When a Woman Expresses Rage and Other Inconvenient Feelings

Stream of consciousness writing is recommended by some therapists to help reduce anxiety. It does seem to help and I should do it more often but tend to forget. I’ve never posted anything written in this manner but the man of the house suggested I share this one I wrote last week after I showed it to him. I haven’t made any edits and haven’t even read through it to see if it still makes sense:

Sometimes I daydream about going to a boxing gym and beating a heavy bag with my hands and feet until I’m literally so exhausted and physically broken that I can’t lift myself off the floor.

Gyms are gross, you guys. You don’t want to end up on the floor.

Xanax can fix anxiety but it doesn’t do shit for rage. Rage doesn’t go neatly and quietly back into its little box. You have to wrestle it back in the box like a goddamned Lernaean Hydra while its heads keep multiplying.

There’s a point where I feel like my mind is breaking. If I take one more step or hear one more word, the me which currently exists will be lost forever.

It isn’t anger either. Anger is easy. Anger feels like a puff pastry that goes down smoothly with a nice chocolate stout. Anger is my oldest friend. We stay in touch and our dogs have regular play dates. We know the world is a fucked up place but we have things to do so we don’t dwell on it too much.

Rage is the unstable former college roommate who fucked your then-boyfriend in your bed and sent you the video on your birthday. It shows up at your house 10 years later unannounced and uninvited demanding money while blaming you for its gambling debts and heroin addiction.

Meanwhile, you’re left gobsmacked wondering where the fuck that all came from and how fast can you get it the hell out of your life permanently. It took you for one helluva ride. And when it finally leaves, you can’t believe how tired and relieved you are to be left alone with your low-grade anxiety disorder. This, you can survive.

On To-Do Lists and Family Dynamics…Because Shut Up

The year I turned 40, I decided to stop doing things I don’t want to do. I decided I wasn’t particularly interested in anyone’s opinion of me or my life choices. Since it no longer mattered how I was perceived, I stopped cooking. Other than occasionally boiling water or putting a frozen pizza in the oven, I would microwave whatever or have a sandwich.

When the lockdowns began in March, everyone started baking bread. I went through that phase in the 1990s so it definitely wasn’t for me. We were still trying to figure out how to sell a TV show when no one was pitching or shooting so I kept my focus where it belonged. Changing viewing habits throughout this bizarro year have caused us to reshuffle our projects so that I have a bit of downtime. While I wait for the baton pass, I’m revisiting all of those things that have been “on the list.”

My grandmother died in 2012 and I was the executrix of her estate. There was a small piece of property which had been bouncing around in my grandfather’s family since 1930 and was finally sold around 1995. This particular quarter-section of dry farmland was in a corner of Kansas few have reason to visit. Most of us in the family had a vague idea of its existence but had never seen it and there was a general air of annoyance whenever it was discussed. When my grandmother died, it never occurred to me that I would need to think of that property again.

As an only child, I am mystified by sibling relationships. I never learned the fine arts of manipulation and emotional blackmail. This has probably held me back in my career. Regardless, I never understood the weirdness in my grandfather’s family. He and his two siblings were adopted from different families so I just chalked it up to different backgrounds and really only paid attention at Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I got tired of being around the whole fam-damily, I would go outside and hang with the animals. There was a fucking LION for Christ’s sake…but that’s another story for another day.

So I’m sitting here in Mexico thinking about my storage unit in Arizona. I need to deal with the contents and stop paying for what feels like unnecessary baggage. There are family heirlooms which need to be given to cousins with children. There are documents I need to retrieve and keep with me. There is furniture to be sold or donated. There is book research I can pick up and actually finish. And there are a few outstanding questions which need to be answered. This is how I landed on 160 acres in Morton County, Kansas.

We never straightened out the mineral rights. Just thinking about this gives me a headache. There are multiple deeds back and forth between my great-grandmother and her children with weird percentages for the surface land and other splits for the mineral rights. All of these people are gone so multiple estates were involved. There was a fair share of acrimony involved. People felt entitled. Agitation from outside the family exacerbated the issues. It became one of those things that ends up being dropped because the inevitable fight isn’t worth a small monetary gain.

When I was a child, I could never understand when an adult would answer a question with, “Leave it alone; The past is in the past.” I’ve reached a point where I not only understand that answer but I FEEL that answer deep in my bones. I still don’t understand what was so special about this piece of land that was tiny compared to the rest of the acreage the family owned. If it was so important, I don’t understand why the issue wasn’t resolved while everyone was still alive. I certainly don’t understand why people have to make things so goddamned complicated.

