Sunday, August 14, 2016

My OCD and me got a Tattoo

"The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in."


This is from a poem I read ten years ago. This is from a poem that inspired a tattoo two years ago when I wrote the words "invite them in" with eyeliner, as skillfully as a layman can, on my inner bicep.

This is from a poem that as of yesterday, I have tattooed on my arm.

It reminds me to let all of my emotions hangout in their guestrooms. And two years ago, many of the guests had questions about the prospect of getting a tattoo:

What if I regret it?
What if I can't tolerate the pain?
What if I contract a disease? 


Pretty standard. The guests permitted a consult with an artist. However, the consult was not a good experience and the idea was shelved--until I picked up my eyeliner again a few months later.

The new guests asked "what if I'm allergic?" followed by "what if there's carcinogens in the ink?" They insisted upon fear-mongering research. The fear of an allergic reaction festered the most because of my sensitive skin, not to mention my skin's ability of once turning a mosquito bite into a pyogenic granuloma.

I consulted with a few people who likely meant well but their responses fed the guests more sustenance. The idea was placed back on the shelf until just a few months ago when I stumbled across a local apprentice's work and fell in love with her dainty, crisp lines. If I was going to take a chance on all my fears, it was going to be with her

But first things first: write a novel of questions to the shop owner about safety concerns. A mere sampling:


When do the needles expire?
Is the shop blood borne pathogen certified?
(They are! But I'm pretty confident this is not a standard question).

Before I knew it, the deposit was out of my pocket and my appointment was booked.


I became what felt like the client from hell in the days leading up to my appointment. 


Was the font loopy enough? 
Too loopy? 
Too big? 
Too small? 

I took comfort in knowing that my inspiration photos held steady for two years but making my vision a reality was both agonizing and exciting. Agonizing when I had printouts of tentative versions taped onto my arm. Exciting when we did a test run of the stencil the night before and realized all that was left was to enlarge it slightly.

Things become agonizing again a few hours later when I went to wash off the stencil. It. Wasn't. Coming. Off.

Yes, it faded. But I wanted it gone.

What if the longer I waited, the harder it would be to get off? 

What if it interferes with the placement of tomorrow's stencil?
What if this results in me regretting the placement?
What if I can't tell whether I like the stencil?

I tried soap, makeup removers, an acne face wash, argon oil--whatever the bathroom supplied. It was tenacious, that stencil.  I then grabbed a washcloth and scrubbed. I scrubbed so vigorously that I popped a few blood vessels and was left with a burning arm. This sent my OCD into a tailspin.

What if the broken blood vessels mess up the tattoo process? 

What if it doesn't heal properly? 
What if I end up with a deformed arm? 
What if it warps the shape of the tattoo? 
What if they don't know the answer to my concern? 
What if they are wrong? 
How could I have scrubbed like that? 
Why didn't I take the stencil off right away?

I could fix this. I could heal it with lotion. I would apply enough to cure it overnight. 


I was advised by various people, "wait and see what it looks like in the morning."

I looked at it at 6am. The popped vessels were still visible. I sent photos to friends, featuring a zoomed in version and a bonus collage comparing the status from night to morning.

"Melanie I don't even see anything."
 

"Melanie I wouldn't worry about it."

Too late. Already saw it. Already worried.

I was in a panic and felt an urgency to analyze the situation incessantly. The tattoo was in a few hours. 


It wasn't until a friend connected me with a tattoo artist who not only has tattoos but has OCD as well. He brought me to a point where I felt I had the facts. I was able to see that the OCD had commandeered my excitement. I was back. But not without anxiety

On the drive to my appointment, I oriented my friend Krista to the location of my juice and snacks in case I felt faint. I reviewed my notes with her--questions to ask, things for her to remind me of. I informed her that I had a poncho stuffed in my purse in case I became cold or started shaking.

I wanted any control I could still hold onto. But once we arrived, I knew I had to start loosening my grip. I had to be calm. I had to be calm despite not getting a good night's rest or eating a hearty meal as I had researched to do prior to a tattoo. I asked my rigmarole of what felt like painstakingly embarrassing questions, knowing that as each question was answered, I had to let up on my grip.

Laying down on the table was like a ceremonial surrender. But fear quickly found a way to join me in the experience. 

What if I flinch and ruin the tattoo as a result? 
What if I get startled and move?
 

I used that fear as motivation to keep still and to squeeze Krista's hand when it hurt. 
  

They say a tattoo feels like a cat scratch on a sunburn. I haven't experienced that. So if someone asks me what it feels like, I'll say that it's not as bad as vigorously rubbing a washcloth repeatedly over an area of skin until it's red and burning.

