Friday, September 26th, 2020
I’m waiting for the clonazepam to kick in. I am desperate, desperate it will kick in soon. I haven’t needed to take clonazepam in about four months. In fact, in my mind, I was done with that shit. Not because there’s anything wrong with needing to pop the occasional chill pill, but because I, Zara Barrie, the first girl in her class to let a boy feel her up in the woods behind school and the last girl in her class to take the PSATs has a propensity —
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
— toward using prescription medication as a way to not feel.
That’s what I meant to say. But alas, I could not finish the sentence. And I always finish my sentences.
But this time, I just couldn’t.
For starters, my trusted clonazepam didn’t kick in as fast as I needed her to. So I popped one of her sister pills into my mouth and put on a guided meditation. A real ~fancy~ one I sourced from glamorous YouTube. It was a twenty-minute meditation and the woman guiding us had a voice just like Demi Moore. Sleepy & sultry & raspy. An after sex voice.
I closed my eyes and prayed to Lana Del Rey that the images™ would go away. That the textures™ would go away. My skin was crawling so quickly and so furiously, I feared my flesh would creep off my body and I’d be left skinless. Then I had an image of myself without flesh. As raw bone.
I was haunted by that image, as well as the other images, until I passed out. The benzodiazepines girlies worked their magic and knocked me out faster than Mike Tyson knocks out Eminem in his “Godzilla” music video.
What are these torturous images I’m speaking of and what the hell is going on with me?
Well, kittens, as some of you might know, I have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder that’s not quite as rare as one might think. I have what’s known as “obsessive intrusive thoughts.” Only it manifests for me, not in obsessive unwanted thoughts like What if I’m a serial killer (a VERY common OCD intrusive thought). Mine materializes in the form of intrusive images.
Example: When I’m in the throes of an OCD flare-up an image will shack up in my brain and there won’t be room for me to focus on anything else. Sometimes it’s something understandably disturbing — a graphic image of an abused animal someone thoughtlessly posts on Facebook. (Can people cut that shit out?). The first flare-up I ever had, which subsequently sent me into the worst downward spiral of my life and almost killed me, was born out of a nightmare. An actual nightmare, not a proverbial nightmare. I dreamt of a fluffy white dog with bullets stuck in its fur. For months upon months upon months, the image of the dog with the fur bullets vibrated through my brain. It was a dark image and obviously saddening on a personal level as I’m a colossal animal lover, but it was more than that, babe. The texture of the silver bullets peering through the sheer white fluff did something to me.
The best way I can describe it: The image made me want to throw up and peel off my skin. It sent cold shivers down my body. It gave me an electrical anxiety that zapped through my blood.
At the time I had no idea what the hell was going on, so I didn’t tell a soul (not to mention I was living in London all by my lonesome, and hadn’t yet cultivated those deep, soulful friendships one needs in order to get through this kind of madness). Not only did the image taunt my mind’s eye all day, every day, new intrusive images kept skulking their way into my orbit. I became fixated on the texture of the exposed brick in my apartment. It sort of zig-zagged and my brain couldn’t handle it. I would stare at it and it would disturb me to my core in the most visceral way; it’s actually hard to describe with words.
And we all know I can’t do many things, but I can describe almost anything with words.
I’ve written a lot about my experience in London (but the realest mental illness tea is in my book) so I won’t bore you by rehashing all of those gory details for the millionth time. But, in a nutshell, that whole ordeal is what kicked off my habit of consciously self-medicating with deadly shit like Xanax and wine (trust me those two seemingly-sweet bitches can be deadly).
My London friends collectively deemed me an over-sensitive American girl anyway (which at twenty-three possessed me to bathe in a pool of shame every night) so who the fuck was I going to talk to? My parents? Hell no. I’d rather impress them with pretty lies, than scare them with the vile truth. So I’d just trudge over to the shady pub across the street and drink till the images disappeared. Which worked.
Except the next day they’d come back ten million times more vivid and distressing because booze and drugs work like those greasy, thick drugstore foundations we slathered across our acne-ridden skin as teenagers. Yes, they covered up the “flaws” you so desperately wanted to hide before meeting up with your friends at the super cool suburban basement party you’d been excited about for weeks — but the next morning you’d wake up with skin ten million times worse than it was the night before. And despite the fact that I rhinestone everything I own like Paris Hilton did in the early 2000s, I’m no trust-funder. Sigh. Which meant I had to get up and go to a job every day — a job that required me to talk to people (gag) and smile sweetly like Kate Middleton and be pleasant like an English Rose. It’s hard to act like an english rose when images and textures sneer at you all day long.
