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.

#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.

Anywhere But Here

The weather has cooled to the perfect temperature and I can finally relax. My mind has quieted. So much, that I’ve already begun to plan my year long hiatus from society and the traditional nine to five. I’ve come to realize that public service and working for others is a lot like running full speed into a brick wall with a padded suit and helmet. I constantly ask myself (while running into this metaphorical brick wall)- am I prepared to work this job and live in DC for another 3 years? Can I handle the inefficient system, the bureaucracy, the office personalities and the rising cost of housing- not to mention the difficulties of searching for my life’s purpose in a soulless city?

Okay I know that’s harsh and that I probably sound like a stubborn, impatient millennial that just needs to deal with it. But for reals, I don’t know how you all do it every day and keep a straight face! Some of you all even seem to be enjoying yourselves-totally oblivious to the heavy suit of armor that now adorns your heart. Do you feel safe in that shiny suit of metal armor? I feel like taking a risk-getting out there to do something amazing with my life, is way better than living life in shackles disguised as a shiny suit- one that you have to pay off with interest, might I add.

One thing’s for sure-I’m starting to check out. The honey moon period with my job is over and I feel unfocused, unprepared and  unmotivated. My patience with people is growing thin and I’m withdrawing. On the other hand, Fall is finally here and every thought feels crisp and clear. Living in my car has become a breeze, having mastered the bathroom routine and landed a second job. Yet still, I can’t help but think about what it would be like to work for myself or have some low key telework position that allowed me to get away from it all. If only I didn’t have this job tying me down, I would be any where but here. Exploring the deliciousness of life, traveling or homesteading and spending a lot of time doing nothing in particular at all.

Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, you discover that what you’ve really hit is a treasure chest. And with a little muscle, sweat equity and a plan, it’s more than possible to unlock it’s mysteries. This is what I keep telling myself, that this is part of what I’m doing with my life-typing in the dark lot of a library, trying to figure out how I can stop fighting the things I like least about society and discover for myself what life is like on the other side.

 

 

Born This Way

I feel frustrated, unfocused and slightly anxious. My back and neck feel tight- my throat feels scratchy and tense.  I can’t concentrate, much less write. The words that once flowed smoothly from my lips hang like crooked paintings in my mind. Once again, my feeling of inadequacy at work, frustration with interpersonal dynamics and disdain for society has me cursing under my breathe and wanting to fast forward to the part where I up and leave society.

For those of you who don’t know, I have recently begun thinking seriously about taking 1 year away from society to wander aimlessly in search of inspiration and purpose. That means no job, no plans or itinerary. A chance to experience life without a schedule, agenda or to do list- the ultimate experiment in being.  But I can’t leave. Well I suppose I could, and will, but not just yet.There is so much to do. I need to put in at least 2 years with my current job, finish stamping out the last of the OCD rituals and of course, complete my tumble weed journey and pay off my private student loan debt.

In the meantime, I struggle with all the same issues that led me to live in my car. I don’t understand our society with our awkward rules and customs and I could care less about the superficial social interactions that encompass around 98% of all human interaction. Why is it that most people appear content with the status quo and seem to have little interest in finding another way? Why is it that I feel so different from everyone I meet and find it difficult to connect beyond small talk?

I don’t have all the answers but I do know that there is a lot more behind my anger and apathy than just an itch to leave society. I wonder if I was just born hypersensitive, with a nervous system wired to process emotions and information with greater intensity than the average person.  I wonder if I have some underlying hormonal or chemical balance that was triggered by some trauma or maybe I just never learned to process emotions in healthy way as a child.  Is this hyper awareness and hyper sensitivity a fatal personality flaw or one of the most important aspects of my true self I should embrace? Is this want to leave society a defense mechanism I have developed to cope with stress, anxiety and anger or is consciousness guiding me towards my path? Am I a change agent, system buster and counter-culturalist on the path to saving the world, or am I a hyper emotional, attachment-avoidant type on a path to isolation and intolerance?

I think there are two parts of me fighting for a voice. One part of me is extroverted, passionate, open, easily roused, adventurous and sensitive and another is introverted, rigid, focused, pragmatic, and logical. Straddling those parts of me- like living in mainstream society while also trying to leave it, is physically and emotionally taxing. But it wasn’t always so bad. I remember times when I was a child, maybe 5 or 6 running wild and free through the hospital and malls, hiding in places and exploring the world with a joyful curiosity I compare to the feelings I get while traveling. When I ask my mom what I was like as a child, she describes me as rebellious, adventurous, easy, happy and talkative. She said she used to tell me no or stop but I would just keep on going. She thought I had a hearing problem. I heard just fine.

