Of Seeing Past My Nose

Of Seeing Past My Nose

When I was about 8 years old, I discovered my nose. More specifically, I discovered that I could see my nose. I wasn’t looking in a mirror, I was standing on the second base line, or what would be the second base line if I had been playing baseball, but which in reality was a dusty track of trampled grass and gravel, of the school field. The sun was shining in my eyes so I turned slightly to the right and that is when I noticed it. My nose. The hint of my nose, the prominent tip in an otherwise translucent idea of a nose. I shut my left eye and the translucency disappeared and the solid slope of my nose appeared once my peripheral vision was blocked. I closed my right eye and opened my left, and there it was again but on the right side. I opened both eyes and stared directly ahead of me and it was still there! My nose, which I had never noticed I could see before, was suddenly everywhere and I could not block it out!

This is when I panicked.

And a tic was born. I wiggled my nose. Then again. And again.

I started to cry. Dissolved into tears right there on the schoolyard. The laughs and screams of my schoolmates suddenly were raucous, the sun was suddenly brighter, I could hear my heart beat in my ears. Why could I see my nose? Why hadn’t I seen it before? What was wrong with me?

My friend saw me crying and ran for my brother. My schoolyard protector, a year ahead of me in school, who would scrap with anyone who upset me.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded when he arrived, looking around for my tormenter.

Between sobs I stammered, “I can…see…my… nose!”

“Huh?” he said.

“I can see my nose!” I shouted.

“So?”

“I never noticed it before.”

“What do you mean you never noticed it before?”

How could I explain? Obviously something was really wrong with me if I couldn’t even explain this bizarre fear, this unexplainable terror that gripped me.

“I mean I never noticed before that I can see my nose, with my eyes, without looking in a mirror. I can see it!” I shut one eye and crossed the other one to demonstrate.

He blinked at me twice. “Everyone can see their nose when they look at it,” he said.

“But even when I am not looking at it! When I am staring straight ahead, I see it!”

He put his arm around my shoulder, my friend having moved on to less ‘unique’ companionship, and he said, “It’s okay. Nothing is wrong. You just never noticed before. It’s normal.”

Normal.

“It is?” I asked, as the bell rang.

“Yep,” he said. “Now go back to class. I will see you on the bus after school. Okay?”

Scrabble tiles spelling out You Will Be Ok

Normal.

Tourette Syndrome does not feel normal. It feels like heightened sensitivity and a state of high alert. It feels like I am a big ball of energy, senses on overdrive, picking up more energy even when I try to expel it. It feels like sensory overload until exhaustion finally takes over, just to begin the cycle all over again as soon as my eyes are open. And I notice something new.

Like that mole. Did it always look like that? Is that normal? What about that thing on my neck? Is that a bug bite or the start of a possibly serious infection? My tailbone feels weird. I don’t remember hurting it. What could it possibly be?

And Dr. Google is not a friend.

My health anxiety is rooted in a need for reassurance and a series of unfortunate childhood sicknesses. Then Tourette Syndrome, with its obsessive-compulsive tendencies, created the perfect storm. If you live with health anxiety or OCD you know exactly what I am talking about. The relief derived from checking that thing you feel you need to check is short-lived and causes anxiety to build even stronger. To be honest, my health anxiety is something I don’t even like to talk about. It makes me feel weak, it makes me feel “less than”, it makes me feel somehow deficient.

But when I break it down, I understand where it started. And when I really dig in, especially with the neuroscientific knowledge behind me of what parts of my brain are lighting up, what connections are being ingrained when I spiral into the abyss of anxiety and obsession, I understand how to fight it. And win.

Tidal wave cresting

Covid-19 is scary. This pandemic is frightening. We are all watching, a year later, and seeing what is described as a third wave start to crest, and we feel trapped, like it is going to wash right over us and who knows what detritus will be left behind? When 2021 started, I believed I would be on a plane in the summer to go home and see my family. Optimism over vaccinations was building. Restrictions were lifting. Then we heard words like “circuit-breaker” and “pressing pause” on the use of a vaccine because of possible adverse reactions in a segment of the human population I am part of. I told my work colleague I would be under my desk in the fetal position after the latest update. Then I spent 4 days working from home, lost in an eddy of thoughts and a weird sensation in my tailbone area that led me into a health anxiety crisis. I called a dear friend (and sister) and she asked me to remember what worked for me before.

Yes! What worked for me before would certainly work for me again.

I asked my Doctor about it. Just like I had asked him about that mole (normal) and that thing on my neck (nothing). He said, “It’s normal,” then explained what was happening, and helped me with my Tourette toolbox.

Normal.

an old toolbox in front of a new one

Your and my reaction to the pandemic is normal. It is normal to panic at times. This is a global phenomenon and we didn’t see it coming and we don’t know how it will end. We need to remember what works. And what has worked before.

Especially during these times when it is hard to see past our own nose.

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5 Replies to “Of Seeing Past My Nose”

  1. Hey sis, thanks for the honorable mention…no really thanks…now I’m laying here watching cartoons because my OCD is in hyperdrive.
    I can’t stop looking at my nose!

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