I’ve felt off for the last 48 hours. It all began on Thursday when I broke fast with a delicious meal that included beans- thinking a little bit of this no-no food would be tolerable. I was wrong. Within 15 minutes of eating two tablespoons of lentil soup, a feeling of heaviness and general malaise flooded my body. I rarely ever eat legumes anymore, and when I do I’m sure to pair them with rice so that I am getting a complete protein (more on the power of food combination later). Instead, my momentary lapse of judgement had me feeling sick for the next 3 hours while my digestive tract attempted to break it down.
The following day I wasn’t hungry at all. Despite eating at 12 pm the day before, I had to force myself to eat something around 4 pm, realizing that a 26 hour fast was not part of the plan and that I’d rather force feed myself than go into starvation mode and start burning muscle. I had some delicious Korean food that I usually love (no carbs, no sugars, no processed ingredients), but after eating half of my bowl my body refused to take in any more. I continued to try and eat, adding a few sips of water knowing I hadn’t eaten enough to meet my macro nutrient goal. Several moments later, I could feel my cortisol levels raise as a wave of panic and anxiety rushed through my body. Every single bite brought more and more anxiety until I decided enough was enough. I spent the next 3 hours at work practicing deep breathing and deep muscle relaxation exercises. After a while the numb, tingly sensation in my fingers I associate with panic attacks went away and the free floating anxiety was manageable.
Then I left work and headed home, or to my car rather. In all of my hustle and bustle, I hadn’t realized the heat advisory was in effect, meaning tonight would feel above 95 degrees with the heat index- too hot to stay in my car. This was especially important considering my A/C hasn’t been working very well over the last few days and I my car was starting to overheat. So after an intense inner debate, I decided to stay at an Air BnB to beat the heat and planned to take my car to the shop, yet again to be fixed.
Long story short, the Air BnB didn’t have A/C- which meant I was cornered in a stranger’s house with a fan that blew hot air on me. On top of that, the general malaise from food, combined when the heat fueled the OCD. As soon as I got in the room I started having intrusive thoughts that the gentlemen whose house I was staying at would rape me in the night while I slept and give me HIV and Hepatitis C. I have had this thought before when I lived in Arkansas, but this time it was more angry than anxiety producing, as I immediately recognized it as an obsessive thought . Still I was emotionally exhausted thinking about car repairs and trying to figure out why my body felt so off, that I wasn’t in the mood for OCD and had little energy to resist compulsions. So I totally gave in and despite the door having a lock on it and the host having raving reviews from many female travelers, I locked the door and pushed the chair in front of it. I compulsively squirted some hand sanitizer between my palms after filling my bottle up with water and drifted angrily off to sleep.
I awoke to the usual OCD avoidance behavior. I didn’t want to use the bathroom, feared I would go number two and find blood or semen or something gross on the toilette seat. But I pushed myself anyways and somehow managed. Still it was hot and I could hear my brain whispering quietly in the background, “go use the sanitizer. This isn’t your house and everything is covered in semen.” Meanwhile it was still ridiculously hot and I wreaked of nervous OCD sweat. I rubbed a tiny splosh of sanitizer between my fingers- hardly enough to do anything but quiet the obsessions until I could get back to the safety of my car.
Upon leaving, I realized the host had blocked me in with his car. I debated just driving on the grass but didn’t want to risk the chance of a bad review. So I messaged him instead, making up some lie about how I was going for a hike earlier than planned. He came out rather groggily and barely acknowledged me, I tried to smile through my discomfort and thanked him for opening up his home. I sped away to my nearby gym- thankful to be back in my car but overwhelmed with the frustration of having paid for a room that had no A/C, only to leave in an anxious haste and land right back in my car which also had no A/C and was overheating. He texted me afterwards apologizing if he seemed rude and we went back and forth through some awkward texts. At one point he chastised me for not wanting to give him 5 stars, and then decided to share that fact that he works in an ambulance and had seen so much death in Afghanistan with me. All I could think of was eww yuck, hospitals carry infectious diseases and all my bags could be contaminated.
It was only 9 am when I arrived at my gym, but already nearing 82 degrees with a heat index of 88. Sweat was pouring down my head, back and neck, stinging my eyes. I arranged my (contaminated) bags for a minute and tried to find a shady spot where I could find a car dealer that could look at my car ASAP, refusing to hand sanitize, which seemed a small victory. After searching yelp and google for twenty minutes, I found a dealer with decent reviews that wasn’t too far away. After I got off the phone with the mechanic, something strange happened. I curled up in a tiny ball in the driver seat and I wailed like a crying child for a solid 2 minutes.
It was a strange cry- I howled and squeezed my face and tucked my head in my hands and lap. All the while tears, sweat and then boogers ran down my face. And then almost like cutting off a fire hose, it just stopped and I wiped my tears, blew my nose and drove to the dealer like nothing happened.