So where did it go wrong? How did I become this analytical, obsessive, counter culturist with minimalist tendencies? I’d like to think a lot of it has to do with growing up in 21st century America and all the technology, societal pressures and limiting beliefs we are battered with on a daily basis. The stress of paying bills, finding a job, finding purpose and connecting with community has flooded our minds with thoughts like, “I don’t have enough money, I’m not good enough, I can’t say no, it’s not fair, I’ll never get ahead, there’s no point, I don’t have enough Facebook friends”, etc, etc. You get the picture. I think these forms of self-oppression, often perpetuated by systems and reinforced by cultural norms (the media, consumption, education, etc) are the reason most people appear to be tech savvy zombies following their peers like lost lambs.  So while a large part of me values paying off my debt and being a responsible and contributing member of society, I’m pretty sure the reason I haven’t left DC was because somebody told me if I worked hard and played by the rules, I would be happy. Unfortunately, I believed them.

Phew. I feel so much better having gotten that off my chest. It’s amazing how healing blogging is and how fundamental writing is to my journey of self-discovery. So yeah, I will probably continue rejecting societal norms, go on random adventures and pursue an unconventional lifestyle until my thirst for freedom has been quenched. And it’s highly likely I’ll continue to express disdain for the status quo and no doubt slip into a rut when I question my tumbling weed journey and allow myself to stew in doubt, anger and apathy.  And not necessarily because I am hypersensitive, passionate and idealistic, but more so because I want to live a life full of child-like wonder and because, I was born this way.

9 Month Update: If Not Now, When?

It’s been an interesting two months, and I’m sure you’re all dying for updates.  So even though I have some pressing rants and raves regarding my ongoing existential crisis, I will start with the practical updates so as not to lose the interests of those of you who’ve been following my car living journey.

So here is what you missed since my last post….

  1. I finally got my car back. It doesn’t drive nearly as well as it did before and now the A/C isn’t working too well and there are still some random whizzing noises I cannot even begin to describe. The stress of the previous repairs is still heavy on my heart so I have given myself a week to not think about it before I take it in for more repairs.|
  2. I completed filming for my upcoming clip in the documentary on Americans struggling to pay off debt, entitled “Just Getting By”. Not only did I make $500 bucks from the opportunity, proving my daily craigslist job search was not pointless, I get to share my story and blog with everyone who will visit their website. I believe filming should be wrapped up by the end of October and I will definitely share the details with you all.
  3. Me after the #bigchop

    I cut off my dreads. I have wanted to do this for several years but loathed the idea of yet another big chop (I have done two in the past 15 years). But after cutting off the back row of dreads two months ago and battling with frequent hair loss and intense scalp pain, I decided to take the plunge. Immediately after, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders- almost as if I was releasing years of depression, anxiety, expectations, limitations and fears I had been carrying with me. A physical and spiritual weight lifted from my shoulders after realizing I wasn’t the same slightly obese 17 year old that chopped off my hair after a failed perm in High School. As a result, I felt stronger and freer- being that my physical appearance seemed a more authentic expression of myself and my lifestyle. Amazingly, I did all of this in what can only be explained as a perplexing, quiet rage that took place at 2 am, over 3 hours in a random hotel outside of Philadelphia. Up to the last second I was doubting myself, and then I became so angry at the back and forth and the fears that I just grabbed the scissors, asked myself “if not now, when?” and then started cutting. It was a quiet act of desperation, which left one part of my hair (the first cut) shorter than all the rest. Nonetheless, it was one of the best decisions I have made in the past year for sure.  I have told myself my hair doesn’t grow and that it will never be long- what a terrible limiting belief shared by many African-American women today! I absolutely love my short hair, and the beautiful, growing soul it adorns. I can’t wait for it to grow past my shoulders.

  4. libetry bell.png

    The Liberty  Bell

    I crossed some more items off my bucket list- two more World Heritage Sites- the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was written, debated and adopted. I also finally visited NYC again where I wandered the streets aimlessly with my niece looking for good eats, urban treats and cheap karaoke. Mission accomplished.

