Ella and the Time a Boy Gave Her a Drawing of the Chemical Structure of BenzaClin

I thought that I might tell you a funny story tonight.

When I was sixteen, I was taking a lot of medication, and one of the requirements for it was for me to take a class about the side-effects, managing it, and related topics. And it went like any class like that would go. We all got sheets about what the medication was doing, complete with drawings of cells and extensive descriptions of the pharmokinetics. I, of course, was fascinated by by the hard science and kept asking questions about chemistry.

(At some point, I will tell the story of the time I accidentally kept over twenty people from eating dinner for close to half an hour because I was interrogating a geologist for a coal mining company about the adverse effects to the environment.)

We learned about all the things we couldn’t take with the medication, which included being told at least three times a session that under no circumstances were we to miss a dose or take birth control pills without informing every doctor and their second cousins. And at the beginning of each session, we were asked about what other medications we were taking, including things like the last time we took Motrin, and about how much alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, et cetera we consumed. On the first day I said something about how I don’t consume any of the three because I like clear cognitions and a body entirely devoid of anything mind-altering, which led to me being gently reminded by the amused nurse that if I really felt that way, I probably shouldn’t be sitting in a class teaching me about a medication that would be changing how my body worked, just like how acetaminophen works on a fever.

Most of the other people in the class were nice, but there was this one boy who was my age who seemed fixated on me. But it wasn’t a good type of fixation. He was very socially awkward, had the habit of–perhaps innocently–insulting people, and would do everything he could to sit as close to me as possible–something I stopped by waiting until everyone else was seated and then choosing a seat between two other people, thus forcing him to be at least one chair away.

One day during the class, I noticed that he was busily drawing instead of staring at me. Naturally, I was ecstatic. Being uncomfortably stared at non-stop for forty-five minutes on a weekly basis is not anyone’s idea of a good time. Then, after class, he very proudly presented me with his drawing. It was–and I kid you not–a drawing of the chemical structure of the acne medication I used occasionally at the time. He had gone home, looked up the chemical formula and the structure, and drawn a picture of it for me. It was an alarming incident to say the least, and most certainly did not have the romantic effect he had intended.

So boys, let this be a lesson to you: Never give a girl a drawing of the chemical formula of her acne medication unless she very specifically requests it.

And that, my fine feathered friends, is the story of one of the many weird things that happened with me and boys that year. Maybe tomorrow might be a good day for the story about the very creepy boy who once ate Purell and later tried to lock me in a supply closet with him. I’m never quite sure why I seem to attract the strange ones.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

On Walking Pneumonia, Failed Eighth Grade Presentations on Afghanistan, and my Addiction to Cough Drops

As I wrote in In Which Ella Gets a Fever for the First Time in Two Years and In Which Ella Sounds Like a Seventy-Year-Old Man With Emphysema, I am sick. Whoopee.

I am still talking in a very husky voice, which unfortunately, does not sound alluring in the least, but my cough has gotten much worse. It makes my whole body shake, and I am reminded once again that it actually *is* possible to break ribs from coughing too hard. The cough sounds rather croup-y and rumbly and not at all like your standard, I’m-unwell cough. I have a history with walking pneumonia*, and everything that has happened so far matches up perfectly to the disease. Only this time, I’m planning on getting it treated before three months go by and it really bad.

Let me explain.

In eighth grade, I thought that what I had was just a weird virus that left a lingering cough. But the cough kept getting worse and worse, and my voice, hoarser and hoarser. It got to the point where people in other classrooms were getting distracted by incessant coughing. The day before my mother finally decided that it was serious and I needed a trip to the doctor, I had to give a twenty-minute long presentation.

We had read Suzanne Fisher Staples’ Underneath the Persimmon Tree and had been assigned a project of our choosing on Afghanistan. I decided that just like the characters in the book had, I was going to wear my brand new shalwar kameez and matching scarf that my dad had brought back from India a month earlier, and teach a lesson about Afghani culture. I had made a poster with maps and pictures carefully cut out of National Geographic, but when it came time for me to present, everything fell apart. I was coughing up a storm, making it near impossible for me to get a word in edgewise, and when I could form one, it came out as a very pathetic wheeze.

But despite the fact that my teacher kept offering for me to sit down and do it another day, I soldiered on until I got through all of it. I don’t think anyone, let alone me, heard anything I said, but they all very kindly listened as I enthusiastically pointed at the poster and hacked up a lung. Because I had also turned in a script with the poster, I miraculously got an A, and was still that I was fine when I got hauled into the doctor’s office that afternoon.

But I am not going to be so stupid this time. If the past five years have taught me anything, it’s to stick up for yourself and for your body. If you think that there is something going wrong, there probably is, and doctors work for you and not you for them. It’s okay to have a false alarm or catch something still in its infancy. They actually don’t like when a patient comes in with a sickness that could have been cured over a week ago.

