I came out to Los Angeles again for the first time in two years with much trepidation. But isn’t that what life is all about — facing your fears??!!!
Why did I come out here to push myself beyond what most people with my OCD and Asperger’s Syndrome conditions wouldn’t do? For starters, I’m motivated to succeed in life and overcome all my fears. I’m sure there are better and nobler causes but for now this where I am.
The second reason is I love Los Angeles and have “unfinished” business here.
I had always wanted to live in Hollywood since I was a kid and be part of its celebrity and film milieu. I studied film in college and came out to the City of Angels in 1988 when I was a wee young lad of 27. My goal was to make my mark in the film world. For those of you have seen my film OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, you’ll know that my first experience here was a disaster. I just didn’t have the emotional infrastructure in place to cope with this city or any other city at the time. I was getting weak therapy at the time that was not addressing my Asperger’s or OCD; so consequently, I had no friends and was extremely a-social and angry. Fast forward twenty-six years later and I have made a film: I have two gifted therapists, some nice funds in the bank, a very good support system of friends and family and an emotional toolbox that keeps growing week by week.
So, how’s it going, you ask?
My first few days in Los Angeles were both good and bad. I came here to be a presenter for the first time at the International OCD Foundation’s national convention. The presentation took place last Friday and went off very nicely — if I do say so myself. I was part of a group that discussed the relationship between therapists, psychiatrists, and OCD consumers. In other words, keeping the psychiatrist who prescribes medication on the same page with the therapist is extremely important (I had forgotten to tell my therapist about a med change and I started having all these weird satanic theories about which people in the population were working for the devil? Really far out stuff!).
I then went to see my sister Debbie and her husband Larry for a fantastic lunch at Ivy’s — a really great restaurant on North Robertson Boulevard in Beverley Hills. I was socially on fire! You would never know I had Asperger’s Syndrome. I was fully engaged with my sister and her husband.
But then a big bump in the road occurred at night. I went to what is called a “virtual camping trip.” This is where all the attendees from the convention go out at night with Dr. Jonathan Grayson, the OCD maestro. Dr. Grayson and his staff do what is called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). ERP attempts to expose you to your OCD related fears. It gets you to face your anxiety at a level you can tolerate so you become used to having the thoughts and feelings. So, for example, since I suffer from harm OCD, I had to walk through a crowd of people with a huge pen-knife as they purposely screamed at the top of their lungs to simulate being stabbed by me and the other women who were doing the exposure with me. About one hundred attendees were at the event; most formed two long lines that were about fifty people on each side of us. A year or two ago, I would have had problems holding a knife to them fearing I could kill them but I had done this type of exposure with my cognitive-behavioral-therapist in January. I literally held a knife to his neck just to expose to having violent thoughts and seeing that I can have them without acting on them.
I did the same here at this “camping trip.” But this time I knew I was getting better because I had very little anxiety at all. The most that came out of me was a whine or a grimace. The reason I signed up for this event was that I wanted to be social with people and continue the plan for going to social events that I had laid out with my Asperger’s therapist.
But it’s what happened after the knife experiment that really threw me — I totally shut down emotionally. And this is not like me at this stage of my life. Basically, I walked around the rest of the camping trip not wanting to talk or engage with anybody. I told myself at the time that I was tired which was partly the truth since it had been a long day already.
But that wasn’t the whole truth. When I got back to my hotel room, I realized the real reason I had shut down: I didn’t want to be someone who was mentally ill. I wanted, unfortunately, to be better than these people at the camping trip.
Yet, perhaps, it is me who has the real problem. I cannot accept people for who they are and want them to be something they are not. I want myself to be something I am not most of the time. That is the one of the reasons that I do mindfulness-based training. Modeled after the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn (who in turn based his concepts on that of the Buddha), mindfulness teaches you to be in the present moment as much as possible. Had I been more adept at the practice (it takes a lot of skill and time), I would have accepted the virtual campers for who they were: human beings who are just trying to make it in the world as I am.