  5. I found a job. After applying to more than 10 jobs, I happily accepted a position today with an outdoor gear company I LOVE. I will only make $11.50 an hour, but I will be eligible for a raise in January and will get metro benefits and 50% of any gear I buy. Most importantly, I will be able to use the estimated 850 dollars a month working 20 hours per week to drop a whopping $3,000 a month on my student loan debt. Amazingly, this combined with my go fund me, could be JUST enough to end my journey on time. And for those of you who don’t know, or can’t recall, that means I will have paid off $33,000 dollars in 12 months.
  6. My go fund me page has received $794 in donations! My goal is to raise 5,000, $1,000 of which will go to whoever donates the most if I raise the full amount. I’ve also pledged $200 to whoever gives the most, regardless of whether or not I reach my goal. So far the number to beat is $219 dollars and like a Lannister, I always repay my debts.
  7. I am 2 months into to intermittent fasting and estimate I have lost almost 8 pounds of fat since the end of July. I began by cutting out breakfast and slowing removing dairy, starches, most grains and carbohydrates, with the exception of bread and the occasional rice dish. Just 3 weeks ago, I decreased my eating window from 1pm-9pm, to eating just one large meal a day around 4 pm. As a result, I have become fat adapted, meaning my body has learned to use stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates or sugar. I don’t get hangry and I no longer suffer from incontinence. My toenails have also begun to grow in clear and my skin is clearer than it’s ever been. I have also discovered that dairy and alcohol give me free floating anxiety in even tiny amounts and intensifies both the premenstrual dysphoric disorder and the incontinence.  Most significantly I know exactly when to eat, when to drink and what foods my body needs. It’s actually ridiculous how more in tune I am with my needs. I also feel sharper and more focused right before I breakfast joining the ranks of Michelangelo, Einstein, Isaac Newton and other greats who ate minimally or once a day. Did I also mention I have significantly chopped my food budget by about 15% and no longer rely on “healthier” fast food options? Who knew living off less and eating less could feel SO good?
  8. I am officially 3 months off my Zoloft and still experiencing sub-clinical levels of OCD!! That’s right, after a scary year where I almost lost everything, I am happy to say I am (mostly) walking  like everyone else. I barely think about it now, but it’s a HUGE victory that I plan on writing about more! Exposure Response Prevention therapy, along with my parents, saved my life!
  9. I’ve re-framed my minimalism lifestyle to include a physical, financial, spiritual and emotional transformation. The eating, self-care maintenance, reduction in things and commitment to reducing my emotional energy output have been just as life changing as my car living experience. I now know that I require far less than I could have ever imagined, and the more I give up, the freer I feel. I’ve also realized that many of the activities I put my energy towards- relationships that don’t uplift me or are unstable, emotions that drain and drag, foods that poison and paralyze, words that fall on deaf ears, aren’t just first world problems I’m privileged to experience, but symptoms of an oppressive society and culture I cannot support.

So yeah, this is me right now- sweaty and slightly overheated, typing from a random 7-11 parking lot in the middle of nowhere, with a bottle of water, 20 more minutes of battery on my laptop, a big grin on my face, and thoughts of all the many things I hope to accomplish in the last 3 months of my car living journey.

These are Trying Times

I apologize in advance if this post seems jumbled, choppy or uninspiring. I am coming back to this after almost two weeks. I guess I just felt like if I didn’t force myself to publish something, I would keep avoiding my blog and not write any updates, which defeats the whole purpose of blogging. As such, I have opted to post this, rather than wordsmith and finagle this into the post of a lifetime.

My blood is thick and it’s hot outside. I feel tense and anxious and strong all at the same time.  I’ve been so entrenched in work and troubleshooting car repairs, that it’s been difficult to find the time or mental space to sit down and write. Despite the foggy mental space I’ve been in- I feel amazing physically. My consistent workouts, intermittent fasting and energy work have strengthened my sense of vitality and endurance. On top of that, I’ve somehow adapted to the heat and no longer loathe the 80 degree nights. But everything else is in disarray.

My car- my precious companion, whose taken me from the majestic mountains of Colorado, to the humid greens capes of Arkansas and the sweaty concrete jungles of Dallas, Texas to the gentrified nothingness of Washington D.C., is taking a beating. A month ago I took it for an oil change and to get a mystery noise checked out. They said my car just needed some new fluids and sent me on my way. Of course 2 weeks later the noise was back with a vengeance and they couldn’t get me in for 3 days. So I opted to take it to another dealer who said they could have someone look at it that day. 2 weeks, nearly 4 separate car visits and a total of $2,300 later and my car is still not running well.  They replaced the entire rack and pinion and I opted to get all the other stuff I was saving up for done as well- 90,000 mile checkup and new tires. It was a lot of money but I figured I could pay half in cash and pay myself back the rest in another week and I wouldn’t have to think about my car for another year or so. It seemed well worth it- until I realized after getting my car back from the dealer that the airbag light was on and the horn didn’t work. Plus there was a loud popping noise coming from the front of my car. How could any reputable mechanic ever return a car back with these things wrong? Especially after so much money was put into the repairs.

So I took my car back and they replaced the steering coil- something I believe they broke when they didn’t lock my steering wheel into place and changed the rack mount. Plastered on various online forums are a bunch of other people who had the same job done and the same issue RIGHT after the rack was replaced. They took it back and agreed to fix the “unrelated error” for free, even assuring me the noise was the sticker left on my new tires. When asked if they test drove my car, my service manager gave me a shaky yes.  That was Wednesday when I got my car back for the 4th time and of course there this still a popping noise in the front right tire and the steering wheel is hard to move. I have called the manager 3 times over the last week and received no phone calls back. I have the names of another mechanic who can look at it and scheduled an appointment with another dealer, but all of this takes time I don’t have. Work has become exceptionally busy, requiring late hours for community meetings following the release of a major plan. I’ve also taxed myself with finding a second job to pay off this debt faster, so I spend all my free time at the library cruising Craigslist. Did I also mention I will be in a documentary in two weeks to share how debt cripples Americans? All this and mind you, I am still living in my car, and my car is not working.

