Thursday, August 9, 2007

Deja Pew

All right, now. I've admitted to suffering from textile-induced vertigo AND eardrumrolls. I might as well mention some of the other ways I am weird.

When I was a child, I grew a lot. Go figure. I grew like a weed, sprouting past all my school friends, until I got to high school...then many of them passed me, while I stopped growing. But during my early teens, when I was really shooting up fast, the altitude of my head seemed to run ahead of its blood supply. For several years I had to be careful not to sit up or stand up suddenly. When I did so, I had a brief dizzy spell and darkness closed in around me.

I never quite passed out, though. Fainting wasn't my thing. On the other hand, I enjoyed a nice, refreshing delirium once or twice. The first time was when I was nine or ten years old and I had strep throat with a high fever. I recall lying on the living room couch and having hallucinations, which I then tried to describe to my mother. She became quite alarmed. It wasn't the hallucinations that troubled her, so much as the nonsense that came out when I tried to describe them. Whatever I said wasn't even remotely connected to what I meant. That was interesting.

There was another time I might have been delirious - but I'm not sure it really counts. I was in college and I had gotten a terrific sunburn on my head during an all-day trip to a renaissance fair, without a hat, under an overcast sky. I got home feverish and suffering from the worst headache in recorded history. After taking a couple of Advil I felt not only a welcome relief from pain, but an actual weightless kind of euphoria. My memories of the rest of the evening are vague, but they do include dancing down a street singing in German at the top of my lungs. I promise, the only chemical influence on me at the time was Advil.

If these experiences taught me anything, it is that mental illness has to suck. I really enjoy being able to trust the evidence of my senses, to express my thoughts clearly, and to edit my behavior (at least if I choose to do so). I feel like praying for those who have lost these abilities. I suffer for them in my heart.

I also suffer in other ways when my self-control is jeopardized. For example, I don't particularly like to be drunk. If I counted all the times I've been really sauced on one hand, I would have digits left over. I am not proud of what the not-left-over digits represent. But one of the weird things about me has helped deter me from going that far on a regular basis. When I drink one or two alcoholic beverages, I start to get sharp pains at the hinges of my jaw. It's like having long needles jabbed into my eardrums. My father tells me this is my body fighting against letting go of its uptightness. More power to it.

Now that I go into the subject, I keep remembering more weird things about myself. Like how, in childhood I had such sensitive skin that I would get welts on my back from toweling off after a shower. More than once, an examining doctor saw these marks - hours later! - and asked the questions he was legally obligated to ask (e.g. "Do your parents ever knock you around?"). I hated my stepfather so much that the fact that I never used this little quirk to hurt him fills me with a glowing sense of my own virtue. There was just that one time he shoved me and I stumbled against a wall and the wood paneling left welts on my back. I could have hurt myself worse by tripping over an untied shoelace.

Even elastic bands left welts. I usually just lived with this, but there was one time when I had a pimple, or something, on my back, right where the waistband of my shorts went around. That pimple hurt so badly when anything touched it that I had to stay naked all day. I can't tell you how silly I felt calling my teachers to say I couldn't come to school because I had a blood blister.

My other most dramatic illness in college was the day I woke up with a hangover after a wild night of Coca-Cola and hot wings. My head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt sick to my stomach. After bravely fighting through my morning classes, I decided to call it off and go to bed. A friend gave me a steaming cup of theraflu and tucked me in. I woke up feeling perfectly rested...24 hours later. I still don't know what that was about.

Once, when I was in college, the whole town was swept up in a meningitis scare. I shouldn't make fun of this, because several people died. But a result of the scare was that everyone at my college got vaccinated. We lined up, got poked in the arm, and received an antibiotic pill. I believe they told us not to be alarmed if our pee turned the color of Orange Crush, but that didn't stop me from being alarmed. Nothing can prepare you for the shock of seeing the W.C. fill up with fluorescent orange.

My last couple years of high school were an awkward time for my body. I seemed to have a crippling headache about twice a week. I would routinely take pills to kill the headache, then (also routinely) wake up at 2 a.m. in a puddle of blood. I would run to the bathroom and sit on the toilet seat, applying pressure and wads of toilet paper until the bleeding stopped. Then I would stumble back to bed - all this with the lights off - only to be surprised the next morning by the almost steady trail of blood on the floor between my bedroom and the bathroom. It always amazed me that I could lose so much blood so fast, and not pass out.

Then one time it happened in a public swimming pool, in broad daylight, and I couldn't avoid the sight of blood gushing out so hard that I left footprints in it from the edge of the pool to the bathroom. Weird. I've probably had two nosebleeds in the last ten years.

Before that awkward period in high school, I tended to view nosebleeds and headaches as an early warning sign that I was catching a cold. My other warning sign was inflammation of the tongue. That was actually the first one, most times. If I felt like swishing and spitting saltwater, I began to plan to have a headache, a nosebleed, and a day or two in bed with a cold. That doesn't happen to me any more, either. These days, I'm feeling fine at 3:00 and needing to lie down in a dark, quiet room at 3:45.

Some people have athlete's foot. Toenail fungus. Psoriasis or eczema. My rash that has never gone away as long as I can remember is behind my ears. Nothing really dramatic; just a very small patch of flaky skin that occasionally itches. I used to apply a medicated cream back there. I don't think this results from any organism that needs to be killed, or any nervous condition that I need to overcome. I think it's just body chemistry. It also just happens that the skin behind my ears, along my temples, and on the sides of my nose breaks out when I wear metal-rimmed glasses - even when the frames are supposed to be hypoallergenic. And the acids secreted by my skin eat through corrosion-resistant materials. But that's nothing. Once I was given eyeglasses with an "unbreakable" frame - and I broke it, quite by accident, that same day.

Sometimes, facts like this - facts about my weirdness and accident-pronitude - lead me to wonder whether I may be from another planet. Like Krypton, maybe. Not that I think I'm Superman or anything, but I seem to have a different body chemistry from the rest of the human race.

The last and hardest to describe of my personal weirdnesses is an experience I often had when I was much younger. I didn't like to talk about it, but I remember it well. It was like deja-vu, where you see something happen and you feel that you knew it was going to happen beforehand. Only, instead of being something I saw, it was something I smelled. There was a certain indescribable smell - one of those odors no one else ever seemed to notice, even if I tried to point it out to them - but when it came to me, seemingly from nowhere, all my memories of the other times I had smelled it seemed to fall into place like tumblers in a lock, all the way back to my cradle. Don't ask me where I have the right to remember my cradle. I just do.

So yes, I am totally weird. I was always the only person in the family who could tell, by taste alone, whether the milk had been frozen and re-thawed. I believed the house I lived in at age 10 was haunted - I'll have to do a whole story on that some time - and I thought that when the pastor said, "I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord," he was chiding the congregation for reciting the wrong response. (I also figured the exchange "Here endeth the Gospel/Glory be to Thee, O Lord" meant the congregation was glad the lesson was over.) I actually remember all this stuff and think it's interesting. But I got you to read this far, didn't I? You just like to know there's someone at least as weird as you...and that he is not too disabled to blog about it!

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