Finally, I faced the music. I felt like I was losing my marbles. My life was akin to a bad acid trip that never wore off.
Finally, I saw a doctor who prescribed me an SSRI medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) called Lexapro. Within two weeks the images began to fade into the background of my brain. I could look at the exposed brick in my studio without feeling my insides were going to fly out of my body. Sometimes a certain texture or image would linger in the back of my brain for a few days, but it was so soft and subtle, I was able to ignore it.
My OCD didn’t run my life anymore. I could be present. Which anyone who has ever lived their lives burning inside of a hell of their own volition knows, being present is the ultimate freedom.
The past ten years haven’t been all rainbows and butterflies and unicorns and quilted Chanel bags, but I’ve managed to stay afloat in the dark and stormy waters of OCD. I sort of forgot how harrowing the whole OCD debacle had been, for awhile there. When I wrote about it in great detail in my book I was reminded how utterly painful that experience was, but at least I could write about it. I used to not be able to speak about it without willingly walking into an OCD prison cell, tossing away the key, and staying locked inside there for several days.
A few months ago I broke up with my favorite SSRI (Prozac). I wrote about all the reasons why here. And truthfully things have been going so well since Prozac and I, in the words Gwyneth Paltrow “consciously uncoupled.” I feel like there was fog on my inner windshield that has suddenly cleared up and I can see the road in front of me clearly. I’m also crying all the time. I know for some people crying all the time seems like hell, but for me, it feels like an emotional orgasm. (I like feelings.) Also, incessant crying has given me the release I’ve longed for this past decade. For me, popping those daily pills made it hard to have a good healthy sob. It felt like there was this build-up of pain that was stuck inside of my body. Being able to fucking weep has made me lighter, more joyous, given me more clarity. (Sort of like having a really good colonic). Writing provides me with a release, but not in the way that physical tears do. I mean if you think about it, crying exists for a reason. We wouldn’t be genetically inclined to have liquid pour out of our eyeballs when overcome with a feeling, if it wasn’t healthy for us.
And yes, I’ve felt a bit like a raw open wound that anything can seep inside since being of the Prozac. But since I quite responsibly (purr) prepared myself for going off those pretty orange pills and made sure I had been consistent with my talk therapy for four months prior – I had tools in place to ensure whatever did make its way inside of those gaping wounds couldn’t render me infected.
I’ve been so proud of myself. Not that I was ever ashamed of being on antidepressants, but I was proud of myself for taking the leap. For doing the work.
But then the images came back.
I can’t write about it in detail because it triggers too much of an episode, but let’s just say it started with an image I saw on social media (not a violent or graphic image. An image with a jarring texture). I didn’t tell my partner because that would make it too real. I chose to ignore it, as I’m inclined to do with anything that doesn’t fit into the narrative I write for myself.
The next day another image got trapped in my brain. Again, I didn’t tell my partner. I didn’t sleep a wink, and not sleeping makes any alignment, physical or mental, worse, so the next day was extra bad.
So I spoke to my brother, who is my closest confidant in the world. By the time we got to talking, I was in a full on OCD crisis. He gave me an emergency clonazepam.
The clonazepam helped immensely. I took to my laptop to write this piece. I thought I was stable enough to write the piece. But even with the chill pills swishing through my system, I quickly realized I wasn’t ready to write the piece. I had to do what I advise everyone does when Scottish castles feel like they’re crumbling over your body and crush you dead; I fell asleep. Sometimes you can’t write. Sometimes you need to put yourself to bed.
I woke up and booked an appointment with my psychiatrist right away.
This was just last night.
I told him everything. I told him how successful I’d been off Prozac.
Except for this little demon that was getting bigger and bigger by the minute.
And it’s true, for me, that an SSRI helps keep that demon nice and small. I can handle the demon when he’s tiny. I can scoot him out of the way with my hand when I need him to leave me alone. I can’t handle him when he’s so gargantuan he violates my entire frame of vision and I can’t see anything else.
So we decided to try a pediatric dose of an SSRI antidepressant newer to the market called Trintellix. It has very low reported sexual side effects or weight gain. I know I shouldn’t care about the weight gain. But my issues with weight and body dysmorphia are so deep-rooted (I’ll write a whole book on that one day!) that they affect my decisions about almost everything. I’m aware that I need to liberate myself from the shackles of toxic diet culture, and I feel bad about myself for not being there yet. I also feel bad about the ten pounds I’ve gained over the past year. And I feel bad for feeling bad about that, which is why I’m seeing a specialist.
