk out on everyone. Donald Trump represents just about everything in my life I have been trying to escape, and now he is moving two miles down the street from where I work.  I have never liked DC and now I have another reason to dislike this God forsaken city even more. Ugh, I’m starting to get negative again and I was really trying to end this post on a positive note.

So where does this leave me with four weeks left to go? Well, I figure I have a few choices. I can A) bitch and moan and struggle and suffer through this, B) quit my job and decide to not invest anymore energy in this place, or C) lean into the pain and push myself in hopes of becoming stronger, flexible and more resilient. Even though I dabble between options A) and B) on the regular, I committed to leaning into the anxiety by upping my Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) game after a 20 minute ritual at work, to prove to myself that I can endure and even thrive in the most stressful and uncomfortable of situations. 

It’s kinda like when you run the 400 meter dash and you hit the home stretch and your legs are burning and the negative self-talk comes in and you want to give yourself permission to coast. “I should keep my ass in the house”, you might say. “This isn’t worth it, why do I put myself through this”, you might add. But you don’t quit because you’ve heard that tired story before and lived it and because you signed yourself up for the race and put in countless hours of training to get here. And because you know that the pain is temporary and that it too will pass and that you won’t die from pushing yourself but could whither away in self defeat if you didn’t race, never pushed yourself, never knew what you are made of.  So no, you never quit, even when other people tell you it’s okay to give up, even when your coaches tell you getting back in the game is a lost cause, because the discomfort, doubt and exhaustion you feel compares nothing to the feeling you’ll get when you cross the finish line with your personal best.

This is the hardest race I have ever trained for in my entire life. And with 4 weeks left to go, that finish line couldn’t come any sooner.

#GetYourselfFree

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like. Between working an extra 24 hours a week at my second job, fighting off obsessions and trying to keep myself motivated and focused at work, I haven’t found the time or mental space to write. Today I decided to take the ½ day off so I could get my emissions testing done and assemble some sort of blog post. Honestly though, my mind is mush and my heart is on fire. Not sure how this post will turn out, but here it goes.

I only have 7 more weeks left of carliving. And while the cooler weather has made life much more comfortable, most days still leave my blood either boiling with frustration or heavy and cold with apathy.  I often find myself googling the price of land when I should be working. Sometimes I steal away in the stairwell at work to cry tears of frustrations and surrender. I utter affirmations under my breathe when I feel I am about to lose my temper- “I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am wise. I have more than enough for everything I need”. “This is temporary”, I tell myself. I give myself pep talks aloud and exercise at the gym. And when that doesn’t work, I eat Dunkin Donuts in the dark and think to myself, “it doesn’t matter”.

On top of all that, I’m constantly navigating my off the grid lifestyle, my new job and the relentless OCD. I’m growing tired of disgusting bathroom run ins- having experienced poop and tampons all over the floor in several bathrooms this week. I opted for public peeing in woody areas, only to find lots of condoms and triggering objects like tissue with blood on it. Who knows what I am even peeing on in the dark and what type of splash back contaminants I have been exposed to.  And to be completely honest, I have a 10 minute ritual planned for leaving this library on account of some questionable red smudges on the door handle and I am not happy about it. Don’t even get me started about how bad I feel, not alerting the group ahead of me about the spots.

You see, OCD is tricky business and I am constantly balancing the desire for comfort, with the need to learn to live with uncertainty. The worst part about all of this, is that it’s the same 2 or 3 obsessions I struggle with over and over and over again- including that damn “off” feeling that leaves me staring at doors and windows. Plus, everything is amplified 4 x’s during the week before my period when my PMDD and depression are the worst. I honestly feel like OCD and money are the two biggest things holding me back in life.  From fears I will let someone bleed out in front of me to new anxieties about getting triggered while traveling, I honestly feel suffocated by OCD and debt. They taunt me and torture me when my spirit is weak, and my spirit is week these days. I hope you all can sit with that, and not just council me to get back on medicine. It hasn’t come to that.

