I’ve always been a Nervous Nelly. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor of my preschool, sobbing and clutching onto my mother because I didn’t want her to leave me there alone. I wasn’t alone. There were 15 other kids my age to play with, but still, she couldn’t leave. I cried on the bus ride on my first day of kindergarten. I’d cry in the bathroom. I’d cry during nap time. I’d cry at lunch. I’d cry during gym class. And then I’d leave school and cry at gymnastics after school. I used to make my mom sit up at the top of the gym bleachers every class, and she had to be in a spot where I could see her or – you guessed it – I’d start crying. She couldn’t get a soda. She couldn’t go to the bathroom. She couldn’t walk out of the gym for fresh air when my little brother would get antsy. I had to see her at all times. If at any point she was out of sight, I would lose it. I lived with a constant lump in my throat and pit in my stomach that only went away on Friday nights and was gone on Saturdays but came back first thing Sunday mornings.
By the time I got to first grade, my (separation) anxiety started making me physically ill. I would cry so much that I’d actually make myself throw up, which would result in me going to the nurses office and being sent home. My mother would come pick me up every time, with a sad, disappointed-but-not-too-disappointed-because-I-was-7 look on her face. I’d describe it more as a look of hopelessness. The kind of look that said, “WTF is wrong with my kid and how do I get her to like being away from me?”
My mom and teacher, Mrs. K (I’ve been searching for her on Facebook for years with no luck), decided to get together to come up with a plan of action. They were determined to help me get over my separation anxiety from my mother and find a way to get me to relax and enjoy being at school. Their solution started with my mom giving me a pep talk every morning before getting on the bus. She’d say, “I love you,” and “It’s only for a few hours,” “Have fun learning today!” and the most important one, “I’ll be right here when you get home.” My mom would then clip a key chain that she made for me (see below) with similar words of encouragement to help me get through the day. If at any point I got sad or anxious, Mrs. K would remind me to look at the key chain and give me the amount of hours left until school was over.
It worked for a while – until I remembered all of the scary and bad things that could happen to my mother when I was away at school and couldn’t “protect” her. My tears turned into what she and I refer to as a nervous gag-cough (which I still have today) which, of course, would inevitably lead to my throwing up and being sent home. This was my life ALL throughout elementary school. The crying and anxious vomiting eventually stopped. The gag-cough was under control for a while because mom took me to a doctor who gave me these magic, golden, gel-filled, ball-shaped pills that I think were some sinus medication but also helped with my “issue.” I started enjoying my after school sports and I started making friends. I was still always a nervous kid, but I was able to hide it a bit more and act “normal” in public. That is, so long as no one noticed my eye tic.
I was 8 years old, in 3rd grade, and I started to flutter my eyelids together rapidly, kind of like those cute butterfly kisses that parents do with their babies, except that it wasn’t cute when I did it – it was weird. My parents had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it, so naturally, they’d ask me to stop. Except I couldn’t. This lasted for about a week until I was finally able to take control. My parents had gone away on their anniversary and when they returned, I was so proud of myself, I ran up to my mom and said, “Mama! I stopped the blinking.” And then I did this…
I stopped that weird fluttering thing – but I replaced it with this weird squinty-blink thing. And I’ve been learning how to accept it and deal with it for the last 18 years. I would get made fun of, constantly, for what I did with my eyes. There was a boy, we’ll call him Jim, who used to just walk right up to me and start purposely squinting his eyes in my face – which would result in me becoming even twitchier because watching him do it made me anxious. He’d laugh and walk away. That still happens. I can’t watch someone else “twitch” without getting the urge to do it myself. I even had to scroll past this God forsaken gif in order to keep my eyes open to finish writing this post.
Over the years I’d try to suppress it. But the more I tried to control it and not twitch, I’d develop even weirder, more noticeable ones. I would squish my lips together and raise them up to my nose. I’d stretch my jaw down. At one point I was making high pitched noises with the back of my throat. Just to name a few… You know how parents try to get kids to stop biting their nails? My mom was begging me to start biting my nails instead of twitching my eyes. I tried. It didn’t work. And the twitch only got worse as I got older and life became more stressful. By my high school days, everyone already knew about my tic so it was “normal,” but when college and the real world rolled around, I had to start fresh and reassure everyone who was new in my life that, “No, I don’t have anything in my eyes, I just twitch,” and I’d have to control my immediate reaction to slap someone in the face when, in the middle of a conversation, they’d stop to say, “Whoa, what the fuck just happened to your face?”
