My Brain and I

7 May

Have you ever had that feeling, like there’s some major ephineny brewing in the back of your mind?  It’s like there’s this cloud of understanding just behind your eyes, biding its time.  I don’t know if it was last weekend’s Supermoon, the reactions to Thursday’s “Why You Can’t Pay For Me,” something that I’m reading, the fact that I’m writing on my book again, or the intuition that I seem to have inherited from my mother (and which terrifies me when it’s right), but I’ve been feeling like this for several days now.

And it’s really starting to bug me, you know?

I mean, my brain and I have been at odds with each other since I was 8, and it suddenly decided that the world needed to be counted and alphabetized.  We’ve reached an uneasy truce in the last two years, in which I will not feed my body wheat and my brain will not keep me awake at night, but sometimes that peace doesn’t hold.

OCD is like my own personal alarm system- alerting me to something stressful in my life that I need to deal with.  It’s hard to miss when you realize you know exactly how many letters and words (and punctuation marks and spaces) are on a page, but you have no idea what any of it actually said.  The inability to sleep or sit still are pretty good hints too.  When I start wondering if I have any Xanax left, I know things are bad.

For the record, I don’t take medication for my OCD.  I have tried it.  I took Lexapro, an anti-anxiety drug, for four years in college.  It did absolutely nothing.  Xanax didn’t work either- it just put me into a restless sleep for a few hours at a time.  I still counted, I still did the same things over and over, and I still don’t quite know how I made it to graduation.  I learned how to cope, and even how to tell my brain to stop to a certain extent, but I never really got it all to shut off.  It was only after I went gluten-free in grad school that I saw a major difference.  I felt better, so I slept better, so I had far less exhaustion-related anxiety.  I could tell my brain to stop, and it’d actually listen.  I felt in control of my own brain for the first time, and it was wonderful.

Now when I feel the anxiety creeping back in, and I find myself counting or alphabetizing the words on a page, it terrifies me.  I’m afraid of slipping back into that world of uncertainty, scared that I won’t be able to find my way back out of it.  I hated being on medication- having to make sure I had my pills with me if I was traveling, having to report it to judgmental doctors at the college clinic, having to sit in the therapist’s waiting room for a refill and feeling the eyes of others on me as they tried to figure out what was wrong with me, and having roommates that would ask me if I’d taken my meds every time I did something out of the ordinary.  I’d try to laugh it all off, but I hated every minute of every day, knowing that all that stood between me and a full-fledged panic attack was a tiny blue pill.

Oh, and it didn’t stop the panic attacks either.  I still had those, in the form of night terrors.  I’d wake up, panicked and unsure of my surroundings, paralyzed with an unknown fear, unable to catch my breath or reach my bottle of pills.  I’d be afraid to fall asleep for nights afterward, which only made my anxiety worse.

I work hard every day to keep myself from sliding back into that dark world of anxiety and irrational fear.  I keep busy so my brain never has idle time to think up new concerns.  I’ve learned how to cope with sudden changes, and how to be more proactive.  I keep up on the latest theories and treatments of OCD, and I read every single ingredient label on everything I eat.  It all keeps my OCD in check, and I don’t need to remember to take a pill every day to do it.  Every day that I go without melting down or feeling like I’m losing control is a victory, and some days it’s a hard-fought victory.

You’re probably wondering why I’m revealing all of this on so public of a forum.  After all, most of this is stuff I’ve never told to anyone else.  But a good friend, after reading Thursday’s blog post, asked me if maybe I should consider friendships as a type of job.  They take just as much regular time and effort, and the payout is being surrounded by people who care about you.  It was a very interesting thought, and it came right on the heels of another interesting conversation.

Two of my friends on Twitter and I had just discussed social anxiety and how the internet can provide a safe place to learn how to make friends (note- I said “can,” not “does.”  The Internet isn’t all sunshine and dandelions, I know this).  One Twitter friend was shocked to find out that another Twitter friend and I both struggled with real life interactions, but had grown more comfortable with real people since joining Twitter or other social network sites.  The truth is, I’ve always felt more at home on the internet, like I’m more accepted here than in real life.  It might seem backwards, and probably has a lot to do with being a part of Generation Y, but there it is.  Internet: you’re my kind of people.

So there you have it.  The story of my war with my brain, all laid out in a nice even number of words (WordPress provides that- I swear).  I hope this helps you understand a little bit more about me, why I don’t mind working five jobs, why I have to force myself to make friends with corporeal people, why I over think everything, why I don’t eat anything with gluten, and why my monthly budget is an Excel spreadsheet with seven tabs and five color-coded and cross-referenced data tables.  (Don’t believe me?  Behold.)