The most frustrating thing about this car experience, is how it echoes my own mental health journey and frustration with society. To my mechanic, I’ve become the delusional know it all that googles everything and insists I know exactly what happened and what is needed to fix the car. To my doctors, I’ve become the same girl, who complained that it was the SSRI withdrawal process that caused an acute bout of obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic body pain and unbearable depression.  Just like I showered the Doctor’s with scholarly journals and threads from online forums only to be ignored, the car dealership was equally as dismissive.  It sucks when people don’t take you seriously. And it sucks even more when you have paid those people to do their job.

But on a more serious note- not having my car has made me realize how important homes are in maintaining emotional well-being. I have spent the entire two weeks in fight or flight and the OCD started to get annoying. As of late, I’ve been thinking about the recent tragedies that struck Ellicott City and Louisiana, and even the wildfires in California. I’m not by any means asserting that my car troubles and voluntary homelessness lifestyle compares anything to the loss of life or economic impact of those events. Just noting how life is constantly taking us by surprise- stretching our capacity to feel and our ability to adapt in times of stress and desperation.  I realize just how fucked up things are and how little control we have. As I tell many friends of mine regularly- the struggle is real. Sometimes all you can do is go “oh shit”, this is happening.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doling, I invite you to take a nice deep breath into any difficulties you are experiencing. Release them, along with any tension in your jaw, shoulders, arms, back and legs. Know that although these are trying times, you reading this proves we are not in the struggle alone.

Support Me

For those of you who don’t know me or my story, my name is Alexis and I am a 29 year old sustainability professional trying to change my life by living on less and getting rid of my private student loan debt.  So on December 16, 2016, I gave away everything I owned and decided to live in my car so that I can pay off my private student loans and reach my dream of living off less, traveling the world and investing in a project that will uplift the social, cultural and ecological fabric of our planet!

So far I have paid of $12K of private student loans debt in 6 months by sleeping in parking lots, state parks, and watching every penny I spend while working my 9-5. Despite my monmental efforts, I still have $21,000 left. Plus, unexpected expenses (helping out friends, car repairs, taking a dream job for a $12K pay cut etc.) have left me a couple months behind on my journey, which was supposed to last a year.  The only way I will meet my goal of paying off my private student debt before I must begin payments on my federal student loans in 2017, is to get a 2nd job and raise the rest.

And that’s where you come in! Please help me out by donating as much or as little as you can.  WHOEVER GIVES THE MOST will be given $1,000 when I make the last payment. That’s right, if I reach my fundraising goal, will give $1,000 away from my first paycheck to whoever has given the most, once I have paid off the remaining debt. We could all use a little help right! Click gofund.me/2ezeqzrb to donate!

And if you are short on money or wish to contribute another way, please consider the following;

  1. Post my go fund me link to your Facebook page or Twitter.
  2. Email and share my site with friends or family members.
  3. Follow my blog to raise my views and increase my following.
  4. Let me do laundry at your place- saves me money and makes life easier.
  5. Feel free to put me up for as little or as long as you like- mostly needed when temperatures drop below 12 degrees or above 75 degrees.
  6. Pray for me, my safety and my journey.
  7. Let me help you with odd jobs like organizing, power point presentations, editing, pulling weeds or writing papers.

Other than that- thanks for reading this! I took out the money and I fully intend on paying it back. It would just be nice to get some help so I can wrap up before winter AND start the next phase of my life- traveling the world, taking care of family and friends, investing in a meaningful project and committing to a debt free life.

Thanks Again,
Alexis

Financial & Emotional Independence

For those of you who have been following along, you know it’s been a rough month. Living in your car is anything but glamorous. The psychological drain of everyday activities-brushing your teeth, getting ready for work, staying hydrated and going to the bathroom are difficult enough to make even the most patient of people irate. This doesn’t even take into account all the mental anguish, planning and work that goes into avoiding other less glamorous sides of my lifestyle- the constant noise of street sweepers, the fear of waking up to someone staring at me, the perils of trying to stay cool when temperatures haven’t dipped below 70 degrees in weeks and trying to maintain a healthy diet.

Well I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that Summer is kicking my butt and it’s just began less than a month ago. Plus, I still have another 6 months to go, which will put me well into Winter.  The good news is a big part of me did some surrendering the past two weeks.  I resolved (while reading my AWESOME book on Healing with Qi) that I am wasting too much mental energy focusing on the downsides of voluntary homelessness when I should be life hacking the shit out every discomfort I encounter. The alternative is to stop complaining and drop some money on an Air bnb, or exercise some psychological flexibility and stay with some friends or couch surf. But I am stubborn and I crave independence above all else- I also find most people and social interactions particularly draining.  The idea of staying with a friend would be ideal for cooling off and cooking food, but I mostly want to lay down in a cool room with cool water and retreat to my inner world with no distraction.