I’m going to (attempt) gloss over this next part because I have no desire to give you a minute by minute account of the next 7 hours- mostly because I want to get to something I am struggling with this morning and also because I am trying to shorten these posts. I arrived at the dealership, explained the previous repair nightmare and asked them to look at the A/C along with my breaks. I sat in the waiting room (which also had no A/C) for another 2 hours, surrounded by men speaking various languages and a TV blasting soccer. My only choice of seating where these disgusting metal chairs with gum on the bottom- visibly poking through the mesh seating. I swallowed the urge to cry and sat on the chairs in my shorts, all the while allowing thoughts of the gum gushing down my legs and into my private parts. I still hate wearing shorts and sitting in public chairs and so this was really the icing on the cake. I didn’t ritualize after either.
They diagnosed the problem shortly thereafter- I would need new brake pads and rotors and a new radiator for a whopping $740 dollars. Sticker shock overcame me and I just handed him my credit card, asking when I could pick my car up. He swiped it effortlessly and told me to return around 3:30 or 4:00. So I left, with my laptop and day pack to find a library with A/C and water to cool off. After walking 3/4 of a mile in the almost 95 degree heat, I arrived at the library only to find it was closed. I tried to walk to the nearest bus stop but I couldn’t wait another 14 minutes for the bus, I was pouring sweat and feeling shaky and nauseated. I badly needed water, food and to get out of the Sun.
So I called an uber and settled for nearby Union Station to use the bathrooms and grab some food. I don’t know why but I was feeling so claustrophobic at Union Station from all the crowds that I immediately left after using the bathroom and decided to walk another 1/2 mile to Pret a Manager to eat and blog. So with bags in tow, I walked another 1/2 mile in the now almost 100 degree weather in search of a comfortable, familiar place. The entire time I fought back tears as I came across three groups of people struggling in the heat:
- Tourists with fans, umbrellas, aviator glasses and thoughtful outfits, gawking at the heat with small hints of that vacation glow peering beneath their sweaty brows.
- Residents who walked their dogs casually or rode their bikes through the streets, appearing to not thinking twice about the heat.
- Poor people of color and the homeless carrying bags, groceries and performing manual labor in the hot sun or laying under a cool tree with all their belongings- all the while a look of quiet defeat and desperation piercing through their eyes.
I empathized with the latter group, cursing the system that hasn’t served us, but I was also disgusted at myself because many of those groups where “dirty” to me on account of the OCD. My eyes teared up as I left Union Station and I hurried quickly to my destination, all the while sneering at the figurative and literal stench of my own humanity.
Pret a Manager was too cold and I felt sick from switching temperature extremes so quickly that I could’t even blog and could barely finish my sandwich and chips. Nonetheless, I stayed there for a bit until heading towards Eastern Market to catch an uber back to pick up my car, only to find that despite their repairs it was still leaking and would require staying until Monday until they could order a small $20 part.
At this point my heart sank and I lost all hope. Not only had I been without A/C and exposed to almost 85-100 degree temperatures for nearly 24 hours, but now I would need to find lodging for 2 days while they fixed my car. I spent the next 20 minutes dodging questions about where I lived and where I was going and why I couldn’t just get dropped off somewhere before whispering to the mechanic “I live in my car and I need to get some things out of it.” He gave me a blanketed look and said no problem. I then scurried to my car and grabbed the essentials- hair products, clothes for work and sleeping, toiletries. Did I mention this was all in front of a bunch of grown men who were all covered in sweat and oil and insisted on helping me with my bags?
I was eager to leave in fear I would start bawling and not be able to stop, but the owner asked to speak with me. He said cooly, I understand you are between places- I nodded my head and blustered out “something like that” before he offered to drop me off any where and reimburse me for a car rental. I was so overwhelmed, partly because I hadn’t finished paying myself back from the previous car repairs and hotel stays and knew this would put me close to maxing out my credit card (which was at a 0 balance when I began this journey) and because it was also so hot in the waiting room that I felt delirious. My phone had died and rather than call around to find another potentially triggering Air BnB to be dropped off at, I asked to get a ride to the nearby Holiday Inn where I prayed I could get a room for under $150 dollars.
I was so overwhelmed I didn’t have time to grab just the essentials- instead grabbing my overnight bag I used on a recent trip to NYC. I looked awkward and I was clearly struggling with all my bags and shoes and sweatiness, but I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. I threw my bags in the car, trying to avoid bright red spots that looked like blood and fought back tears.
When the driver dropped me off, he asked if I was staying at a hotel because my car was in the shop and I looked at him blankly and said “yes”, before pausing and adding “I’m homeless”. I thanked him politely and headed into the nearby hotel. I proceeded to give my credit card to the front desk receptionist and went up to my room so I could cry.
