Second Chances

I believe very much that most people deserve a second chance at things. But for the most part it never happens cause that’s just not the way the world rolls. But something very interesting is happening tomorrow and it really began many, many years ago.

Over fifteen years ago (gah!) two friends showed up on my front porch. It must have been a weekend because it was the middle of the day when we normally would have been in school. I remember them both, C and H, on my porch, a car with more of my friends waiting at the curb. We had tickets to go see a movie and we were all really, really excited. I was excited to but overwhelming my excitement was a great, welling fear. The fear that if I left my house something terrible would happen to the ones I was leaving behind. My mom and younger siblings would be dead when I arrived home after the movie and if I had just stayed home it wouldn’t have happened!

It was my senior year in high school. My OCD, something I’d lived all my life, was out of control. Two new things had cropped up suddenly. I didn’t know their names then but I do now: panic disorder and agoraphobia.

My friend H had called about fifteen minutes ago, letting me know they were on their way. I had hung up, my fake cheerful smile stricken from my face,  and I ran to the bathroom and vomited copiously into the toilet. I hung there, hands on my knees, half sobbing. Snot was dangling from my nose, tears streaming from my open but unseeing eyes. I was covered in sweat, could feel it streaming down my back in that hot, unventilated bathroom but I was shaking from a cold that seemed to seep outward from my blood. My bones felt like water and then suddenly like shards of glass. My heart was beating so fast it felt as if it were going to tear itself apart. My chest suddenly felt too small for my lungs. My inhaled breaths felt swampy and fetid, not giving me the oxygen I was gasping for. I threw up twice more in quick succession, flushing when my stomach was finally empty. In that bathroom with the toilet that often clogged, faded linoleum tan on the floor, wallpaper a pale beige with flowers. I took my glasses off, folding and carefully placing them in my pocket, and washed my face with hot water over and over until the tears stopped. I could breath now and took a few quick breaths through my nose. I dried my face with an old  scratchy blue washcloth that I hated. Then I carefully replaced my glasses and regarded my reflection in the mirror. As usual the reflection seemed a stranger. It was a bit peaky around the eyes, red and a bit swimmy. But I had bad allergies and my glasses were almost half a  year old, badly in need of replacement but the insurance company didn’t agree. All my friends knew I’d read myself completely red eyed and into an intense headache before giving up my beloved books. I tried that thing, that thing were you pull up the corners of your mouth and show a bit of your teeth. The smile looked pretty convincing but of course it did. I’d been working on it for about a decade.

I didn’t look like I’d been throwing up into an old toilet just a few minutes ago. I didn’t look like a nightmare scenario was on repeat in my head. Every bloody, violent torture it could conjure crisp and clear and visited upon my loved ones. I didn’t look like my chest felt three sizes too small. I didn’t look like my bones felt like a million shards of cutting ice. I looked like I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep, deep raccoon rings under my eyes. But those dark half circles were normal to me anyway. I would sacrifice sleep for a good book. It was a running joke. No snot or vomit on my t-shirt.  I looked at my smiling face and the doorbell rang. I left the bathroom, called to my mom that it was my friends, and answered the door. C and H stood there, ready to go. I smiled something felt weird and said “Sorry guys. My stomachs acting up again.”

I think they argued gently with me, conjoling me to come along. I don’t remember what I said but I shook my head a lot, with that weird feeling smile on my face. I simply couldn’t go. They all knew I was having stomach problems. I’d been missing a lot of school lately to go to all kinds of doctors. I still had a band-aid on the inside of my elbow from a blood draw the day before. I simply couldn’t go, so sorry, not feeling well, can’t chance it, cannot go. They left with odd looks on their faces that I didn’t even try to understand.

I closed the door, locking it and checking it as was my compulsion. I went to my bedroom and laid on my bed facing the wall. I think my mom said something to me but I can’t remember what it was or if I replied. My memories of this day are very clear before closing the front door as my friends walked away. After that things are very hazy for a long, long time and I stayed in that haze, knowing something was terribly wrong with me but no longer caring.

My mouth opened and I said “Sorry guys. My stomachs acting up again.” What I was really saying was “I’m done fighting. The fear wins. I’m not leaving.” And I wouldn’t leave that house, my childhood home, for any reason except school for the rest of the year. My friends stopped asking me to go out and I drifted farther and farther into the hazy abyss where I allowed fear to control my every decisions. Where my bones felt so heavy I could hardly hold myself up and words were just too difficult to put together.

The movie we were going to see was Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The first movie of his I’d seen was Princess Mononoke. I recorded it on VHS and watched it over and over, as many times as I could. Sitting in the closet of my old room, my both my sisters asleep in the main room. That tiny TV with the VCR plugged in, the volume low enough so that it wouldn’t wake them but just barely loud enough for me to hear if my face were close enough to that little TV. I wanted nothing more than to see Spirited Away on the big screen. Imagine Miyazaki-senpai’s vision larger than life!