I still struggle with choosing what deserves my mental energy. I still have a million questions and a million things I want to do. There are a lot of loose ends. It seems the ongoing exercise is accepting that some things can and probably should be left undone.

An Altogether Different Sensory Experience

I was sitting on our patio overlooking the ocean catching up on the news with a cup of coffee this morning and noticed a seagull tooling around overhead. This is part of my daily routine. The owls are just ending their shifts. All of the neighborhood dogs are barking at people walking to work. Roosters have been doing their thing since about 3:00 and will be at it most of the day. My neighbor’s singing is regularly drowned out by squeaky suspensions due to the Baja dust and washed-out roads. Hearing the difference between a two-stroke and four-stroke dirt bike on the main road followed by what was obviously a four-wheeler. Because Baja. All of this suddenly made me wonder when I last heard the sound of an airplane or helicopter. It must have been the last time we were in Cabo.

When I lived in Wichita in the mid-1990s, telephone conversations were constantly interrupted by jets taking off at McConnell AFB. My ex-husband had to live within so many minutes of the flight line so there was no escaping it. I remember walking through the parking lot at the Towne East mall and it felt like an earthquake when a B-1B was using burners to get off the ground. It seemed to set off every car alarm within a five-mile radius.

People who live near Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson have the nerve to complain about the relatively mild sounds of A-10 traffic while living in pre and post-war housing built for service members. Wait until the F-35s come to town. Have a defibrillator handy because they will stop your heart. My house in the suburbs was adjacent to the drug and people smuggling superhighway so it was all Blackhawks all the time. Those neighbors were largely military and law enforcement, young enough to be oblivious to how obnoxious a loud engine is in the middle of the night. I often contemplated the various uses for piano wire. I also considered leaving notes on teenagers’ cars letting them know YouTube has videos to solve the trunk rattle caused by their substandard subwoofer configurations. I feel like we had higher bass standards back when N2deep released Back to the Hotel in 1992. I’m more of a Too Short fan but now I’m really showing my age.

Rural Kansas has the sounds (and smells) of farming and ranching. Grain elevators unloading trucks during harvest. Crop dusters spraying fields. Trains blocking the highway next to Cargill for half an hour attaching cars with wheels screeching unmercifully. Dogs howling along with tornado sirens being tested every Wednesday at noon. The Boise foothills vibrate with rattlesnakes in the spring. I can still hear the way my heels clicked on the lobby floor of the Boise Cascade headquarters building. And the owl trapped in my barn frantically trying to escape through an open stall door.

I’ve always been intensely sensitive to sounds and my general environment, to the consternation of everyone around me. People generally think I’m making it up but hyperacusis is an actual thing. Mindful meditation is easy for me because I naturally notice individual sounds and textures wherever I happen to be. Sensory overload is a serious and recurring problem which often results in panic attacks. Crowded cities prevent me from separating and categorizing everything I’m experiencing. It happens too quickly and too constantly for my brain to process it all. Every day is like trying to have a conversation in a crowded bar with a live band. I wish I could be less observant. I apparently missed my calling as a first-rate sonar operator.

The porch is my favorite spot at our house. A nearly constant ocean breeze flows through the arches to create a perfect palm frond sound barrier between my ears and the outside world. The neighbor’s music also helps. But then the psychotic hound rakes her bear claws across the screen door demanding to be let inside. Meditation time is over.

Passive-aggressively Doing Laundry

This is the funniest thing I’ve ever been accused of in my nearly 45 years on this planet and I received permission to write about it. Living and working from home with your significant other can create unique challenges.

So I was working on the new website and I was waiting for content. I’ve written a ton about my anxiety and for funzies I also have a touch of OCD. These two conditions create an interesting work dynamic and I’ve been told on a few occasions that I’m essentially vibrating with anxiety. Like it’s literally rolling right off me and can be felt by innocent bystanders.

Basically what happens is when I’m ready to work, I mean I’m ready to get it done right fucking now. I’ve had too many experiences with fleeting motivation. I’ve learned the hard way when I feel motivated, I have to take full advantage before the feeling passes. Once it’s gone, good fucking luck getting it back.

But that anxiety over failing to do my best work is largely what makes me good at my job. Unfortunately, that anxiety also prevents me from being a good girlfriend. So when I’m about to lose my shit over being stuck in neutral, I have to get up and do something else for a minute. I’ll be right back and ready to continue.

You say passive-aggressive; I say efficient. At least your laundry is done. Now how about passive-aggressively cooking me some dinner?