So if this cough sticks around tomorrow, I’m headed to the doctor’s office posthaste on Monday.

Also, I have been very, very, very well behaved and not used being sick as an excuse to eat copious amounts of cough drops. When I was around ten, I would go through more than a pack every week, even when I wasn’t experiencing coughing or a sore throat. I was a regular cough drop connoisseur, and the Riccola sugar-free lemon ones were by far my favorite. However, it was when I ate an entire pack in one day, that my mom put her foot down, and I had to quit. Just like caffeine**, I’m proud to say that I haven’t had any in years, no matter how great the temptation.

*I spelled that right on the first try. Do not feel obligated to have a federal holiday in my honor for recognition of this stupendous achievement.

**Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did drink a Coke on my seventeenth birthday and a Diet Dr Pepper (They recently got rid of the period in dr. for some strange reason.) when I was sixteen, all within the same three month period, but that’s been it for many, many years. I swear.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Sounds Like a Seventy-Year-Old Man with Emphysema

Today was another long charge across the battle field of hacking cough. I also sounded like an old man with a wispy and gravelly voice, which is, you know, a definite improvement to my normal even tone. What eighteen-year-old girl doesn’t want to sound like a seventy-year-old with emphysema?

But dearest Maxwell has stuck by me all day, entirely unperturbed by the loud and delightful performances of my respiratory system and the nasty germs. He’s too sweet. There’s nothing quite as awful as being sick and alone.

Keeping with the theme of posting entirely unrelated and somewhat embarrassing pictures since I don’t feel up for much of anything, have a photograph of me looking miserable somewhere in the rain forest in Puerto Rico. It was close to a hundred degrees, incredibly humid, and my mother had insisted that I wear a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. After this was taken, we went for a three mile hike, and I was even more uncomfortable.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Gets a Fever for the First Time in Two Years

As it turns out, waking up with a fever, a headache, and a very sore throat kind of puts a damper on your day’s plans, especially when you don’t have any access to Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil.

Pretty much all I did today was nap and count down the hours until my mom would get home with some sort of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It was not very fun.

My plan to write about my day as it happens is being postponed until I’m no longer sick. Somehow, Ella lies in bed and feels horrible doesn’t sound like a very interesting topic.

For now, I will leave you with a picture of me from a few summers ago when I climbed a tree and then refused to move because I was too scared of heights. And nothing relates more to sickness than tree climbing.

I believe there was a lot of persuasion and a step ladder involved to get me back on the ground.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Real-Life Reactions to Tragedy and Cute Pictures of Baby Meerkats

I’m one of those people who is totally calm in the midst of a disaster.

Run away sailboat? No problem. I’ll concoct a plan and row the dingy.

Bus crash? Easy. I’ll get people to relax with the plethora of calming strategies I’ve learned over the years.

Bee sting? Bloody nose? Bad bicycle crash? Simple. Walk or limp calmly into the house or nearest location with a first aid kit and fix myself up. I’ve been locked in a garage with a mad hornet and not cried.

Death? Cancer? Alright. People need some comforting, I’m on it.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly a good thing. The gravity or sadness of the situation never hits me until later. For right now, I’m numb and pragmatic. It’s easy to be the calm one when other people are freaking out. It’ll just hit me later. Maybe a day from now or a week. It might even be a month or a year. But it’ll slam into me with the force of an eighteen wheeler carrying elephants, and I’ll breakdown. There will be tears and moping, just like everyone else the day of the incident.

And in a weird way, I feel tremendously guilty about this. I’m not supposed to be hit with adrenaline and start thinking of solutions when someone dies or gets cancer. I’m not supposed to think, Okay, it’s go time. Let’s do this. I’m supposed to mourn. This is the time for all the dramatics I seem to waste on stupid things like essays and airplanes. But no, that’s not the way my brain works. It’s never that I don’t care–I do tremendously– I’m just not showing it yet. Just give me some time. But for right now, could you use a cup of tea?

I’m sorry this is so scatterbrained tonight. We just learned that my maternal grandmother has bone cancer, and I’ve been busy collecting pictures of baby meerkats to show my mother and looking up trains to Florida.

I thought you all could do with some baby meerkat cuteness, too.

Aren’t their little, pink mouthes adorable. It makes me think of how Maxwell Perkins and his siblings looked as kittens when they had just been discovered by my cousin, abandoned in a hail storm in a boat by their feral mother. (I should tell the Max story at some point. It’s quite good. It involves benevolent pittbulls and bunk-beds.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella, Too Sticky Stickers, and Pink Square Tattoos

As it turns out, the special medical stickers that heart monitors use really, really hurt to take off. It’s been over six hours, and I still have pink squares where the stickers once were. Fun times.

