The Avocado Dilema

After months of no updates on this blog, I figured people have thought that like so many other blog writers, I’ve dropped off the face of the earth – and honestly, I did. But if you could graze the pages of the many little notebooks I keep in my purse, leaf through the pages of my portable journal, and scour the scribbles on the backs of receipts I keep in my wallet, then you would see that I’ve been thinking about this blog consistently for a while now.

Ironically, this is my main problem.

I once had a supervisor tell me that I over thought things more than anyone they had ever met. Even though I knew they were right, the comment hurt and confused me: how could over thinking be a bad thing? I was being cautious, meticulous, careful – a perfectionist! Isn’t that a good thing? Wouldn’t an employer want a worker who thoroughly considers all their options?

The problem is, having anxiety, I think of everything that could happen from every decision I make. Every. Possible. Outcome.

Example: Last night my mom and I made a pizza. I put avocado on my half.

My thoughts:

Should I put the avocado on before or after the pizza bakes? If I put it on before will it taste bad? Could I get sick from that? But if I put it on before it bakes, will it make the dough moist? Will it get mushy? I better check online…ok, it doesn’t matter when I put it on.

Time elapsed: 10-15 minutes.

Ok, now I’m ready to dice up these avocados.

My thoughts:

How should I cut them? What if scrape the skin on one of the pieces? Will that make me sick? How would  I know if I was allergic? Oh stop, that’s ridiculous…hmm, are these pieces too big? Will I ruin half of the pizza? Oh god, my mom will be so upset if I screw this up…I hate to waste food. What will I eat if I mess up this pizza? We’ll have to throw half of it out and it will all be my fault and my mom will be so annoyed, and she doesn’t need the stress and…

Time elapsed: 15-20 minutes.

The pizza cooks. All disasters averted. It’s delicious – dinner success!

But then I notice, the avocado is starting to turn brown.

My thoughts:

Oh shit, I am so dumb, I’m 24 years old and I can’t even cook a damn pizza correctly! Why didn’t I think that the avocado would turn brown? How many times do I need to try to cook with this vegetable before I understand how to do it? Why is it so hard for me to retain basic facts? Avocado gets brown when it’s left out – DUH. If I put it in the fridge it will only get worse, and these were $1.69 a piece, and I bought them anyways when I don’t really have that money and if it goes to waste then I’ve wasted food and money, which is insane because we can’t afford to do that. Well, I guess I’ll have to eat most of it, even though I’m pretty full…but I’ve been gaining weight and if I eat this will it make me sick? What’s worse, wasting food or just eating it now? I should just eat it now…but what if it makes me sick? Is avocado bad when it’s brown? Maybe I should Google it…

Time elapsed: Another 15 minutes.

Do you see what I mean? All in all, it took me about an hour and a half to dice an avocado and put it on a pizza, eat it, and enjoy it. I didn’t even really taste it because I was so worried about doing it right. But is there even a right way to do such a simple task?

These are called intrusive thoughts, and they have caused me most of my unnecessary grief since I was old enough to feel guilt. This kind of over analyzing has lead to issues in every facet of my life, including my professional and personal relationships. I confuse people by apologizing when no one feels I need to; I thank people profusely for the smallest favor; and most crippling of all, I feel intense guilt for the smallest mistake, which causes me to apologize constantly.

And even now, I am writing an apology post, even though I have nothing to be sorry about. Even this blog that I’ve started, this blog that I started to release my own anxiety, has caused me anxiety! This post isn’t good enough, this needs to be more fleshed out, this is too long, this is too short – it’s not that I don’t want to edit my writing, because that’s the only way improve.

But as usual, my scrutiny of what I post has gone beyond your average consideration.

In a nutshell: My OCD is causing me to panic over the blog I began with the intent to release the panic I feel caused by OCD.

The initial intention of this blog was for me to do research on each subject I wrote about, and to provide links to resources for others. I still intend to do this, but the issue is that I became obsessed with being professional, publishable, the best damn blog for resources anyone could find…but the real point of this blog is for me to vent. As selfish as it sounds, I don’t want to be bogged down by over thinking everything I write. When you bitch about something, you’re not really thinking – you’re just letting loose.

As you have read, I can’t even cut a freakkin’ avocado without freaking out, so I felt it was only fair of me to post this for anyone reading my rambles: I intend to do the best I can with this blog in terms of professionalism, but the truth is, this blog is primarily an outlet for me to vent about coping with OCD. I hope that others who struggle with different kinds of mental illness will read this and feel comforted that there is someone else who overthinks just as much as they do, and that they are not alone. Most of all, I want those who identify with me to know what it took me so long to realize: We are not crazy. We are not wrong. We are not things that need to be fixed. We are people who think differently, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

“You are battling your mind. You think, “Normal people don’t have these thoughts”. You are afraid of the thought, embarrassed, and you think that the thought predicts something about the future. Maybe the thought means you are dangerous or that you will be punished by God.