Here’s some tea: I have told no one about my choice (except my shrink) to be taking a low-dose of an SSRI. I swim in a sea of love, but those waters can be judgmental despite their pure intentions. I get it. It’s hard for people to understand the severity of intrusive thoughts. “I can’t get the texture of tinfoil out of my brain and it’s torturing me!” I’m fully aware of how looney toons that sounds.
I also don’t want to explain myself or my decision right now, for I’m secure in my choice and I don’t need outside noise. I’m also exhausted from explaining myself to the people I love. I validate them in the sense that psychotropic drugs and I have a complicated, often toxic relationship. But I think we’re in a healthy place right now. We shall see.
The main thing is this: At this point in my life I can’t let the OCD monsters win. For the first time in my life, I’m sort of happy. A lot of the work I’ve done over the past decade is finally starting to pay off. I refuse to let a biochemical disease ruin my hard-earned fun. 2020 has been painful enough.
And I wanted to write this post because so many people in the private Crazy Sad Babes facebook group (DM me if you want in) expressed to me that they have gone through the same thing. The texture, image, intrusive thoughts, OCD thing. And it’s something that needs to be out in the ether because it’s nothing to be ashamed of!
On the contrary, it’s just another thing that makes us nuanced, interesting, empathetic, highly-sensitive individuals. And so long as we take care of ourselves and don’t get caught up in a stubborn narrative that will keep us stuck in place, we’ll be okay. We’ll be better than okay. We’ll harness our power collectively and free the world from shackles of shame.
My debut book GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP: THE BAD GIRL’S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR SH*T TOGETHER is available NOW on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and BAM! If you send me a screenshot of your preorder, I’ll send you swag!
Praises for GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP
“Zara has the rare talent of marching into the deepest, darkest moments of life—the mascara-teared and alcohol-soaked—scooping them up, and thrusting them into the light with amazing clarity, forgiveness, and compassion. As her editor at Elite Daily, I had the honor of watching Zara blossom into the emotionally raw and poetic writer she is now. Her gripping first-person narratives help every woman (including me) come to terms with her own demons or insecurities in a refreshingly comfortable way. There’s a reason she’s built up an army of ‘babes’ who are empowered by the words of their dear big sister, Z: Her candid honesty and no bullshit advice are simply addicting.”
– Faye Brennan, Sex & Relationships Director, Cosmopolitan
“Reading Zara is like reading your own thoughts—only sexier and much more brilliantly written.”
– Kaitlyn Cawley, former Editor-At-Large, Bustle Media Group and former Editor-in-Chief, Elite Daily
“Reading Zara’s writing will make you feel like you’re at your cool-as-hell big sister’s sleepover party. You will be transfixed by her unflinching honesty and words of wisdom, and she’ll successfully convince you to not only ditch the shame you feel about the raw and messy parts of yourself, but to dare to see them as beautiful.”
– Alexia LaFata, Editor, New York Magazine
“If Cat Marnell and F. Scott Fitzgerald had a literary baby it would be Zara Barrie. She’s got Marnell’s casual, dark, downright hilarious tone of an irreverent party girl. But then she also has Fitzgerald’s talent for making words literally feel like they sparkle on the page. You instantly feel more glamorous after reading a page of Zara’s writing, even when the page is talking about getting into a screaming match with her girlfriend outside of a bar on a Sarasota street corner while high on benzos. I’ve always been a fan of Zara’s writing, but Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup takes it to the next level. With shimmery words that make her dark stories sparkle, she seamlessly manages to inspire even the most coked-out girl at the party to get her shit together.”
– Candice Jalili, Senior Sex & Dating Writer, Elite Daily
“Self-help meets memoir. Party girl meets wise sage. Beauty meets reality. Zara Barrie is the cool older sister you wish you had. The one that lets you borrow her designer dresses and ripped up fishnets, buys you champagne (she loves you too much to let you drink beer), and colors your lips with bright pink lipstick. She’ll take you to the coolest parties, and will stick by your side and she guides you through the glitter, pain, danger, laughter, and what it means to be a f*cked up girl in this f*cked up world (both of which are beautiful despite the darkness). Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the girls that are too much of a beautiful contradiction to be contained. Zara is a gifted writer—one second she’ll have you laughing over rich girls agonizing over which Birkin bag to buy, the next second she’ll shatter your heart in one sentence about losing one’s innocence. Zara is the nuanced girl she writes for—light, irreverent, snarky, bitchy, funny; and aching, perceptive, deep, flawed, wise, poised, honest—all at once. Perhaps the only thing that can match Zara’s unparalleled wit and big sister advice is her candid humor and undeniable talent for the written word. Zara is one of the most prolific and entertaining honest voices on the internet—and her talent is only multiplied in book form. Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the bad girls, honey.”
– Danya Troisi, Executive Editor, GO Magazine