Today, I also decided that if I ever get a tattoo–which of course, won’t happen, considering how I don’t find them very appealing and how scared I am of needles–I will not get large pinks squares all over my stomach and chest. It isn’t a good look.

In Which Ella Gets a Heart Monitor

I’m currently wearing one of those 24-hour heart monitors, which means I’ve got medical stickers connected to wires stuck all over my chest, and a little black box that I can clip to my pants tracking my heart rate.

It would be a fun experience–I mean, think about all the fun I could have pretending to be a robot–if it weren’t for the fact that I have to wear this monitor for actual medical reasons. My pulse has been unhealthily fast for the past few months, and I’d really like to see if there is anything actually wrong with it.

Healthy hearts and anorexia don’t exactly walk hand-in-hand. However, I don’t have any of the problems that anorexics usually have with their cardiovascular system. My heart rate is fast, not slow, and I don’t have any fluid surrounding my heart. We don’t really know what’s causing this, because my pulse has always been normal, and I’m not any medication that would cause this to happen. So it’s a mystery and this magical contraption is going to help us get to the bottom of it.

I was lying bed last night thinking about my heart, when it occurred to me how much I’ve changed since earlier this year. As I lay there, I realized that if there was something wrong with my heart, and I did die, it wouldn’t be all that bad. That’s not to say I’m suicidal or anything–I’m just kind of at peace with my own mortality right now. Dying would just be like going to sleep, and sleeping is never painful. I’d just regret not finishing that really, really long letter I’m writing to Cecelia and writing a proper will.

But back to being lighthearted about this*. I kind of enjoy wearing this monitor because, in my crooked mind, it looks super cool. I’ve got wires going everywhere, and it’s so incredibly impressive that a black box, special stickers, and a bunch of wires to monitor my heart for an entire day.

Unfortunately, I can’t exactly show anyone just how cool all the wires and stickers look. It’s just like when I was little, and I’d get new underwear, and I couldn’t show it to anybody no matter how cool it was. It’s rather disappointing that the wires couldn’t all be on my back or legs. You’ll just have to take my word for awesome I think this heart monitor looks.

Here’s hoping my heart’s healthy and that I don’t have anything to worry about.

*I’m hilarious.

In Which Ella Becomes a Literal Rocker

I’ve started rocking lately. I’ll be in class or alone, and then all of a sudden, I’m moving back and forth or in a slow circle. And while I do have a few ticks like compulsive leg wiggling, this one is new and strange. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about it is that I haven’t been able to come up with some sort of explainable pattern. I do it in class, I do it in the car, I do it while alone, and I even do it standing up. And in a weird way, the rocking is incredibly soothing. Unfortunately, it also makes me look like I’m insane, otherwise I’d be all for it.

The other bizarre sensory thing that’s been happening lately is this odd sense of floating. It happens the most often when I’m carrying my backpack, which is odd because that’s when I’m the most weighed down. I’ll lose sensation in my feet, I won’t be able to feel the weight of the bag, and a force will start to carry me forward. It’s the same force that has been making me rock. It’s long and royal blue with little flicks of yellow in its tail. It’s all airy and gaseous, just like the preset backgrounds on Macs.

Imagine that you’ve got a band of elastic wrapped around your chest. It’s about an inch wide, and it’s loose enough for someone to grab. Suddenly, it starts to gently pull you backwards. Then, some other force from behind pushes you forward, and you just move. Back and forth or floating. It’s like soft hands on your back, only this time there’s no uncomfortable pressure.

I have a lot of trouble with touching people if I’m not the one initiating it. Someone last year tried to slip their hand around my waist as a joke, and I screamed and somehow ended up on the floor with my arms in front of my face and my knees up to my chin. I will also fall to the ground if you come up behind me and touch my sides. (Of course, by mentioning this, I’ve pretty much guaranteed that someone at school will try to do this.) So in many ways this floating and rocking is scary.

I’m amazed at how these tiny pills can make my brain do so many strange things. And while I wish that this amazement was the positive type, I’m just plain freaked out by it. Letting something external intrinsically change who I am and how I feel is terrifying. I want to be in control. But until the day that I get the keys to this metaphorical car, I just need to learn how to relax and have faith.

On Boating, Mirrors, and Victory

Today was another day of feeling dizzy and off. The odd sensations of floating/boating haven’t ceased. I felt like I was paddling a canoe through first period. Second period, I floated around in an inner tube. Third, I spent in a row boat. By forth, I left for a very long sail for Nantucket with lots of breaks for dead man floats. I haven’t yet returned, and as of right now, it doesn’t appear that a return ticket was booked.