OCD- you can’t make this kind of crazy up.

The green is my ideal budget, where everything is paid according to my maximum monthly income.  The red is my monthly budget prioritized in order of importance, the yellow is my income tracking, the purple is a copy of the red, the orange is which account each amount goes into, and the gray is my savings ledger.  I have copies of monthly budgets back to January, a tab for proposed budgets as my income (hopefully, eventually) grows, and a tab for contingencies (ie- huge financial events, emergency funds, etc).  This document is where my OCD gets free reign.  I’d probably have more color-coded tables, but the MS Excel color palette is a bit lacking.  In any case, you get the point (and a free look at my finances).  Sometimes, you have to find ways to let the crazy out so the pressure doesn’t make you explode.


Huh, turns out there was an epiphany in there after all.


13 Responses to “My Brain and I”

  1. Allison May 8, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    I bet reading your story will resonate with and help a lot of people. Hugs.

  2. Becky May 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    You never know what someone else is going through, always let kindness be our default position.

    As far as social media — it was left me heartbroken on more than one occasion. Friends there can leave us without the much needed face-to-face. And, I’d have to add, in my opinion I think having a face-to-face (or at least phone-to-phone) conversation can save many friendships.

    But, I digress!
    Excellent post my friend!

    • Losing My Cents May 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Thanks Becky! (Now that I’ve freed you from moderation limbo…:)

      • Becky May 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

        Also… let me add. You’re incredibly beautiful and charming in real 3d life. When I first learned I had anxiety disorder last year, I felt very much like an outcast. I thought the people I cared about would view me differently, and some did. But then many friends told me their stories and I was like, “wait a minute… you too?” it felt great, it helped my healing. So… you’re brave to share your story.

  3. j May 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Looking at your budget spreadsheets and thinking about how I avoid all budget thoughts all the time, and – as much as possible – all spreadsheets as well… I wonder if I have the opposite of OCD. Or maybe I just have financial phobias…

    If you haven’t, you should read Jenny Lawsons, LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED. She’s hilarious, but also, there is so much you’ll relate to. There were times when I’d be reading and I’d feel an almost literal hum inside of unexpected resonance. Another example of feeling less alone because we share our stories.


    • Losing My Cents May 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      I’ve gotten no less than ten requests from readers asking for help with their own budgets- and one or two of them were actually serious. Haha.

      The Bloggess’ book is on order from the bookstore, and as soon as it arrives, it will be placed at the top of the reading list. I adore her blog, and loved her post on her own struggles with anxiety.

  4. cindy May 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Good for you for associating panic attacks/OCD w/ diet. Watch out for preservatives fact, best to eat no processed food.. My husband discovered the same thing years ago..connection between diet & panic.. Best of luck!

    • Losing My Cents May 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      The funny thing is, I discovered it totally on accident. I was nannying for a family, and one of the kids was diagnosed with Celiac’s. I went gluten-free with her, and I was amazed at the results. My doctor had never heard of such a thing, but now we’re both reading up on the growing association between food allergies and anxiety.

  5. Filbert May 9, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    I’ve always thought that the less crazy you act, the more insane you really are. Letting out the crazy is the only way to relax your mind and be truely free.

    I used to suffer from insomnia, a counting obsession and a deep paranoia about everyone I pass on the street. Then I started to write. An idea that sprung from a friend, and education requirements. It saved my mind. All my crazy and weird behaviour was perfectly acceptable on paper. Even enjoyed. And when I was odd in real life it was attributed to ‘being creative’. Soon I could sleep a whole night, I stopped counting so much and I found peace with my mind. We still have the odd fight (which it usually wins) but I have learnt who I am and how to deal with it.

    So let all the crazy out, just as long as it is constructive and not damaging. It’s all good.

  6. John M May 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Wait, that’s not OCD; that’s what a spreadsheet is for! (The original “killer app.”) Looks good to me! Are your going to add histograms/pie charts that change when you play with the variables? Seriously…

    • Losing My Cents May 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

      You, sir, need to stop encouraging me. I certainly don’t need pie charts that track my spending habits each month… or at least not color-coded ones… or at least not more than three… Crap. Now I can’t stop adding charts. And now I’m craving pie…


  1. What November Brings « Losing My Cents - November 1, 2012

    […] While I don’t mind being busy, as it helps me not turn into a ball of anxiety by keeping my OCD-brain occupied, this month’s schedule goes far beyond my usual level of busyness (random […]

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