My fear was not greater than my earnest, heart felt desire to see Spirited Away. I just had nothing left within me to fight. None of the adults around me seemed to see anything. My friends knew something was up but had no more power than me. What I remember more than the fear as I lay on my narrow twin mattress that afternoon so many years ago was a deep, acidic loathing for myself. That I could just let that stupid, pointless, untrue fear stop my life. Another part of me, a deep, unfeeling thing told that loathing that there was nothing left. I had fought and fought and fought and I could not win. Not only could I not win, no one was coming to my rescue. I had reached out as much as I could. People couldn’t hear me, couldn’t see what was happening.

“There is nothing left,” Apathy said calmly, surely. “I hate you,” Loathing replied. “That is a waste of time,” Apathy rejoined and then things inside me went far away and unimportant for about two years.

Fast-forward fifteen years into the future and I have a ticket for Spirited Away tomorrow evening. I own it on DVD, along with Howl’s Moving Castle which I got to see in a theatre in California when it first came out. And of course I have my first love, Princess Mononoke, which I will watch when I finish this post. But here is that elusive second chance. A chance to tell agoraphobia and depression that they don’t control me anymore. I know their names and I know their faces and that makes me mighty.

But, like my recent Pokemon pickup, I am very nervous and so very excited. I love to go to the movies. And this is a unique chance. Or at least it feels to me like it is. So I’ll wear one of my graphic t-shirts that make me feel braver than I actually am. Probably my Shingeki no Kyojin scout’s shirt. It is not part of my routine and it will leave me exhausted. But I will be elated and exhausted and the people I am going with understand that.

More than anything, the pills, the therapy, brave t-shirts, fidget toys, stimming, knowing my friends understand what I am going through makes me feel strong. I understand it too and I know how to speak so that others can hear my struggles. I can reach them now, even if my hands are shaking and sweaty. They will know. And they will help.

And to anyone else who is going! If you have a 3DS take it along with you in sleep mode. Getting street passes is always a fun bonus.

Socalizing

Everyone has their strengths and weakness. With me the things I’m good at I’m spooky good at. The things I’m bad at I’m miserably bad at. There is no in-between or gray area when it comes to my skills. It is black or white. This is very common in pervasive developmental disorders and was one of the defining characteristics in testing that would lead to my diagnosis.

I’m good with technology. My dad has fixed computers for years and I used to hang around him, picking up knowledge. Computers are fun and exciting. All those pieces put together and you can play a game that takes you to another world or talk to someone on the other side of this world. When I lived in the dorms the other girls would bring me their laptops whenever something went wrong. I’d charge a minimal fee or trade for the kinds of things you want in a dorm (toilet paper, non-cafeteria food, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, quarters of the washer and dryer, etc). All the girls knew who to come to for technological help but I didn’t make a single friend. Despite the fact that people were often coming by my room I didn’t learn anything about them. And I had  no idea why. I wasn’t surprised by this failure. I was pretty used to it actually. Social reject began as early as kindergarten for me. I have two friends these days. One I’ve known since junior high and the other I met my second semester in college. I had more friends in high school but once we scattered after graduation I lost them. Without the commonality of being at the same school and in the same classes I just didn’t know how to keep a friendship going.

It wasn’t until I had spent a very lonely three months far from home that I asked my childhood friend, R, about my social failures. She said that I seemed rude, dismissive, and short with people. She said I seemed disinterested and would say odd, sometimes bizarre things. She said I never made eye contact. I was closed off and emotionally distant. She knew I wasn’t really uninterested and that I did care deeply but it took a lot of work/time/proximity to get the real me. In other words, I was a hard nut to crack. Also, I spent so much time alone in my room reading and playing video games. How was I supposed to make friends if I was never around people?

So I decided I was going to try. I started eating my cafeteria dinner in the dorm common room when I knew other girls would gather as a group to watch a particular show on the common TV. I knew nothing about the show and thought that asking questions about it would be a good way to get a conversation going. I listened intently as the other girls explained the characters and plot lines. They seemed to enjoy teaching me the ins and outs of the program. I made sure to smile a lot and look at people’s faces (not the eyes though) to show I was paying attention. The show was Project Runway which consisted mainly of one thing I hate (interpersonal drama) and one thing that bores me to the point of drooling (fashion). So maybe I needed to find a group that watched a show I was interested in. I like procedural cop shows (Law and Order), documentaries, cooking shows, horror films, and anime.

When I learned another group of girls met informally on a different night to watch Supernatural I thought, “Yes! These are my people.” But even then I simply couldn’t seem to connect with anyone. That barrier (that same old social barrier) was between me and them. I didn’t know how to break through it. I never knew what it was I should say, when I should say it, or how to keep a conversation going. Beyond my socializing problems, the sounds of the TV, the sounds of chatter, the florescent lights in the common room, and the mingling smells of food and perfume were too much for me. Eventually I just stopped going to join the others. I had never had much success socially (at school or my job) and it seemed like college was going to more of the same.