So by the time I got home, I was done. Really, really, really, really done. But rather than letting myself slid over into freak out mode, I decided to get creative. Whenever I get freaked out by side effects, I have a panic attack, and that panic attack is almost always the result of disassociation. To fix that I parked myself in front of the huge mirror on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I could sit on the stairs and see my whole body and behind me. That way I would know that it was me. I grabbed some yellow rice and chicken from the fridge, made popcorn, and poured myself some juice into this awesome cup that I made when I was five.


I have two observations about this mug. One: I clearly have excellent potential to become an artist and Two: I have never been good at accurately depicting my body.

Then, I turned on my iPod and just sat there and watched myself eat. I still felt like was the model of buoyancy and that I was gaining pounds by the mouthful, but I wasn’t panicking. I was just sitting there, eating food and waiting it all out. It’s the first time a long time that coping skills have been an hundred percent effective in the face of side effects. Maybe it was my Rainy Tuesday playlist or yellow rice that did it, but I’d like to think that it was me, that I did something entirely right for once, and that I can overcome my challenges all by myself.

Victories like that one twenty minutes ago are never as loud as my failures (Crying in English, crying at lunch, crying in French, etc.). Mostly, they go unrecognized. I write them off as flukes and tell no one or the people around me don’t notice. But I am going to tell you, whoever is reading this blog, about this one. I’m going to make sure that you know about it. And in doing that, I am going to make sure that I am not going to let it slip by the wayside either. I’ll build on what just happened today. I’ll force it to become a pattern. I’ll make it so that I never panic about side effects again. I will. Just watch me.

On a completely unrelated note, I have suddenly been forced into the position of hand-washing police in my house because people around here apparently haven’t passed pre-school health.

On Sad Ruminations

Today, I went to school for the second day in a row–something that I’m supposedly supposed to celebrate. (They call me a “writer” because of word choices like that.) As I sat in the Large Group Instruction room this morning, choosing my next elective (the history of the 2000s), I was met the overwhelming disappointment that my “celebrations of achievement” are all just living up to the norm. They’re nothing exemplary at all.

No one else gets high-fives for attending class or not crying. But I do, because I’m different. And that different hurts. It hurts so much. That different makes me feel entirely alone a lot of the time. It makes me awkward, unwieldy, scary. I’m not like the rest. I don’t fit in. People don’t know how to respond to me, and I don’t know how to respond to them.

I know that everyone is insecure, even the people that I idolize, but I am sure that this suspicion of awkwardness is well grounded in fact. I miss pop-culture references. It takes me minutes or days to figure out dirty jokes. “What’s the difference between deer nuts and beer nuts? One’s a dollar fifty, the other’s under a buck.” left me confused for about a week. (As it turns out the joke is not about deer poop, as I initially thought after two days’ reflection.) I tend to repeat things, ask abstract questions (Do you ever think that people would still like you if they could see inside of your brain? Do you ever think about how abstract the concept of money is? Isn’t our ability to communicate amazing?), or just have no idea how to talk to someone (Namely, boys. I really suck at talking to boys. They’re intimidating, and rarely seem to like me.).

So it’s nights like tonight that leave me thinking: Will I ever be independent? Will I ever leave home? Will I ever go to college? Will I ever be loved by someone else? Will I ever get married? Will I ever be able to have children? Will I ever be halfway normal?

Somedays, like today, I would do anything to be taken off of all of these brand new medications and to go back to January or December when I spent weeks in bed. Sure, I was horribly, horribly depressed, but I owned my brain. I didn’t forget where I was or wander around the hallway in circles for half an hour wondering where I was supposed to be or what I was doing. I didn’t feel like I was floating or that I was actually hovering above my own head, looking at the world with a bird’s eye view. I didn’t feel as I do now, as if I am caught on a boat, being gently pushed by waves, leg muscles constantly shifting to maintain balance. I’ve got a royal case of “sea-legs” which hasn’t halted for weeks, and it scares me. It really, really does. The knowledge that this is how the rest of my life will be is terrifying and makes me incredibly unhappy.

And as my thoughts spiral and I start to sob, I think about how my classmates don’t know how lucky they are. How incredibly, incredibly lucky. They are all leaving for college next year. They have beautiful, rosy futures. They have lives that don’t revolve around doctors’ visits. They’ve never spent time in a psych ward or months in outpatient clinics. I don’t think they know how much I am jealous of them and how very much I admire them. Those incredibly lucky and wonderful people are why I fought to go back to my high school and not to some therapeutic boarding school; they’re why I try to go to school every day; they’re why I love my classes so much; they’re why a lot of this pain is worth it. I’m going to miss them so much when they all leave. So, so much.

But despite all of this, I have my courage, and I have my hope. I must stop crying, and I must begin my work once more. I am determined to force the answers to my questions to become “yes.”