But what hurt more than anything else was the anticipatory anxiety. Yet it was also that familiar feeling that helped me commit to my decision to proceed with getting a tattoo


I know anticipatory anxiety will return, being the frequent flyer that it is. But when it does, I'll know what to do.

Day of tattoo. Shiny bandage. Fierce.




Wednesday, August 3, 2016

For a friend I believe in

Doe eyes, 
like a glaze of sadness. 

She can put on the face of a deer in headlights. 
She can play the role,
she can get the part.

The part they groomed her to be, 

the part where perfectionism takes centre stage, 
while her heart, the understudy,

beats beneath the glaze.





Tuesday, August 2, 2016

From Resentment to Magic: my 3rd OCD conference #OCDcon

I considered skipping the International OCD Foundation's annual conference this year. Initially, I thought I learned what I needed from the previous two conferences I had under my belt. My confidence was short-lived after a driving trigger that left me feeling like I had started over from scratch. I felt resentment towards the treatment for OCD, resentment towards the professionals treating OCD, resentment towards the creation of vehicles.

A professional told me that I had to work on the hit-and-run OCD as it would just morph into another form. I didn't like the answer. I asked another professional: same answer. I asked a third professional: same answer.

It wasn't until a friend posed the question to me, "but couldn't OCD impact you just walking from point A to B?"

"Of course not!" 

But then a light bulb went off. My mind took me back to a few years ago when walking down a sidewalk was stressful, back to a time when peripheral vision felt like a curse, a time when I would doubt whether or not I had caught a glimpse of blood or a body part or a person, whether dead or on the verge of death. It was a time when I wish I could have worn blinders when going for a walk so I wouldn't have to retrace my steps and check to ensure 911 didn't have to be called.

My mind also took me back to when I wasn't driving but felt triggered as a passenger, again with that damn peripheral vision thinking I saw bodies along the road, back to when glancing at a body of water as a passenger had me doubting whether or not I saw someone drowning.

The question, "but couldn't OCD impact you just walking from point A to B?" took me back to these memories I had somehow forgotten. It really wasn't about the driving. My views towards the OCD community softened. I drove all over town solo after that conversation with my friend. I felt like an absolute rock star, until it became scary again. 

Sure, walking and being a passenger in a vehicle had previously triggered my OCD but the amount of anxiety never compared to what I felt when triggered by hit-and-run OCD. 

But I finally saw the logic. I finally saw that even though hit-and-run OCD may be one of the types I deem the scariest, I realized that with enough time and enough avoidance, something else could fill its shoes.

And with that, it was time for my third conference where magic happens--the magic of my adrenaline kicking in, making late nights and early mornings a piece of cake; the magic of the extroverted side of myself coming out in full force; the magic of travelling with a friend who was a first-time attendee after a recent diagnosis of OCD; the magic of the workshops continuing to empower me with the tools I need to live with this illness; the magic of reuniting with friends and the needy texts to and from one another each and every day ("let's meet here;" "come visit in Jonny's penthouse," (not really a penthouse); "you're triggered? We'll be right there."); the magic of meeting a new friend all the way from Shanghai; the magic of knowing we'll do this again in 2017 in San Francisco. 
...the magic of the five of us.

From Resentment to Magic: my 3rd OCD conference #OCDcon

I considered skipping the International OCD Foundation's annual conference this year. Initially, I thought I learned what I needed from the previous two conferences I had under my belt. My confidence was short-lived after a driving trigger that left me feeling like I had started over from scratch. I felt resentment towards the treatment for OCD, resentment towards the professionals treating OCD, resentment towards the creation of vehicles.

A professional told me that I had to work on the hit-and-run OCD as it would just morph into another form. I didn't like the answer. I asked another professional: same answer. I asked a third professional: same answer.

It wasn't until a friend posed the question to me, "but couldn't OCD impact you just walking from point A to B?"

"Of course not!" 

But then a light bulb went off. My mind took me back to a few years ago when walking down a sidewalk was stressful, back to a time when peripheral vision felt like a curse, a time when I would doubt whether or not I had I caught a glimpse of blood or a body part or a person, whether dead or on the verge of death. It was a time when I wish I could have worn blinders when going for a walk so I wouldn't have to retrace my steps and check to ensure 911 didn't have to be called.

My mind also took me back to when I wasn't driving but felt triggered as a passenger, again with that damn peripheral vision thinking I saw bodies along the road, back to when glancing at a body of water as a passenger had me doubting whether or not I saw someone drowning.

The question, "but couldn't OCD impact you just walking from point A to B?" took me back to these memories I had somehow forgotten. It really wasn't about the driving. My views towards the OCD community softened. I drove all over town solo after that conversation with my friend. I felt like an absolute rock star, until it became scary again. 

