4 Weeks to the Finish Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now the existential stuff….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#GetYourselfFree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 7 weeks to go.

Twice I Cried Today

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Residents who walked their dogs casually or rode their bikes through the streets, appearing to not thinking twice about the heat.
  3. 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.

 

 

 

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.

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.