3. Gearing Up – Part I

Picture of bathroom sinksGathering up my belongings and heading upstairs requires another burst of focused attention. I stand slowly, bracing myself on the table, keeping my head and neck straight. Vertical. I tuck my journal under my left arm and slip the fingers of my left hand through the handles of my two mugs. They clank together, and I cringe as the high ding of ceramic on ceramic hits my ears. I pick up the empty bowl with my right, my thumb on the spoon leaning against the rim, so it doesn’t fall out. Walking gingerly to the kitchen, I’m still up on my tip-toes – careful, careful – my head swirling, my attention trained on the position of my body and avoiding any objects in my path. I can’t afford to bump into anything. I might lose my focus and drop my mugs and/or bowl. The spoon might fall from the bowl and hit the floor, piercing my ears with its clatter.

Careful… careful… Sitting at the table and journaling was a breeze, compared to the challenge of getting myself upstairs to the shower.

In the kitchen, I put the dishes down gently in the sink. The dull clank of mugs on the metal sink bottom is a sickening thud. The sound of the bowl and the ding of the spoon striking the handle of one of the mugs is even worse. I can’t even put dishes in the sink without having problems. I hate this.

I run a little bit of water over my dirty dishes, rinsing them under the stream. I can’t do more than that. I don’t have the energy to wash them and put them in the drainer. My partner won’t be happy about it, when she gets up, but this is all I can do. It’s more than I feel I can do. I lay my journal on the kitchen table. I’ll pick it up later. I don’t want it to distract me as I climb the stairs.

Back across the kitchen I go, tip-toe. Tip-toe. Down the hall. Tip-toe. Tip-toe.

I move up the stairs carefully, deliberately gripping the banister with my left hand and trailing my other along the rough wall on my right. I’m worried again about losing my balance and falling. The steps don’t feel level beneath my feet, and the hallway seems to sway around me. I have to take it slowly and keep my posture straight. I sometimes trip on stairs, when I’m not paying close attention, and today I’m just not able to pay close attention to the stairs and keep my head aligned in a way that will keep me balanced. My progress is painfully slow, as I hang onto the railing and place one foot carefully in front of the other. Irritation wells up in me, but I press on.

But I do eventually make it to the top of the stairs, which is a relief. And the bathroom is directly in front of me, which simplifies things.

Taking my morning shower is another ritual that I follow fairly closely each day:

First, I start the shower to warm up the water.

While the water’s warming up, I brush my teeth again to erase the taste of breakfast.

After my teeth are clean and my hands are dried off, I climb carefully into the shower, where I follow the same steps in the shower each morning:

  1. I wet myself down
  2. I soap up
  3. I rinse off again
  4. I shampoo
  5. I rinse my hair, and
  6. I rinse off my body one last time.

Then, I climb carefully out of the shower, dry myself carefully, check my body for bruises, and head to the bedroom to dress for work.

I’ve found that if I stick with this sequence exactly, my workday starts out right. If I miss or skip a step or switch them around, I sometimes forget to do things like rinse off the soap from my body or shampoo my hair. I hate when that happens. It disorients me and my day starts out terribly. I’m feeling so impaired this morning, I don’t dare wing it. I’ve got to follow the program.

I turn on the shower and crank the spigot to the hottest setting. While the water warms up, I put some toothpaste on my toothbrush and set about clearing my mouth of the taste and feel of breakfast. My teeth are coated with a thin film of oatmeal, and my tongue feels numb and tastes metallic. The lingering aftertaste of acidic coffee lines the sides of my tongue and extends to the back of my mouth where my tongue ends and my throat begins.

As I brush my teeth, the vibration of the toothbrush rumbles deafeningly in my ears. My ears feel thick and stopped up, and the density in them seems to amplify every movement of the bristles across my teeth. I need to brush. I need to get clean. The taste of coffee and the feel of oatmeal on my teeth is distracting me, throwing me off. It intrudes. I know it’s nothing, but it’s tugging on my attention and fragmenting my focus, making me dizzy when I briefly notice it and stop thinking about staying upright.

So, I scrub. Hard. But the sound of my toothbrush is almost unbearable this morning. I try to take my mind off it by thinking about what I need to do today, but then a blob of toothpaste falls to the counter, and when my eyes follow it instinctively, my head spins and my stomach lurches. I brace myself on the edge of the sink trying to regain my balance, startled with a flash of anger that I cannot do such a simple thing as brush my own teeth in the morning without falling over.

I splash water at the white blob, hoping to wash it into the sink, but it’s stuck on the sink. The water wets the sleeve and pantleg of my pajamas and another wave of anxious frustration washes over me. I cannot stand the feel of wet clothes on me. There’s something about damp fabric that drives me crazy. I’ve never fully understood why; all I know is, the feel of wet fabric on my skin is very distressing to me. Just like the feel of a tag inside a shirt collar rubbing my neck, I literally cannot tolerate the sensation or damp fabric – especially on my forearms and wrists. It makes me crazy. It drives me nuts. I have to get away from it as soon as possible.


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