Twitch and Shout
If you had asked me a week before Christmas how I was doing, I would have said “fine.” I would have been lying. You would have known it, too, because of The Twitch.
A combination of graduation deadlines, a looming birthday, and incipient holiday merriment (if that’s what they’re calling it these days) caused a recurring spasm in the cheerless bag of lilac flesh beneath my left eye. It’s not hidden by my glasses or any amount of under-eye makeup. It writhes on my pale, otherwise composed face, a little purple, twitching signal to the world that I am under the kind of pressure that creates diamonds and celebrity overdoses.
I’m no stranger to the eye twitch, but previous incarnations were all of the Did you see it? There it goes again! No, right there! type – the kind I could feel but that were invisible to everyone else. That kind of twitch has been caused by things like finals week or moving, and passed away within a few days.
The Twitch is different. It’s more of the Ohmygod, is she going to pull out a gun?kind of twitch, the kind actors in bad movies make when someone is about to reveal the dynamite strapped to her chest, a twitch like a skeezy disco party happening under my eye without my consent.
The Twitch makes it hard for me to take myself seriously. When I sat down to finish my thesis, The Twitch whispered about my incompetence as a student. I ran my credit card through the checkout at the local Thrifty Mart and The Twitch started giggling over the scarcity of Christmas gifts under our tree. The Twitch knows the buttoned-down anxiety of staying at my father’s house on Christmas Eve, and wants everyone else to know about it, too.
I do recognize my own role in this. I’ve been accused of being distant, cold, repressed, emotionally frigid, and heartless. And that’s just my therapist talking. It’s true I embrace that uniquely Yankee approach to relationships: keep everything inside for as long as possible, all the while maintaining a stoic face and making sure the 4 a.m. chores are done. According to my Puritan heritage, emoting is cause for shame and apology.
As you can imagine, this presents some relationship challenges. In this touchy-feely, Dr. Phil-informed century, it is no longer sufficient to indicate depth of feeling with a clenched jaw and a discreet dab at the eyes. Or so my last half-dozen relationships prove.
Such sangfroid has other side effects, too. The Twitch, for one.
When The Twitch made its debut on my face back in early December, I did what all sane people do: I consulted Dr. Google. The most convenient time to do this was 2 a.m., after six hours of thesis work, a cup of coffee clutched in my vibrating fingers. I was assured that, barring the possibility of a serious neurological disorder, it was probably a passing thing. I twitched over the possibility of having incurable brain cancer for a while, and then read on.
The Twitch, I found out, could be aggravated by fatigue or lack of sleep, over-consumption of caffeine, physical or emotional stress, anxiety or phobias, or eye stress associated with extended viewing of the computer screen. Excellent, I thought. If I just change my entire life, The Twitch and I can avoid eye contact and pretend we were never friends.
With the holidays over, my papers handed in, my degree complete and graduation walked, I thought I might get a reprieve. I was wrong. The Twitch is a zombie that resurrects itself when prompted by a late night or an early morning, an extra cup of coffee, a conversation about my future or thoughts of student loan debt.
Having such a visible signal of my emotions is going to take some adjustment, but I’m trying to make friends with it. The Twitch can be a useful sign that I’m not taking care of my body, or I’m being dishonest with myself, or I need to dig out whatever feelings I might be stuffing down. The Twitch tells me unequivocally when it’s time to go home and curl up with a book instead of attending another meeting. It’s a message from my subconscious, a telegram from deep inside that tells me (twitch, twitch) to take it easy.
And unlike its beleaguered host, The Twitch never lies.
Jen Hodsdon now has the right to put the letters MFA after her name whenever she wants. Oh, and her therapist never really says those things about her.