Qi gong

My Awesome book on Qigong!

So realizing that 7 months is a good time to assess how far I’ve come, what’s working, what’s not and figure out what absolutely has to change in order for me to make it through the Summer without spending a ridiculous amount of money, I have decided to life hack the shit out of my life, AGAIN. So this includes coming up with solutions to some of the things that are pushing me over the edge. It’s the only way I am going to make it!

Staying hydrated is one of the most difficult tasks.  Keeping hydrated means I am either drinking warm water leftover in my car, buying water from a store, getting water for free from drive throughs, filling up water in public places (malls, libraries, the gym, movie theatre)  and of course, my favorite- constantly using the bathroom.  So I have resolved to get in most of my water intake at work between the hours of 9:00 and 4:00. I usually stop drinking then or else I will have to pee all through the evening, and things close. Plus the incontinence I experience from SSRI withdrawal is a (fill in the blank with an appropriate expletive).

Over the weekends I usually try to spend 3 hours of the day posted up somewhere I have access to free water and a bathroom so I can get in all my water early and a cup of free water from a takeout place for the hot nights.  This means I frequent various libraries across the DMV and have become very familiar with all the staff and shift changes at many a Planet Fitness. I’ve also seen pretty much every movie on the big screen, something that will probably be a regular thing- which brings me to my next point- staying cool.

Oh my goodness it is SO freaking hot. I feel like those people who get stuck on a deserted island and have to sit in their own sweat. Sometimes I am so wrestles, listless and so very uncomfortable that I curse out loud before deciding I need to leave my car and cool off in the middle of reading or blogging or napping. Luckily I have discovered some life hacks that have made things a bit easier.  To make it through the hot night, I always keep water by my side. I also crank the A/C as high as it will go for the entire car drive out to my sleep spot, until the inside car temperature has cooled 12-15 degrees.  I aim the vents towards the ceiling to cool off the carpet and plastic that has absorbed heat directly from the Sun and also the radiant heat from the metal and plastic fixtures, instead of on me directly. Apparently hot air does rise and the greenhouse gas effect is real.

This means when I wake up a couple times a night feeling hot, I can turn on the A/C for 3 minutes, drink some water and buy 30 minutes or so of comfort- just enough time to fall asleep. This has worked supremely. I also realized that my sub zero sleeping bag keeps nice and cool if I blow air on it. Last night, I also slept with wet hair which cooled me off considerably. Keeping my car cool also means parking under trees and under covered parking structures during the day so that it takes less gas and time to cool. Overall, the last three nights have been the best in a few weeks. The low will be 73 degree for several nights straight this week- we’ll see if all this life hacking holds up!

tired

Always thinking, always scheming…

All that A/C and bathroom breaks can run up my gas usage, which sucks cause Climate Change is real, and gas is SO expensive. To reduce my fuel usage, I reserve A/C only for sleeping at night , in the morning when commuting and if I have guests in my car. I also plan my bathroom trips so that I am not driving back and forth to hit up different bathrooms, but instead hit up all my bathroom stops on the way towards a final destination to reduce mileage.  I also decided to take the hit and spend 100 a month on metro parking which will save me about 50 dollars on gas from driving to Anacostia to park my car and metro in from work. It will also save me about 40 minutes of drive time, keep my car cooler when I get off work and significantly reduce my carbon emissions. By finding one place on the weekends I can post up for a few hours, I can also reduce my gas usage. If I don’t want to go inside the building, I can chill out under the shade of a tree or find a park system with a mature canopy. In these areas the average air temperature can be nearly 10 degrees lower than downtown D.C. I’m sure it also helps that my internal indicator for hot, is much much higher than most people now.

When I am not hydrating or trying to find a bathroom, I am either eating, or trying to stave off boredom. This usually means I am looking for interesting places to get fresh food for under $8, or trying to find ways to avoid the desire to check into a hotel and sleep a whole day away by scheduling reading, exercise, urban excursions and self-care a couple of days in advance.  I’ve found a whole host of mom and pop shops where I can get fresh seafood and healthy sides like sweet potatoes, kale, green beans and squash. Having realized that convenience costs, I have been doing a better job getting nuts and dried fruit when I am hungry, but not in the mood for a meal. I’ve also been practicing intermittent fasting which has boosted my ability to focus tremendously and changed my food habits (I  only eat from 1pm-9pm, more on this later). I’ve also recently started exploring more to find more sleep spots, good public restrooms, better eats and enjoy some good music and unscheduled downtime. This has been working great. At this rate I will finish a book a month and be working out every other day for the next 6 months, with plenty of places to pee and grab not shitty food without thinking too hard.

