Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Devil Made Me Do It

     I majored in journalism at UNC and took all the requirements for psychology, too. Journalism was easy because I had been writing for my hometown newspaper since my junior year of high school.
     Feature stories are my favorite, but I have a knack for being where the action is, so I report news, too. Until a few years ago, I never focused on one particular issue.
     After recording page after page of messy notes, I go home and write as soon possible while everything is still fresh on my mind. If I wait too long, it isn't the same and my writing suffers. I'll get back to that later.
    Throughout college, I continued to have "spells," maybe four or five or three or six each month, in no predictable pattern but usually clustered together. There was no change in how long they lasted or the weirdness of the entire experience. It was just something that happened to me. I didn't sit around in my dorm room trying to figure myself out because it didn't stopping me from doing anything. I was too busy out there living!
     My roommates knew because sometimes it happened when I was driving. My instincts told me to slow down or even try pull over, but that wasn't usually possible. By the time I changed lanes or whatever, it had passed and I was completely, mentally back in my car in Chapel Hill again.
     When I'm driving, I try incredibly hard to NOT think about some things, like what I dreamed about the night before or where a song on the radio is taking me in my memory. If I suddenly get a deja vu feeling about ANYTHING, I force myself to snap out of it right away before I get lost in there. (That was a hint.) Letting my mind wander can be dangerous when I'm behind the wheel because I can't always get it back again. 
     Psychology classes were much more interesting than journalism, by the way, especially abnormal psych and childhood development. I was fascinated with Freud and appalled by Skinner.
     My older sister, Grace, gave me a DSM-III for Christmas one year. (It's the book used to diagnose mental illnesses.) I had memorized most of it by the time I graduated but still couldn't find an explanation for what was going on in my head.
     I wasn't even sure if I wanted it to stop happening, but I needed to solve the mystery of what it was to ease my worries that someday one of my trips could take me away to a place I couldn't come back from.
     In my searching for self-diagnosis, I determined that my "spells" were not panic attacks. There's a sense of impending doom in the beginning, sometimes, but then I enjoy the trip...or at least I think I do, from what I can remember.
     When I come back, my body is in worse shape but my mood is elevated. I don't care that I'm sweaty and tired because somewhere deep inside me, I know it was worth it.
     I studied everything I could about schizophrenia and ruled it out, too. At the time, I believed it to be an illness one could  "come down with" in their twenties, like a bad cold that never goes away. It's more complicated than that.
     If what I have described so far isn't mental illness, what's left?

     Halloween Hint:   For centuries, people like me were thought to be possessed by The Devil. Exorcists have tried to force Him out of us, but it doesn't work.
     The only way to get it out of us is to go deep inside our brains and cut it out.
     Do you know what I am yet?
     I'll tell you tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Stop and Smell the...

   


     Today I am Charlie Gordon. I tried to write about college this afternoon but couldn't quite find a way to describe how different Chapel Hill is from my hometown. They're less than 30 miles apart, but it was and still is a different world...in a good way.
     I'm not going there tonight because, like I said, Charlie has taken over and is experiencing the regression phase of the experiment. 
     My November 1 deadline is going to pass, but there is no editor breathing down my neck. I wanted to Come Out that day because people like me will be in the spotlight next month even though most of us are ashamed to tell anyone. (Tonight's hint.)
    I'm still peeking out from behind the closet door, but at least it's open now.
    Daniel Keys had some interesting ideas about inclusion, according to Wikipedia. I'm too much like Charlie tonight to properly research and delve further into them, but you might want to check it out for yourself sometime. 
    

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spells


  
     I was 16 the first time it happened, coming back from my daily run, almost to my driveway. I stopped running and walked the rest of the way. Then I told my mother.
     She listened with that "worried" look on her face while I tried to put the experience into words. It's extremely difficult to do that, even today, and is for most people like me.
     My mother said I looked pale and sweatier than I usually did after running two miles.
     Neither one of us took it very seriously until it happened again and again and again and..Well, you get the idea.
     Only my family and my best friends knew about these weird little (less than a minute long, usually) episodes. I didn't tell anyone else because they didn't slow me down at all and because I was afraid people would think I was making it up to get attention. 
     Now, I don't tell people because I don't want them to feel sorry for me. There is no reason to do that. The only thing my label has taken away from me is my driver's license. (That's a huge clue and the only one today.) 
     Back to high school...My mother and I tried to solve the mystery together, keeping track of when it happened and what I was doing at the time. There was no pattern, but every three or four weeks, it happened again in clusters. We started calling them "dizzy spells" and later shortened the name to "spells."
      My diaries from those years have notes in them like this:
                                                     Monday,  2 spells
                                                     Tuesday,  1 spell
                                                     Friday,     3 spells

     Skipping ahead a few pages to the next month, there are similar notes. "Spells" every three or four weeks, or sometimes five or six. If there were several in one day, I felt tired and confused until bedtime but not so much that I couldn't finish my homework or go running. I kept getting straight A's on my report cards.
      Sometimes I was in the middle of a dream or sitting in class and WHAM, it would appear and take me somewhere else in my mind, a familiar place that was frightening at first but then wonderful..beyond wonderful. I didn't always want to let go and come back.
     Most of the time, no one noticed my little breaks from reality; I was really good at hiding them and still am even though it's harder now. People around me talk and talk and talk while I pretend to listen. In reality, I don't understanding a word they are saying. 
     I became an expert at pretending to be normal. That's a basic survival skill in high school.
     My mother made an appointment with our family doctor. He couldn't figure out what was going on and no one else could for six years. I'm glad; I wasn't ready to know what I am.
     Coming up...Hello Chapel Hill, it's time for college!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I'm Coming Out

     My label is visible now, but only if you know where to look.



     That's me in first grade. I probably had it then but didn't know, thank God.
     Sometimes I relive those first few days of school, away from my mother, surrounded by children who were so different from me. We were all scared but not for very long because our teacher was so nice.
     You're probably thinking, "Oh, I think about those days, too, sometimes. Big deal."
     That's what I want you to think.
     I also want you to stop and remember the way it felt when your mind suddenly drifted back to first grade. Was it a nice little trip? (That's a BIG clue, but I only have a few days to tell this part of the story.)
     Elementary school was fun most of the time. I'll get back to that later.
     Middle school was complicated, especially when the "gifted program" arrived in seventh grade. Being in that class sometimes brought out the devil in me. (Another clue)
     My teacher caught me doing something one day -- I can't remember what -- and called me an "instigator." When I looked the word up in a dictionary, it didn't sound so bad.
     I AM an instigator..but that's not my label.
     It means "troublemaker," by the way. It's fun and I'm very good at it, so consider yourself warned. You can stop reading at any time, but then you would miss out on the high school days...