Sorry, I digressed. Today was an awful day and I am delaying a ritual as I write this. Back to the list of other things that suck right now. My eating schedule is also thrown off. I am back to fasting just 16 hours a day and eating the other 8 to make sure I don’t pass out during a double shift. However, these meals are anything but relaxing or restorative. I am constantly stuffing myself during the 30 minute excuse of a break I am assigned at work. On top of that, I have been eating all the free food they provide during busy days, including things like pizza and muffins which lead to urinary incontinence and anxiety.

Most significantly, I spend much more of my time triggered and mildly irritated at work. Yesterday I was fitting a little kid for shoes (more later on how children are still incredibly dirty to me) and her nose just started bleeding. Would you believe that? Out of freaking nowhere- just started bleeding. Her dad looked at me super cool and said, “don’t worry” she gets these all the time”. And here I am, seriously starting to cry, thinking “Oh my god, worse nightmare. And a chronic nose bleeder to boot.” Immediately now, the downstairs public bathroom is dirty and all the shoes she tried on are contaminated to me. Unbelievable really. Then there was blood on the first aid kit at work and on the printer-and not the fake kind of OCD blood- for real blood. Ugh,so triggering. Lastly, I totally forgot you have to learn your co –workers names and smile when people talk to you and play nice in the sand box and what not when you start a new job. Only I don’t like sand and I don’t like square sand boxes or people and…. well, you get the point.

I’m ready for a break. I need a pause before I snap. I thought this journey was about hitting the reset button, pushing past my boundaries and seeking adventure. I thought that after it was all said and done, I would feel some huge sense of accomplishment or some warm, fuzzy sense of self- like that feeling you get after watching a coming of age Indie film. But I was wrong. Apart from exposing some of the rawest, purest, most intense parts of my personality, this journey has opened up a scary new world. One where I can never go back to my old life simply because I can’t unsee my true calling or fall out of love with my desire to live a life free from the anxieties of debt culture and the  burden of conformity. And also because doing so would actually be damaging to my emotional and mental health. I finally realize that I can’t keep doing this- trying to find the perfect job in the perfect state only to find that I feel suffocated by bureaucracy, self-interest and the complexities of office politics and interpersonal dynamics.

It’s time to create a permanent, alternative, debt free, off the grid lifestyle where I  am my own boss, landlord and confidante. I’m ready to let go of birthdays and celebrations, holidays and happy hours, bills and bureaucracy and most importantly, the traditional 9-5 once and for all. I’m ready for quiet spaces where my intellect and curiosity can run a muck like spring melt after the first thaw-where my emotions aren’t suffocated by concrete buildings and white faces in black slacks on overcrowded metro stations. Where my longing to be understood by others is replaced with a longing to understand and experience my purpose on this planet. Where I have space to spread my wings and simply, be me.

As freeing as this may seem, it also makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. I have no idea what my life will look like in 2 years, let alone if I will be happier and less stressed living completely off the grid and working for myself.  What if I fail?  What happens if I don’t try?

The other day at work, I wrote down the following on a sticky note in a moment of teary, desperation- “#GetYourselfFree, April 2019.” This is the day it all goes down. The day I give myself permission to quit my job, buy some land and get the heck out of Washington, D.C. And who knows? Maybe I will only make it another year before I decide to quit and work some meaningless part time job or telework position while building my shipping container house. Maybe someone will tap me on the shoulder with the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe I will get my TOEFL certification and travel the world. Maybe I will win the lottery or come up with a million dollar idea. Maybe I will catch Hepatitis C and die before I pay off my student loans. Maybe I will fail miserably and end up back at McLean. Who even knows?

For now, you can find me lounging under the cover of some trees in my sweatpants- sleeping bag tucked tight up to my chest with NPR blasting in the background and hand sanitizer at my side.

Only 7 weeks to go.