And of course as a hard core Type A, INTJ, I have a more comfortable backup plan- getting a second job to speed things up a bit and set aside a $500 monthly budget for reserving a room if it gets too hot or cold. The heat is killing me, and I know it will pass. Keeping up with all the financial hiccups, car repairs, replacing worn clothing, special occasions means I have become even more against the idea of spending 60 dollars to spend the night at an Airbnb or drop 100 dollars and stay in a hotel. I know its an option, but I figure the longer I hold out, the less horrible I will feel when I drop $500 to make it through the hottest parts of the summer and the coolest parts of the winter by staying in an extended stay for a week when the night temperatures reach 75 degrees, or dip below 10.

The last piece of the anguish I’ve felt for the last few months has been my lack of excitement and disdain for Washington, D.C. In general. I don’t like it here- everything is too expensive, too crowded and too dirty. Everyone is in too much of a rush and too focused on the superficial or satisfied with the infamous DC brunch, happy hour and conference scene to grow casual interactions into intimate friendships. That or they have kids, are permanently booed up or having financial issues.

awesome quote

But I LOVE my job and I have history here and I believe I can thrive anywhere. So I have been making an effort to meet more people, even though I find meetups, dating sites and happy hours a bad use of funds that could otherwise be spent at an Airbnb or hotel. Plus I am a super picky person and most of the time, just want to spend some self-directed time doing some of my favorite activities (reading, reflecting or researching). Except I don’t have my own room, so my quiet hermit time is either spent glistening under trees in a park or somewhere in the commons- a library, book store or restaurant with my headphones in, tuning out the world and into cosmology, eastern philosophy, alternative economic systems and world travel.

And then there is the whole psychological side of living in your car. Things can get emotional late at night when you’ve spent days without talking to anyone. You sometimes feel isolated from society, you find that things are unfair and that the world expects you to have an address and stay put.  You wish you had more people you enjoyed being around, you wish you were closer to your family or wish your good friends lived near you. You wish you didn’t have OCD so that little things like staying with friends or in certain places isn’t also mildly anxiety producing- enough that you would rather be moderately uncomfortable sleeping in your car. You wish it were easier to distract yourself from past shortcomings and failures- that they didn’t wake you up at night and force you to sit in their heaviness, hot and sticky from the heat.

I glow when I surrender

I glow when I surrender.

But at the end of the day, well the past few days rather, I realized that because I AM actively exercising 100% autonomy over my life, I must own ALL the emotions and feelings and sensations that this experience of voluntary homeless and isolation has brought out. It means that either I am willing to experience them in pursuit of my values, or I must re-asses my values or try a different plan. But there is no other plan.  Living off the grid and paying off my student loan debt is the master plan, my end game. So I practice hours of self reflection and compassionate witnessing when emotions or uncomfortable situations arise. When I previously would have called a friend or distracted myself with technology or by sleeping, I instead sit with all my emotions and thoughts, sensations and failures and doubts. Even when I think about where I was a year ago and quiet pain and tears choke me in the night, I stand strong and resolved in witnessing myself as nonjudgementally as possible.  I wait patiently, practice my qi breathing and relaxation techniques until the emotion or thought looses hold and I am able to re-focus.It’s amazing- I feel like every paycheck I make living in my car, represents a vast amount of listlessness, weakness, limiting beliefs and anxiety leaving me forever. So even when I am frustrated and hot, or anxious and uncomfortable, I am getting freer and freer by the week.

It’s amazing how much energy goes into keeping calm in social situations, managing your own emotions and keeping your body healthy. The last month of my lifestyle I have decided to accept the fact that I have so much time on my hands and that many things about life, and my lifestyle are uncomfortable. But by being curious about these items and exercising self reflection and swift action, I know that I am a better and truer version of myself.  Besides, six months is nothing compared to the years of emotional work I am doing now so that I can live authentically and invest all my emotional energy and material resources into my dreams.

This is my new take on minimalism-not just giving up things and living on less, but giving up attachment to emotions and the illusion of control. Being able to process, endure and overcome uncomfortable feelings and sensations in pursuit of the living my dreams.  For me, my quest for truth, freedom and wisdom lays at the intersection of minimalism and emotional and financial independence. I can honestly say it has made for a life worth living.

car_green shade

Writing to you from a library parking lot, under the shade of some trees.

A Few of My un Favorite Things…

I’m tired. It’s been 6 months of car camping and I am utterly exhausted. And it’s not so much from physical exhaustion as it is from mental labor. I never thought about the psychological effects always planning my meals, bathroom breaks, shower, laundry, etc. would have on me. I spend most of my time operating in tunnel vision to maximize efficiency. As a result, my mind is never at rest.  I am constantly strategizing, searching for a way to save time or money or trying to mitigate the loss of either.