But, unfortunately, one of the reasons I am drawn to Los Angeles is that this is the capital of fame and fortune. A lot of people here are not who they claim to be. Life is just too damn difficult to be ordinary and second rate.
At least that’s how I feel a lot of the time. However, I have been working hard with my therapist to not feel this way. The work we do is not based on becoming famous or being popular and wealthy. It’s based on learning to like yourself and others for who they are and not what you want them to be.
But acceptance is difficult for me. It comes at a price. It means giving up the childhood dream of everybody liking and loving me. Everybody doing what I want them to do for me. I know now that is a fantasy. It just won’t work.
And yet that is part of the appeal of Los Angeles. It is a total fantasy world out here.
I also came to LA with hopes of meeting a woman. Not any old woman but a special woman. I’ve been lonely for too long now. My therapist said that meeting the right woman would make all the difference in the world for me.
In a few weeks I’ll be attending a screening of a well-known actor’s new movie. So, with my penchant for connecting with famous and gorgeous people (as shallow as that sounds), maybe, oh just maybe, I will meet somebody there.
But, alas, I have a conflict with that as well. There really is a part of me that wants to live in the real world so if I did meet that “someone special” at this screening, I don’t think I would be grounded and that worries me.
I have a fantasy of hooking up with an actress before I leave to go home to Philadelphia the next day. Hopefully, I would form an attachment to her and then have a reason to come back here to live on a semi-permanent basis.
At the same time, the realities of life are that my mom lives back east and she hasn’t been well. She has developed Parkinson’s and has trouble walking on her own. I feel obligated to take care of her. And while I feel I have a right to my own life, my mother is very dependent on me now, though I don’t think she quite sees it in the same way. My wish is that she would get a caregiver (no matter how insensitive that sounds). I would still like a relationship with my mother but one where I feel on a more equal footing with her and not as her servant or “nurse.”
My mother and I need to be less co-dependent on each other if the relationship is to survive.
Well, anyway, as I write this I’ve been here six days and have pushed through on a lot of things: socials, a presentation, and that disastrous camping trip.
The conference is over with now and I’m all alone to fend for myself.
But this is another real reason I came to Los Angeles. I think I came here to grow up finally or continue the process in another big time way. I’m a far different person than I was twenty-five years ago. I just wasn’t emotionally ready for the world. Now, as my therapist believes, this is the perfect storm. Had that actor not had his screening in the same year as the conference there’s no way I would have been out here.
And yet, almost every night of the week for the past year, I have been dreaming about my old home about forty minutes outside of LA in the San Fernando Valley in Mission Hills.
And despite the fact that I have a big obsessive fear of getting into a car accident and becoming incapacitated, I plan to make that forty-minute drive from my hotel on the 405 freeway to my old home, in order to do another exposure exercise — to face my fears of obsession surrounding this potential accident.
No doubt I’m going to be very worried. And if I do get into that accident, then so be it. That was what the universe had to offer me at that moment — the perfect storm. In fact, maybe almost every episode in our lives is in some way the perfect storm.
Each event cascading into the next until we reach our final destination, whatever that may be. Do we have any control over what happens? Sometimes I think we are on a ship that is taking us on a journey without a captain. The ship goes wherever it wants, obviously into uncharted territories. Other times, I feel like I am the captain and that is enough for that particular time.
But what to do when we feel like we have no control over anything? Is it time to abandon the ship and jump to safety? Probably not. Because once we do that our lives have stopped. We have halted the vessel that is taking us to the Promised Land — a heaven on earth. We must ride out the waves and the rough patches and stop fighting with the sea of life because no matter what we do, it will take us where it wants. We must be prepared for the journey because we are on it, whether we like it or not.
The illusion of childhood is fun but it is just that — an illusion. I hope my mother understands that one day. Even if she is not on the ship with me, I’m going to be okay captaining it myself. That is what all parents should give their children — the ability to guide their ships through the perfect storm.