Welcome to the world of intrusive thoughts. “

From “Those Damn Unwanted Thoughts!” by Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D

Anxiety Files: Psychology Today: June 1st, 2009.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/200906/those-damn-unwanted-thoughts

 

“How Do Obsessive Compulsive People Think?”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/200906/how-do-obsessive-compulsive-people-think

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Counting Cracks, Yet Still Failing Math

While I imagine this blog being an open discussion about any and all mental illness, my personal experiences are with anxiety and depression, specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Known as OCD, the definition given by The International Foundation of OCD is, “a disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.” They then give a comparison to a broken record: “this thought or image got replayed in your mind

over and

over again

no matter what you did…”

 

All these Little Shirley Beans jumping around, with no promise of slowing down.

It seems like the classic Hollywood portrayal of OCD is centered around compulsively counting objects and actions, but there is much more to it than that. The thing is, these obsessions and compulsions can manifest themselves in various ways. For instance, I never counted stairs as a kid, but I would only step on the green tiles in my elementary school hallway. The nursery rhyme “Step on a crack and you break your mother’s back” scared the shit out of me – I envisioned myself stepping on a crack and my mother somewhere in the world falling over in howling pain. To me, this was a petrifying reality. I remember watching all the cracks in the hallway and in the playground get stepped on all the time, and I would silently pray for each of the mothers that were undoubtedly being scorned by their merciless second graders. (Praying, although I wasn’t particularly religious, became part of my OCD ‘rituals’ as well.)

The anxiety caused by situations like this (what my therapist calls “fake fears”) was such an intense distraction that I bit and pulled at my nails down to the quick, until they were bloated and bleeding.

With ideas like the mourning of the paralyzation of the global matriarchy constantly buzzing around in my head, it was a daily struggle to succeed in school. Thankfully, I had supportive parents who were capable of keeping strict tabs on me and my education; if not for them, I have no idea how I would have survived. My ideas about school subjects were pretty much:

 

-In history, there were too many names and dates to remember

-In science, there was too much vocabulary

-In English, I usually couldn’t remember what happened last in the book, but having an overactive imagination helped me immensely with creative projects. Ironically this fact has caused me anxiety about “losing OCD” – what if I can’t think like this anymore?

-Art is all I care about because I’m going to be a cartoonist someday

 

And then there was math. Dear lord, math.

They say that those who excel with music will usually also excel in math. I played the clarinet all through school, but I would memorize the song – rarely did I count out each bar. When my teachers asked me to clap out measures, I had no idea.

Math completely eluded me. All these weird lines and configurations made numbers, and the numbers represented amounts of things, and you could do weird things with the numbers to make other weird things happen. The final weird things that happened were the answers, but it depends on what little symbol is placed between each number. How is hell does this make any sense to anyone?

Not only was this insanely difficult, but I didn’t have time to figure out arbitrary answers to silly made up problems. I was too busy dreaming up other worlds, drawing on the back of my worksheets, wondering if the little bit of toothpaste I swallowed the night before would kill me. I tried all the methods: make a chart, draw a picture, count by twos. I spent all my time making my shirts look stylish instead of figuring out how many combinations of outfits Cindy could wear to school. Once we got into adding hundreds, there was no room for charts or pictures.  My teacher would suck her teeth and shake her head as she passed my desk.

It was in third grade that my parents realized there was a big problem with me and math. My teacher showed them a worksheet I had done the day before.

Question: If the 5 button isn’t working on your calculator, how else could you make the number 5?

Answer:: You could do 4+1, 6-1, 2+3, etc.

My answer:: Bang the calculator on the desk a few times and if it still doesn’t work then you need a new calculator.

My teacher tried not to laugh at my mom’s reaction. “A logical response,” she admitted, “but not a mathematical response. Do you see why I’m concerned?”

I was really close with my third grade teacher and she encouraged me to join an after school math study group – filled with first graders. As if I wasn’t made fun of enough for being a giant, big breasted, acned, period-having third grade freak. I sat in that class all afternoon and counted eggs, subtracted apples, all that crap. I stared at the clock and waited for it to be over, my foot jumping, biting my already dead nails.

A first grader would point at me and say, “She’s not listening,” and I’d scream “YES I AM.” But I wasn’t. I just wanted to show that I was making an effort so that I could get a passing grade, so I wouldn’t be a failure as a daughter, so that my parents wouldn’t hate me, so that I wouldn’t hate me. I could give a flying damn about the actual math.

If I could go back in time, I would dope slap my little self and say, Do you know how important these choices are for your life in the future?

Do you know that you will have mini panic attacks at the cash register when someone hands you change after you’ve hit the cashier button, and you will turn red and sweat and almost cry before the customer takes back their change, shaking their head?

Do you know you probably won’t get hired at Walgreens because it took you fifteen minutes to answer one question about change, and you were too busy trying to hide your finger counting under the table?

