Write about a time you itched, physically or mentally.
Indeed, this has to be one of the most curious writing prompts that I’ve ever encountered — mine are often just as weird and probably more so but this one, I have to admit, intrigues me. We all know what physically itching means, of course, but mental itching? Speaking as someone who suffers from very severe pure OCD (not a desire for order, how popular culture often sees the disorder, but a need for a sense of having done something in the correct way, which is neither defined nor describable, combined with compulsive thoughts that are intensely troubling, in my case, disgusting — for some other pOCD sufferers, these can be sexual or violent but in my case, they’re all related to eating), mental itchiness is all too common.
I guess the point was to write about one of those but I think I will take this opportunity to tell two stories — one about the physical and the other the mental. The physical is probably the more entertaining for those who don’t live inside my mind so I will begin with that one.
When I was in my twenties, I lived alone for awhile in a suburb of St John’s. I had (only one of the many I would inhabit) a one-bedroom apartment which was fairly nice but being underground is never a pleasant situation to be in, really. What was nice, though, was that I had a few very close friends who never forced me to talk about the past or engage in debate or even deal with discussion of daily life. I was incredibly thankful for that. I have no interest in anyone’s daily life so if I don’t ask about what you did today or show interest in what you are doing, it’s not a reflection of you. I don’t have any interest in my own daily life so there’s no way I’m ever going to care what you had for breakfast or where you’re going shopping or if you have a date tonight. Anyway, I have some fairly serious medical problems (lupus, high-functioning autism, severe neurological damage, etc) that were certainly present at the time and I had given two of my closest friends keys to my apartment.
It is, of course, fairly typical to give keys to your family members but there was no family nearby that could have helped me in such a situation and I thought that this would be a more sensible approach. Anyway, I came home one day after a long day at the university (I’d describe what was so interesting but I honestly have no clue and it was likely just a set of meetings at the education faculty and were uninteresting in the extreme) to my usual routine — put a pot of vegetables and lentils on the stove to cook, get in the shower, get out and eat dinner, etc. Nothing particularly exciting. What was, however, was that by the time I got to the end of my dinner, I felt like my body was on fire. I went and turned down the heat (eastern Canada is not a place where heating is optional for about ten months of the year and the two for which it’s not tend not to be those in which school is a large portion of life, either for student or an instructor) but that didn’t do much. I was chatting online with one of my friends and mentioned in passing that I was curiously hot, maybe having eaten hot soup too quickly, perhaps? Getting a fever, terrifyingly enough?
She asked if I had had a hot shower, which, of course, I had, and began to laugh uncontrollably. During my absence, my kind friend had visited my apartment and emptied several packages of itching powder onto my bath towel. Suffice it to say, I was less laughter-inclined and went to take another shower, after which the itching and burning was dramatically reduced. Of course, I can look back at this now and it is entertaining and I certainly don’t hold any negative feelings about it. I haven’t thought about it in ages, in fact, until this prompt occurred today. I must say, I miss my old life sometimes. Always, really. Except for the cold, which I still experience on a constant basis and which I need to desperately escape.
As for the other kind of itching, mental itchiness is a relatively constant thing for me. I suspect that this is mostly an issue of context interacting with memory. When one thing goes wrong, that is the end of potential positive experience in a day. This is a real problem in more than the obvious way. My best days tend to be those in which the largest problems occur. When I feel even slightly better, I have to take advantage of that to do the things that I cannot do in other circumstances — going to the grocery store, going outside for a walk, being around people to do something. The problem with that is that that increases the likelihood dramatically of a triggering experience and, without exception, this happens. As a result, I have learned to be extremely afraid of feeling better. When I feel better, I have to do these things because I have to do them at some point and I can’t often do them. If I don’t buy food, I can’t eat and while dying of starvation would be an ideal experience for me, I cannot allow that to happen for the sake of not dying before those who have sacrificed everything to keep me alive. So I have to go to grocery stores, one of my three hells on earth (grocery stores, children’s gatherings, hospitals). When something goes wrong during food preparation (timing being changed, being interrupted while cooking and losing track of the preparation or not performing a necessary step in the preparation to duplicate the previous times, burning the food, having it stick on, setting the timer wrong, etc), that is an impact that reverberates for weeks and that is flashed back on endlessly, in addition to the fact that having to shift a meal an hour or two later as a result means that the next meal and the next and the next must also then be later to avoid eating too soon afterward.
Specifics, though? It’s about special events — other people want excitement in their lives, for today not to be a repetition of yesterday, to have something to look forward to. I need things to look forward to, as well, but what I look forward to is a long-term thing, not a specific event. I don’t want to experience the world or think “in ten days I’m going to a great show!”. I am terrified that when those experiences come, I will ruin them. I will be sick or unable to go. I will be too afraid. Special is a terrifying word for me. It is a source of tension and potential trauma. It is a thing to be obsessed over. This may come as a surprise to those who have experienced my tendency to plan special events. I have a lot of experience working on the professional side of the photography world. I don’t particularly like doing the photography itself but I love teaching it. And to teach something, you had better be an expert in it or that defeats the point. So I learned a lot of photography by research, trial and error, etc. I’m quite proud of my ability but it’s never been something I particularly liked doing — it is, however, something that is incredibly rewarding to teach to those who do enjoy it.
While living in Canada, I organized quite a lot of photography events and was a participant on the organizing groups for many others. The first of those events on the east coast, after having moved there from Vancouver on rather short notice, was a photography scavenger hunt in the city center. I had some help from a few friends organizing it but it was me who was responsible. I had prepared the clues, the rules, the information, advertised it thoroughly. Local social media was buzzing with it and I even got to talk on two local radio stations promoting it. There was an online signup and, while that wasn’t strictly necessary before the day of the event, there were nearly three hundred people having registered (I’m not sure how many people actually participated in the end, off the top of my head, but it was definitely more than that). Looking back on it, it was an extremely successful thing and I had nothing but positive feedback. Some people didn’t like the clues and such but in terms of the event itself, the people who participated thought it was good and the businesses involved in the clues were all positive about the fact that it brought them interest from the people who were looking to come and take pictures, which was free advertising for them when the pictures were posted online, eventually.
That’s generally how my photography events have always gone. But the day before, I sat at home on the couch and shivered with anxiety for hours. Actually, that didn’t really end until the time I had to leave the next day to start the event itself. I didn’t share that fact with even my closest friends at the time. I was terrified something would go wrong. I had encouraged people to do this and that meant that in some ways I would be responsible if a child ran into the street while participating and got run over. I would be responsible if someone walked around the city and got sunstroke from being out in the sun too long trying to get pictures. I would be visible there and people who hated me (of which there were and are far too many, being a rather visible non-gender-rights activist in a very populist and conservative and tribal society) would know where I would be and could make a very public display of causing me pain. None of that happened but I spent the previous day and a good portion of the event itself terrified that it would.
Anyway, it went off without a hitch and I spent the day answering questions about photography, promoting free photography classes — even talking about the writing classes that I was teaching at the time to some prospective students, which was an unexpected plus. The next event was somewhat less itch-inspiring but I certainly didn’t get to it without the fear of disaster.
The moral? There isn’t really one. Except perhaps that we all feel itchy sometimes. Until tomorrow…