Sure, walking and being a passenger in a vehicle had previously triggered my OCD but the amount of anxiety never compared to what I felt when triggered by hit-and-run OCD. 

But I finally saw the logic. I finally saw that even though hit-and-run OCD may be one of the types I deem the scariest, I realized that with enough time and enough avoidance, something else could fill its shoes.

And with that, it was time for my third conference where magic happens--the magic of my adrenaline kicking in, making late nights and early mornings a piece of cake; the magic of the extroverted side of myself coming out in full force; the magic of travelling with a friend who was a first-time attendee after a recent diagnosis of OCD; the magic of the workshops continuing to empower me with the tools I need to live with this illness; the magic of reuniting with friends and the needy texts to and from one another each and every day ("let's meet here;" "come visit in Jonny's penthouse," (not really a penthouse); "you're triggered? We'll be right there."); the magic of meeting a new friend all the way from Shanghai; the magic of knowing we'll do this again in 2017 in San Francisco. 
...the magic of the five of us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An end to the "I'm so OCD" Trend

OCD is not a meme.
It's 3 letters that should be seen,
for the reality 
of what can feel like tragedy. 

"I'm so OCD."

Self-proclamations knock me to my knees.
An injustice to the torment,
the terrorizing dread.
You don’t recognize its breadth.

"I'm so OCD."

Said with such glee,
thrown on like an accessory. 

While there's me, 
an uninterrupted factory,
custom orders of fear and guilt, 
stitched together like a quilt.

That's my accessory. 

Let’s make a trade. 
Maybe then you’ll be swayed,
and realize the adjective needs to be slayed.

Try it on for size,
think of all that dies. 
Try on being a pawn,
think of everything that could go wrong. 
Wrap my quilt around you,
let it concoct its brew. 

Breathe in the suffocation, 
exhale the damnation. 
The castration

of hope. 

A slippery slope.
Am I out of your scope?

“I’m so OCD.”

Is it still your choice accessory?

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Silver Lining of OCD: Experimenting with Fiction

A brief tutorial before the fictional short story that follows:


Harm OCD takes various forms. An example is a person with OCD who feels it is their responsibility to protect people from items they think might cause others harm.  No, I'm not talking about seeing a used syringe and taking the appropriate safety precautions to dispose of it. I'm talking about something like a small rock. Seeing a small rock on the pavement could lead to catastrophic thinking for someone with this form of OCD. Their mind might race to thoughts like, "Is that rock sharp? What if it has jagged edges? What if someone kicks it and it hits them in the eye? What if they go blind? I have to move the rock. It will be my fault if I don't move the rock." OCD doesn't care about logic. It wants you to worry and take action to keep it satisfied. 



Waves and the stereotypical surfer are home to Venice Beach. Before you hit the boardwalk, I promise you'll spot the blonde locks and accompanying wet suit. At least that was my introduction to Venice.  That, and a man in a parka, winter boots and fur hat--everything needed for a hike in Alaska. Or you might spot the vendor with his dog wearing a bikini with wads of dollar bills tucked under the strings. Just make sure you have bills of your own if you want a snapshot of the circus. 


Walk a bit further and you'll be asked if you'd like a marijuana medical card, further still and you'll be offered a free copy of a rapper's demo. Say no to both. Keep walking, past the smell of sweat from muscle beach, and maybe you'll spot what I did: Demon Dream Catcher, sprawled across a dilapidated sign in chicken scratch. 


When you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, anything that might rope it in and catch it in its netting was intriguing. Was this the spider web of Venice Beach? Was this where OCD would go to die?

An elderly woman dressed in a burgundy robe sat upright in a rocking chair with a tin of colourful yarn resting on her lap. If this was another photo op, she sure could have taken note from the Alaskan. 


An abandoned sun hat embroidered with gemstones lay on the pathway separating the two of us. I kicked it onto the nearby grass, trying to be inconspicuous to avoid questioning of my motives. 


After all, according to my therapist, I shouldn't have kicked the sun hat aside. I should have left it on the pathway and accepted the uncertainty of whether someone might trip on it and break a bone. Or worse, get concussed and die. It would be my fault. Rationally, I knew I couldn't protect everyone. Rationally, I knew I couldn't keep taking an extra hour walking home from work while I kicked aside a pebble here, a stone there.  Let's not even get started on the day I found a shard of glass.

The woman peered at me with her eyes squinted, "Dream catcher for demon. Ten dollars. Cash only.”


Would her mess of yarn be enough to tangle OCD into oblivion? I was working diligently, or not so diligently, with a therapist.