And so for the second time that day, I cried like a little child. And just because that wasn’t enough I called my mom and spent the next 20 minutes balling and explaining all my frustrations- how hot it is, how hard this journey is, how I am sick of debt, sick of fixing my car, sick of DC, sick of not feeling like I have anyone in DC that’s truly there for me. I shouldn’t have called her- I should have sat with it, but instead I gave into the sensitive, emotional teenager that longs to be heard and witnessed. I said things to feel better, half truths wrapped in ego and shrouded by my intense desire for the frustration of the day to go away. It wasn’t until I had calmed down about two hours later that I realized what I had said to the gentlemen who dropped me off. My heart sank, and I wanted to cry, but this time no tears came, just shame.
I’ve been wanting to write about this shift I’ve had with emotional regulation, but wasn’t sure how to. I struggle with telling the basics of my story, wanting to give people context but really hoping to give people an insight into my inner world. When I was younger, I was hyper sensitive, passionate and quick to anger. I didn’t know how to handle heavy emotions like disappointment, disapproval and loneliness. I felt very different from most of my peers and had trouble feeling connected with friends. I have many memories of riding the bus home after basketball games and walking through hallways crying and wishing I could talk to someone about all these deep heavy emotions that held me at gunpoint. Instead, I put on a face and managed my emotions by working hard, asserting control in life wherever I could- good grades and plenty of leadership activities which earned me the approval of my peers, parents and some notion of self confidence. It was during this time that my first obsessions related to scrupulosity were born. I was terrified of getting B’s in school and obsessed with completing every assignment and winning every event.
Somehow I told myself If I didn’t do these things I would lose the support and love of my friends and family and be lonely and anxious forever. This was probably my first low grade obsession- a twist on the classic case of obsessive compulsive disorder related to morality known as scrupulosity. Most people who suffer from scrupulosity have obsessions related to letting God down or committing a sin, my scrupulosity is different as it relates to morality and social laws. The impact is still the same- intense feelings of guilt and fear that our actions have made us a bad person and that we can only redeem ourselves by either praying, confessing or striving for perfection and disciplining ourselves when we aren’t.
After everything that happened with getting off medicine and realizing I was never given ANY tools for managing depression, anxiety and loneliness by my therapists, I realized that I was a slave to my emotions. I let them dictate my actions and became so far away from my values that I spent most of High School and college with feelings of rage and intense loneliness that I drowned with alcohol and the cocktail of medicines my doctors gave me. By the time I left college, I was a master planner obsessed with grades and later with money and paying off debt. More on that later- I’ve digressed.
The last 8 months, after time spent at Boston where I learned all the emotion regulation tools I needed to process emotions in a healthy way, I’ve decided that the emotional person I was doesn’t serve me. In fact I wanted to minimize all attachment to emotions and instead live my life according to values- this is the foundation of ACT therapy which changed me entire life. I highly recommend folks read the book “The Happiness Trap” for more information on this. Either way, transitioning from a life dominated by emotions, a pharmaceutical cocktail of antidepressants like lexapro and citalopram, anti-psychotics like geodon and depakote and mood stabilizers like lithium has been challenging. My body and brain are still hard wired to use emotions as rational decision making tools, even though I realize there is another, better way.
As a result, all my talk of emotional independence and self actualization still easily goes down the drain when I am stressed, taxed and not feeling well. This weekend was a classic example of how I’ve let emotions get the best of me. I believe self pity is a deplorable tool of manipulation. And yet as much as I detest it, I still revert to it when I have over exerted myself. Still, there is absolutely no excuse for temporary laps in judgement that lead others to believe something that is only half true- especially when it involves things like privilege and power. I am voluntarily homeless and even though I feel like there isn’t a difference sometimes when I am navigating the system, I am privileged because I am doing this BY CHOICE. And that dear readers, makes ALL the difference.
Which gets me to my next and final point. I have high standards for myself and alot of shame and guilt I need to process. The first step in removing guilt, as I learned in Boston while at an intensive inpatient program, is to remove unhealthy responses to guilt- that is wallowing in past actions of which you have no control over. The second piece, which I picked up along the way, is in forgiving yourself for past actions. Not only does this free you from the despair of self loathing, it also allows you to forgive others who you have passed judgement on. This is the basis of ending self oppression. This is exactly where I am in my tumbling weed journey, trying to shift from decision-making fueled by anger, anxiety and depression, to making decisions that align with my values.
So that’s what I am left with- feelings of guilt over my interaction at the dealership, lots of shame over the use of my credit card to find lodging and even more confusion as to whether or not I should sleep in a rental car tonight, splurge on a hotel or find another Air BnB. I would be lying if I told you I have made peace with all of this, because I haven’t. I still feel pretty down emotionally and upset that I’m this exhausted and angry over something as trivial as using my credit card for lodging. It’s all rooted in long standing obsessions with morality and perfectionism and I suppose that’s okay because I’ve learned that I can still feel shitty and move confidently in the direction of my dreams- or in this case figure out where I’m going to stay for the next two nights until I can resume my tumbling weed journey.
Thank you for reading this. I encourage you to forgive yourself for anything out of character you have done this week. Feel free to share any insights or break throughs in the comments section- it’s good to remember we aren’t alone and that we all get stuck every now and again.