For example, when I do laundry it is essential I re-organize my belongings in separate bags, less I want to lose 20 minutes searching for a matching pear of work socks and the correct color undershirt before work.  So I plan outfits the night before and try to place them in my daypack bag. I wear undershirts that allow me to change without exposing the ladies in public. Those undershirts will then transition to night wear when I sleep in my car, and will serve as a shirt when I work out the next morning and use the bathroom at my gym. See how I just saved myself from three awkward clothe changings in a cramped Hyundai Elantra? And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even talked about what I do to keep my technology charged, what it takes to pack everything I sleep with, along with everything I own in my trunk every morning  so it doesn’t look like I am living in my car, where I pee when I’m managing Zoloft withdrawal induced incontinence late at night or how I kill time when I am exhausted but it’s 10 pm and still 80 degrees at night, too hot to sleep in my car. |

These are a few of my UNfavorite things.

a fewofmy UNFavortie things

This should be two thumbs way down, but I needed a hand to take the selfie

It’s a lot for anyone and it takes lots of big adjustments. Even with the budget I realize I go through certain things a lot faster or need a lot more than I anticipate. I feel like I am always buying bottles of water, overusing my data charges, charging my laptop, filling up my car tank or trying to figure out when I should buy new clothes or shoes or stretch things out a little further so I can continue paying 2,000 a month on my student loans. I totally forgot to calculate interest charges on my loans which will add another month onto my journey no matter what. There’s also the extra parking tickets, damages from general wear and tear and toll fees and notices for days. There’s also so many other things that have drastically reduced my quality of life. I don’t eat nearly as much fresh fruit and vegetables as I would like and I’m sure sleeping in semi-comfortable positions is going to wear on my body. I also miss just lounging around, cold water, buying in bulk instead of day to day, and having my own place to entertain company, cook and properly waste time. All of this has added up emotionally and financially. I’m 2 months behind on my journey and I crave simple comforts so much that I have not been adhering to my budget or personal exemptions and rules (more on this later).

And all this on top of everything else. For those of you who have been following along since the Mexico Prelude, you know that this has been and extraordinary year for me. Apart from overcoming unimaginable suffering from a bout of obsessive compulsive disorder triggered by prolonged ssri discontinuation syndrome, I am officially 7 weeks Zoloft free.  Despite my slow self-taper over the last 6 months I don’t think I have escaped scratch free from the throws of my brain attempting to re-calibrate serotonin levels with the aid of medicine. The past few days I have been having radiating pains in my right arm and last night I experienced  joint pain in my fingers. Today I was MUCH more emotional and agitated than usual. To seal the deal I went from hot, to cold, to hot for 3 hours straight. These are all classic ssri withdrawal symptoms. Thank God they aren’t anywhere near what I experienced from cold turkeying before. Nonetheless, its daunting knowing that you could experience a huge mood swing without any preceding event and that the very thing you prize the most, your intelligence and insight, can turn on you in any moment.

I didn’t get a chance to write about it on account of me having limited access to a power source and spending critical time and power blogging about Mexico and applying for second job so I could meet my original timeline, but I reached out to a psychiatrist in attempts of having someone monitor my taper. And so following the recommendation of my AMAZING behavioral therapist, I made an apt with a Doctor who specializes in anxiety disorders and women’s health- the perfect combo to objectively evaluate the depression, anxiety and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder(PMDD) while I tried, yet again, to wean myself off the Zoloft.

We spoke over the phone and I explained to her my history of long term ssri use from the age of 14, to the taper and misdiagnosis of Bi-polar II disorder and discovery of PMDD. I explained my stance on not treating the imbalance, but getting to root of the problem by changing my brain anatomy with behavioral therapy, which has become my entire life with me living in my car and all. She agreed to see me and for a minute I thought my prayers would be answered.

I was wrong. After 45 minutes of re-explaining my history, she agreed that the dose of Zoloft I had been on for 3 months was too low to treat either the depression or OCD  and that the behavioural therapy was making the difference.  But she still recommended I stay on medicine my entire life to reduce the risk of a relapse. I asked her if it was kind of like when you get an infection in your tooth and they pull it immediately instead of treating it with antibiotics, keeping it clean and just monitoring it, so that you can keep your original tooth. She nodded her head and I wanted to scream at her. Did I mention I once had an abscess in my front tooth and a doctor recommended I pull both of my front teeth because they already had crowns from major trauma years before and she thought they were bound to fail at some point? Well I got a second opinion and the other doctor said we should just monitor my teeth because there is nothing as good as the original tooth!

Well I still have my front teeth and haven’t had any issues since. I am vigilant about flossing now, but what if I die with these teeth as the second doctor mentioned was possible? What if I could live a normal life without antidepressants and learn to manage the PMDD with diet, exercise and behavior changes? Don’t I owe it to myself and to my amazing body to try?

These are the things I thought while tears rolled down my cheeks when the psychiatrist said that she would not be able to supervise my taper because I would be going against her medical recommendation and she refused my pleas for just one follow appointment. I even told her I would get back on medicine if the depression or OCD comes back with a vengeance, but she refused and then proceeded to take$500 cash from me. Did I mention behavioral therapists and psychiatrist for OCD in DC don’t take insurance? Essentially I paid $500 for a good cry and a nocebo. That whole experience speaks monuments to the “care” a handful of doctors gave me from the age of 14 when I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar II disorder and begged to not be medicated anymore when I realized a cocktail of powerful medicine was only making me sicker.

