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.

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.