When you go out to eat with friends, you will try to hide behind your drink as you count out your bill, because you don’t want anyone to see you carrying ones.

You will feel dumb. You will feel unaccomplished. You will think you are a societal failure for needing to use multiplication tricks. You will walk up to the board and feel nauseous, the sweat making the chalk slick, staining your hands. You will stand frozen with fear until it becomes uncomfortable and the teacher says, “Does anyone want to help her?”

But I can’t really blame my little self. The help I needed went way beyond math. I couldn’t concentrate hard enough to understand these concepts, but I had all this energy, so it came out in distracting forms, the worst of which were the constantly running thoughts.

I ate a red Skittle before I ate a green one. Will mom die on the way home from work?

My stomach kind of hurts near the bottom part. Is an organ bleeding? Am I dying? Will blood start dripping from my ears all over my desk until I pass out?

Did I shut off the toaster this morning? I probably didn’t. The whole house will be burned down. Is my dog ok? What about all my toys, and my bed? Where will my parents and I sleep? We’ll have to live in a shelter. But where?

Someone would call my name. Everyone else would be done with their worksheets. Mine was almost always blank.

How did mental illness affect you in school, positively or negatively? Were you misdiagnosed or given the wrong guidance, or did you receive the help you needed? Do the effects of your school experiences with mental illness affect you today? Feel free to comment below, or you can send an email to:

 lilshirlbeans@gmail.com

Sources:

http://www.ocfoundation.org/whatisocd.aspx

What the hell are Little Shirley Beans?

beans 

 

I’d like to start off with questions you probably have:

1. What is this dribble and why do I care?

When I got the idea to write this blog, I had no idea what I wanted to call it. If it the title was too silly,it would be dismissive; too serious, and no one would care. I knew that I wanted it to be about living with mental illness, particularly OCD and anxiety. I wanted to share my experiences and perspectives in realistic, but also light hearted, narratives. I wanted people with (and without) anxiety to know earlier on what it took me too long to learn: you are not alone in your weird world. There are people who think like you, who laugh with you, and who struggle with you. Maybe if I write about my life with anxiety in various forms, it will help other people too. Here’s hoping it does.

2. So where do Shirley Beans come in?

You know that one teacher you had that changed your life? For me, that was my sophomore year English teacher. His class was a reprieve from the fast pace of high school life, and I hung on his every word and assignment with fascination. It was in this class that I was first introduced to The Catcher in the Rye.

For some, this was just another annoying book that we were forced to read in high school. Many of my friends hated the main character, Holden Caulfield, and in their opinion the whole premise of the book was idiotic: a spoiled rich kid who drops out of school and runs away to New York City to hire prostitutes and chase after ducks? Gimme a break. But for me it was like looking in a mirror.

I was not a rich kid who dropped out of high school, or ran away to New York City, but I had so many of the thoughts that Holden had. The way he spoke, the way he told a story – I was transfixed. And the whole symbolism of catching children in the rye was, to me, heartbreakingly beautiful. I fell headlong into the novel like Alice down the rabbit hole.

And then came the challenge: for years, my teacher had been asking students to find an item from the book that no one had been able to locate. For her birthday, Holden buys his sister a record called Little Shirley Beans, by Estelle Fletcher. So far, no student had been able to find a copy of the record. I was so intrigued; I begged my mom to drive me around on a wild goose chase until I ended at the same dead end as all the other students. My research led me to an old record store about forty minutes away, and here I was told that every year some student from the same class comes in looking for the record. It doesn’t exist, I was told, or if it does we don’t have it. As far as I can tell, the song is fictitious, even though Estelle Fletcher was an actual jazz singer. Despite this knowledge, to this day, when I find myself browsing the internet or a record store, I look around for the long lost Little Shirley Beans to finally deliver to my teacher.

3. Ok, so…what does that have to do with this blog?

To me, this record represents a lot of things in my life. It is an artifact, possibly fabled, from one of my favorite books of all time, from the class that sparked my interest in education, which was taught by my favorite teacher. When I think of all the things that come together in my life to make me, I think of these Beans. The Beans are also all my panic attacks, all my counting, all my knocking on wood moments. See, sophomore year was also the year when my OCD came out full force, so badly that my parents sent me to the psychologist that I still see today. Before that, I had never considered or thought about OCD. I thought that everyone had my thoughts, but as I got older it became apparent that I wasn’t only thinking differently; I was becoming obsessed and panicked over things that lay way outside the perimeter of possibility. Organizing Skittles by color soon became the least of my problems.

So, I figured I would share my experiences with a mental illness that many people don’t acknowledge as such. Through sorting through these Little Shirley Beans of my odd life, I hope that it brings you a comforting and humorous outlet to deal with your own struggles. I hope that eventually others feel comfortable writing in, and we’ll all help to support each other.

And with that, the bean jar has been opened.