But that was 7 weeks ago and now I am writing this to you in my car, utterly exhausted and already scheming how I can sneak into Planet Fitness unnoticed to pee before bed. The gym I usually go to is closed for repairs so I will be in the yeah- I-just-came-in-a-second- ago-and-now-I’m-leaving awkward phase with the new staff for the next week. Maybe I will try to charm them. Highly unlikely though, they will probably just ask me if I have seen the new X-Men movie after I tell them I live in my car. I will probably just walk right in and walk right out and let them sit with their own awkwardness because I’m tired, I’ve been at this for 6 months, and the time for formalities has long since passed.

The Struggle is Real

There is nothing sweeter than the moment before you drift off to sleep in your car. It’s like the world, no the universe stands still. And for a moment it doesn’t matter that I have $21,000 left of student loan debt, or that I live in my car or that I have OCD. For a moment I have made peace with my personal demons and found security in a world surrounded by anxiety, doubt and uncertainty. Enough, that my body could surrender to the Great Mystery and I could journey into the Dream World.

But sometimes, life comes to collect karmic debt, robbing you of your temporary sense of security and stability. And then in an instant you aren’t dreaming, you’ve woken up and you’re startled  because there is a tow truck shining it’s light on you, and you’re so tired you think you are being abducted by aliens. The scene was something out of a well done ‘Fire in the Sky’ re-make and needless to say, I was literally shaking in my sleeping bag.

The awkwardness that followed would have been enough to make anyone second guess why on Earth anyone would decide to give everything up and live in their car. I was asleep and it was hot so I was in a tank top with no bra. I had no socks on and my flip flops had carelessly been thrown in the backseat abyss. I struggled to find a jacket to cover myself and find some shoes while a middle aged black man stared at me from the driver’s side of his vehicle.

After 30 seconds of awkwardness that felt like an eternity I turned my car on, rolled down the window and greeted the stranger with a sort of disinterested, I don’t give a f**k but I’m actually having an anxiety attack on the inside, look. As soon as he spoke I felt a little bit of relief- he was a brother and understood I was living in my car. He said some of the businesses noticed I was sleeping in my car and they weren’t too happy about it. He said he wasn’t going to tow me, but suggested I move my car down the way to the nearby car repair shop.

At this point I made some grumbling noises and mumbled thank you before leaving. I wish I had asked some better questions like “did you take down my information, which business called, when did you receive the call?”, but I was still half way asleep and so surprised I had a tough time finding the right words.

A little back story before I continue: I was trying out a new spot with less light pollution (more on that devil later) since the spot I usually park at was occupied, and my number two spot was compromised by the repairmen working late into the night. I knew I was pretty exposed and could see the cameras pointing right at me, but I was never there during business hours and I figured they wouldn’t care. Plus it was SO wonderful to not have the streetlights beating down on me when I tried to sleep that I figured it was worth the risk.

After the gentlemen left I half angrily and anxiously drove near my old car repair spot- of course they were slaving away at 11:15 at night. I sighed realizing I would have to drive to my number 4 spot which was a good 6 miles away and MUCH further from where I parked my car daily. After texting a girlfriend and some positive self talk, I drove to the other 24 hour gym and settled on a dark street lane adjacent to a grocery store. There was a trucker pulled off, which is a pretty good indicator of a safe tow free zone.

By the time I was settled and ready for bed, nearly and hour and a half had passed and it was passed 1 am. Exhausted and still shaking from shock, I snuggled into my bed and fell asleep- thankful to have avoided a costly tow and completely over this whole car camping thing.

As soon as I woke up the next morning I realized two things. One, I needed to blog about this to my followers and two I needed to fast track my tumbling weed journey. If I was going to pay off my student loans I needed to get a second job and fast track my journey to housing. I hadn’t realized until the tow that living in my car is awesome and interesting, but it’s all messy, cramped and stressful too. And despite how good it feels to drop $2K a month on my student loans, living in your car is a struggle. The little things like getting dressed, keeping hydrated, the changing weather and staying powered up and connected can be exhausting. Up until this event I hadn’t realized how stressed and burned out I had become over the last month. It had been nearly 2 weeks since my last home cooked meal and four weeks since I slept on a real bed. Plus I had been getting careless about my budget, splurging where I wanted and not rotating my parking spots. Did I mention I also had a careless teeny-weeny fender bender?

Clearly, the struggle is real and the tow situation was a wake up call. No more cutting corners. No more easy does it. More more lazy slacker. It’s time to dig in, buckle up and re-commit because I am only halfway there and if I am going to make it to December without incident, I need to re-commit.

So this is me officially re-committing. And with you followers as my witness, I WILL overcome my current feelings of apathy, agitation and exhaustion to see this thing through. My financial well-being and sense of freedom very well depend on it.