I visited all types of doctors, from pediatricians who told me it was allergies to ophthalmologists who told me I had flakes on my eyelashes that were dropping into my eyes (??????) to psychiatrists who insisted I be put on anti-anxiety medications in order to keep my twitching at bay – which my mother never agreed to – to neurologists who put me on ADHD medication, which only made it worse, to getting acupuncture all in my damn face. At one point, I started seeing an eastern medicine MD who prescribed me an unbelievably insane and restricting diet along with supplements of neurotransmitters like GABA and other supplements like B12 and Magnesium. I was taking around 14 horse sized pills a day and basically living off kale and roasted turkey. I’m not going to lie, it actually helped. I felt more in control of my nervous system – if that makes any sense – and less anxious about life than I usually felt, but it was just too much. I was miserable after cutting out all of the good food in life that I loved and all of the supplements started irritating my insides. It also took around 5.5 hours of my day between sitting in her waiting room and then actually getting to the appointment and she didn’t take insurance on top of all of that. Although I stopped following that new life style, it did confirm that my tic isn’t just a voluntary habit like everyone was trying to convince me it was.
Quick science lesson: I have a deficiency in one of the major inhibitory or calming neurotransmitters in the central nervous system in the brain (hence the supplements for it). GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) is what is sometimes referred to as, “mother nature’s Xanax.” It’s what helps calm your nervousness when anxiety levels are high. Too much GABA will result in someone constantly feeling sluggish and/or experience brain fog. Too little GABA causes high anxiety levels, impulsivity, irritability and – causes body tics linked with Tourette Syndrome. Just like other forms of tics, my eye twitch gets worse when I’m stressed, anxious, and overly tired.
“Whoa, what the fuck just happened to your face?”
I used to hear things all the time from family or the “old aunties” about why I “needed” to stop ticking and I was given unsolicited advice on how to stop. People were telling me to drink more water (I should do that anyway), eat less red meat, and to add cardamom to everything I ate and drank and that would be sure to fix it. As if I had any control over what I was doing – and as if I WANTED to have this weird characteristic on my face – I’d hear things like, “Just relax,” or “No one will want to marry a girl who twitches,” and on the off chance someone DID want to marry me it was, “You don’t want to twitch on your wedding day, do you?”
Welp, here I am – almost two decades later – 20 days away from my wedding day and twitchier than ever. And, if you ask my fiancé, I got to this point in my life BECAUSE of my twitch. Thanks to unexpected traffic, my always-on-time and hates-that-I’m-always-late future husband was 15 minutes late to our first date. He claims to have spotted me sitting in the waiting area of the restaurant nervously twitching while awaiting his arrival (it’s true, I was nervous). According to him, that was why he fell for me on our first date. He thinks it’s “cute.” Go figure. The reason for my insecurities and added stressor to my life, the thing that I used to hate as being the first thing people noticed about me becomes the reason (one of – he “likes” me for more things than just my twitch, I promise) that I’m 20 days away from my own wedding day that I was told I might never get to because of.
I think it’s safe to say that if in nearly 20 years I wasn’t able to make my twitch go away, I won’t be able to do it in 20 days. So, it looks like I’ll be twitching in my wedding video, after all. I’ve already warned my photographer and videographer to try their best to delete candid photos and video clips they try to take that my twitch is present in. Though it doesn’t bother me in terms of self confidence anymore, it still physically bothers me as my eyes feel heavy and itchy and are in pain more often than not. It would be nice to pretend that I didn’t have it for a night. And it will be nice to look back at my wedding album 20, 30, 50, 70+ years from now, Inshallah, and not be reminded of my tic in the photos and videos – because let’s be honest, I’ll be twitching while reminiscing, anyway.
I think I’m at peace with my tic – for now. I’m not as worried about it today as I used to be, even though it’s probably the worst and most prominent it’s been in years #WeddingStress. Thankfully, but unfortunately for her, I have a dog that “inherited” my anxious personality and developed a similar twitch, so I can just bond with her over it. Every so often, I get down on myself and wonder why I can’t just “be normal” like everyone else. But then I remember that this tic is a part of who I am – and that everyone has got their “one” weird thing. For all the twitchy, quirky, squeaky, anxious, nervous-wreck but strong as hell women out there who deal with others pointing out their flaws every day – they’re just jealous they don’t have what you have.
Kidding. But really, who cares what they think. Embrace every part of what makes you you – all the great things and all the weird things. They are not flaws on your “person” – they are just there. Flaws are things that we convince ourselves or allow others to convince us of being out of place or not belonging. There’s nothing wrong with you and everything is as it should be. Who cares if you’re twitchy on your wedding day? It’s your damn wedding day. A day where you’ll (hopefully) be celebrating the start of the next chapter of your life with the person you love most, surrounded by the people you love most. No one is going to say, “Wow, what a beautiful bride she is! Too bad she’s twitching.” And if someone does, that person is an asshole.