Ten dollars it was. 


She requested I close my eyes. Why? So she could pickpocket me? 


She sensed my hesitation and peered deeper. I decided the table between us would protect me from theft. Closed eyes it was. 


I listened to her shuffling around. I figured she must be grabbing an assembled dream catcher from under her table. I mentally prepared to act surprised when she presented it to me, knowing her tin can of yarn was all a ruse. 


"Open." 


That was it? Shouldn't her ruse have taken enough time to be plausible?


Regardless, I did as I was told and saw the sun hat sitting in front of me on her table. The yarn, untouched. No dream catcher. Just the hat.


I swallowed the lump in my throat as she smiled, “you know what to do."

Funny thing was, I did. It was like she had embodied my therapist (if he wore a burgundy robe and sat in a rocking chair, that is.) He would tell me to undo the compulsion: put the hat back on the boardwalk. 


But this wasn't my therapist. This wasn't even a dream catcher.

I studied the sun hat more carefully. The hustle and bustle of Venice would make it easy for an innocent tourist to trip over it among the sea of feet. The hat's gemstones had sharp edges. Someone could get cut and become infected. Maybe the sun hat itself was infected. Maybe it was infected with lice. I couldn't touch it. But I couldn’t let anyone else touch it. They would get lice. Tourists would spend their trip combing through their scalps, never to return to the home of stereotypical surfers. 


The mysterious woman abruptly grabbed my hand and placed it on the hat and together we threw it into the swarming tourists.

And with that, she settled back into her rocker, placed the tin can onto her lap and nudged me to continue down the boardwalk.

So I walked, convinced I had heatstroke. Heatstroke could lead to hallucinations, right? I needed to find WiFi and learn the symptoms. I needed water. I didn't trust myself. I had discarded a dangerous sun hat onto a walkway with a stranger. I had to go back. I had to return and throw it out. I could stop and buy gloves. I knew I was giving in to the compulsion. I didn't care. Broken bones, concussions, infections and lice awaited the tourists. It was up to me to protect them.


Except the chicken scratch sign wasn't there when I returned. How much time had gone by? I asked the nearby busker when the woman had left.


"Who? What burgundy robe? Rocking chair? Sweetie, this space beside me is prime real estate. No one's snatched it up yet. I do my yoga there. It's just a matter of time before the space is taken. You're not interested, are you?"


I walked back home in a daze. I needed to get home. I would be able to make sense of what happened once I got home. Once I had a chance to sit down, I would be able to think and figure it out. I would research the symptoms of heatstroke and find an explanation.

Until I reached down to take off my shoes and saw the piece of yarn.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Relentless Side of OCD

I was recently triggered by my hit-and-run OCD. No. That doesn't begin to describe it. OCD recently crushed my soul.

It's incredibly isolating and depressing. I feel like a murderer who got away with a heinous crime. I have the urge to turn myself in but over what? A "feeling" of hitting someone, a "sense" that I ran someone over.

Cop: where did it happen?
It didn't.
Cop: what did you do?
I didn't do anything. Arrest me just in case?

The feelings are so intense that they make me doubt myself. Maybe the feelings are right. Maybe they're on to something. Maybe something did happen. Maybe I don't remember.

Then the urge to figure it out saunters in:

Just think, Melanie. Just replay the situation over in your mind so you can know for sure that you're not a murderer.

Then logic pipes in its two cents:

Don't do it. It's a compulsion. You know it. Don't give in.

So I surrender to feelings of indescribable heartache.

I used to feel this way regularly. Before treatment, my hit and run OCD was so bad that I'd find myself in these states close to anytime I drove. And they would linger for weeks. That's why I had stopped driving altogether.

I've since learned that avoiding driving just fuelled the disorder. I've been driving for quite some time and doing well. So this low is especially demoralizing.

This low has found me in a state of despair. I don't have the words to begin to articulate what it feels like. I worry that people will read this with rationality and fail to understand. I also fear that people will think I did actually kill someone.

OCD leads back to OCD.

This is what I did as a teenager - poured out my emotions as they came. Am I seeking attention? Am I calling out for help? Will I regret this?

OCD leads back to OCD.

Writing this isn't doing much in the cathartic department. My theory returns that ultimately we are all alone. It's not reasonable to expect someone to save you. Everyone is already trying to save themselves. No one is coming to my rescue. That's just how it works.

What does it take to have someone cradle you in their arms for hours and let you sob because nothing makes sense? There's no formula to achieve this. We all want to be loved. But it won't happen because people help when it's convenient for them. It won't happen because it's not realistic to expect that from someone.

These are the states you're alone in.