Friday, March 12, 2010

The Post About the Phobic Thing

Let's set the scene. Fall of 1982. Math Building, Juan Crespi Junior High, El Sobrante (El Sob, #1), California. The final school bell rings and students are pouring out of the hallway, free to go about their business for the day until they are once again imprisoned within these walls.

A tall, awkward girl with regretfully large '80's hair and big eyebrows is unknowingly suffering from a bit of the stomach flu. She exits the building and pukes her guts out (mostly hamburger and Rice-A-Roni, the previous night's dinner, which will forever become the Meal She Will Not Eat), just outside the building, as several students pass by.

She doesn't at remember if any of the students said anything, but come on, it was junior high. There was probably some pointing and staring and laughing, because let's face it, junior high school students are, by and large, idiots. She does remember a nice teacher named Ms. O'Connor or Ms. O'Conner (or was she a Miss or Mrs?) checking on her to make sure she was okay. She'd never had her for a teacher but she would always remember her kindness.

And this my friends, this seemingly insignificant unfortunate incident would be one that would shape the life of the puker for at least the next 10 plus years. And if you're thinking that the puker is me, well, of course you're right, since this is my blog and all, it only makes sense that this would be my story.

Had this happened to one of my more normal, confident, secure fellow students (some of whom I am today lucky enough to cherish as friends), it would have been embarrassing, sure. But it probably wouldn't have altered their lives. But when it happened to me, not only was I just starting the 7th grade, busting out with hormones, and incredibly shy, it turns out my wiring was such that this made me a little crazy. Well, not crazy exactly (though I totally am not ashamed to say that yes, I am a little nuts, and this is a pretty well-known fact). It made me afraid. I was scared to go to school (yep, that's why I missed so much of junior high and high school) and ultimately to be in any situation in which I felt like I couldn't easily get out. I always hoped for the seat in class next to a door; otherwise I'd be preoccupied about "what if... " What if I get sick? What if I can't make it to the bathroom? What if it all happens again?

And the crazy thing is that I was hardly ever sick. I mean, I'd not feel well, but I hard ever actually vomited as kid or a teenager. So to spend years being afraid of it was pretty ironic.

It got to the point where I refused to go to the mall. Going to the movies I could handle okay, because at least I could say I liked to sit near the back on an aisle and not look like a weirdo. I never shared any of this sort of thing with anyone. I couldn't say, I can't do this or that because I'm afraid I'm going to puke. I don't know that I ever even verbalized it that way to my best friend or to my mom.

My breaking point came in 1992, Easter Sunday. I was at Raley's on San Pablo Dam Road. I filled the shopping cart with items. I went to stand in line and panicked when I saw that all of the lines were long. My cheeks started to feel... puckery. I hadn't been sick or anything, but if my cheeks felt like that, oh boy, maybe that meant something was going to happen. I went over to the far side of the store, parked my full cart, and left.

That was the end.

I went and saw a psychologist at Richmond Kaiser. I was so nervous to go and tell my story. I felt at that time like the craziest person on the planet and so ashamed. I will never forget two things. One, she told me I was not crazy, but I was phobic, and she referred me to a program at Kaiser in Vallejo called Phobease. Number two, I thought she was dumping me after only 10 minutes because I was too crazy and I really couldn't be helped.

I went to this Phobease meeting, run by this guy named Dr. Harold Leibgold. My best friend Kim, who I'm lucky enough to still call my best friend, went with me as my support person. At this meeting were several other people, who like me, were afraid of something. Snakes, planes, bridges, open spaces, closed spaces, you name it. And they were all grown-ups. At the age of 22 and still living at home, I really didn't feel at all like a grown-up.

So Kim and I went for however many weeks... 8? 10? I don't remember, it seems like a lifetime ago. It was all about desensitization. And relaxation. He told us not drink caffeine or watch the news on TV (because that's not good for sensitive folks). It was all about reprogramming our brains, working against the wiring that was in there that made us afraid. It was all about taking little steps. The first assignment I think gave myself was to go to Hilltop Mall, park where the old theaters used to be on the lower level, and walk halfway up that first hallway. That was it. Once I could do that with little to no anxiety, I was able to make it all the way to end of the hall. And so on and so forth.

It was a process. And little by little, day by day, I felt less scared and more "normal." Whatever that means. Essentially, Dr. Leibgold saved my life. And I've never even thanked him, what a rat I am! I think I'll see if I can send him a message and a link to this post...

I think one of the reasons I share this is because I never want anyone to feel ashamed if they need help. I feel like I spent more than 10 years only half-living, and I wouldn't want anyone else to do that. Would I change it? Absolutely not. Those years made me who I am, and maybe they make me appreciate life as much as I do. What if I hadn't wound up dropping out of college at the age of 21? I wouldn't have wound up finishing my degree at Cal State Hayward and having such an awesome college experience filled with amazing teachers and classes that I didn't appreciate when I was 18.

Most importantly, every step we take puts us in the direction we're going... I'm here now because of all the stuff that worked and didn't work, and I wouldn't rather be any other place.

So live and enjoy and love and laugh and entertain and be entertained. And don't be afraid. But if you are, know that you're not alone.


tami said...

thank you for sharing your story. i'm glad you were able to get some help and to make progress towards feeling better.

i'm in the process of coping with my hormones being out of whack. so not fun, but it turns out, i'm not alone in this either. what a huge relief!

ps - i'm glad we've reconnected.

parkerlewiscantlose said...

(1) O'Connor was a Ms.

(2) No one was normal, confident or secure at Juan Crespi Jr. High.

(3) I love that Hilltop Mall was your place of healing.

(4) You are the bestest, my BMSF.

Kimberly Gallagher-Wright said...

Wow...I cannot believe it was that long proud of you to this day, my friend. You gave me courage to confront a lot of my demons as well...Have I ever told you that? I hope so. Love you.