I Feel Like a Dog Trying to Ride a Donkey

I can write whatever you want. I just really need you to tell me what that is. Except for dialogue…I hate writing dialogue.

My brain feels like it’s too full of information and completely devoid of coherent thoughts at the same time. We currently have two to three show concepts (depending on how you look at them) trying to find a buyer. The fourth (or third?) will likely need to be tidied up and released online without a buyer. It’s compelling enough that it needs to be seen but it has been difficult to get producers to watch enough video to understand why that is.

My point is that I’m totally fried right now. The show concept that appears to have the best chance of making money is the one with the most complex subject matter. My job is to translate information that people with advanced degrees have difficulty understanding into something interesting and entertaining to the average person whose attention span is shrinking by the day.

Remember when The Big Bang Theory jokes went over your head? In the first season, there were several instances when I experienced a serious lag between Sheldon’s joke and my comprehension and gigglesnort. Apparently, there were quite a few viewers who never got the jokes so the writers dumbed it down. That kind of ruined it for me. So now I (a former overachiever turned college dropout) am tasked with metaphorically splitting atoms, convincing a producer people will care about splitting atoms, and figuring out how the hell to make the masses care about splitting atoms. Or something like that.

It’s obvious that I need to take a break but my brain doesn’t like allowing it when there’s so much work to be done. The subject matter is spinning on a constant loop too quickly for me to get a grip on any one piece of information. Just when I think I’ve got one, the slightest distraction completely ruins my train of thought. Incredibly, the barrio music being broadcast at maximum volume by my neighbors actually helps with this. It all has a sort of consistent happy melody that acts like a white noise machine heavy on the accordion. I just need the dogs to settle in for their post-breakfast nap so I can stare at the ocean and let the words come to me.

When Anxiety is Chasing You

Anxiety can be triggered by something or it can be triggered by nothing. What was fine five minutes ago is now one hundred percent not fine. I can go from zero to eleven in two seconds but getting from eleven back to zero can easily take two days…or longer.

I underestimated the amount of stress and anxiety I would feel in the process of simplifying my life but Mexico is growing on me. It seems like I solve a new mystery every week and I mostly don’t get lost when wandering around the neighborhood. I’ve developed systems for dealing with household issues and have learned how to pay Mexican utilities online. It’s been like going through childhood all over again but adulting in Mexico is possible.

It is imperative that this experience be a positive one. Dwelling on every bump in the road is simply not an option so I found myself squashing it all. Back in the box. Ignore. Deny. Pretend. That it caught up to me should be a surprise to exactly no one. I wasn’t getting enough exercise. I wasn’t writing enough. I wasn’t countering the stress. I had a couple rough nights as a result. All of the nerves in my back felt like they were on fire. Every single sound grated on every exposed nerve. I only slept for a couple hours and that certainly didn’t help my outlook.

The anxiety medication I take is old school and the dosage can be modified to counter mood fluctuations without severe side effects. After the dogs insisted upon eating breakfast this morning, I allowed myself an extra half of a pill. It made me dizzy for a while but it also stopped the buzzing. After lunch, I was able to take a stroll around the very hilly neighborhood. I’m writing this next to a pool with a beautiful view of the ocean.

If you’re daydreaming about attacking a heavy bag at the gym and you aren’t sure where the rage is coming from, say so. Stop trying to hide it. People around you can tell something is wrong and they will naturally think it’s about them. It’s okay to say you don’t know why you need to be scraped off the ceiling. Take some time to regroup. If you know what you need, tell someone. Don’t let the pressure build.

People always say we have to take care of ourselves but sometimes it’s hard to know what that even means. For me, it means not procrastinating until I find myself at eleven. Organizing your mind and emotions is just like de-cluttering your home. If you do a little work every day, it won’t seem like an overwhelming obstacle. Don’t let dirty dishes pile up in your head space.

Shit My Therapist Says

“You don’t have to like it.”

Welp. If that isn’t my life in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

When I lived in Boise, I had a therapist who was more like a girlfriend I would have drinks with than someone who was forcing me to do serious work. She told me about her abusive ex-husband who was also a vice cop. I complained about not wanting to be married anymore. She told me every week that I needed to deal with that. As a result of that superficial little dance, I found myself in social situations with people who began sentences with, “My therapist says…” Don’t get me wrong; those conversations were hilarious but they were not particularly helpful.

I am generally quite adept at convincing myself that emotions do not exist. Feelings are for sissies and you need to KEEP THAT SHIT IN THE VAULT. The ability to detach is what enables me to work in Human Resources. I must be prepared to discipline people I like and support people I dislike. When people complain that I’m mean because don’t like them, I always ask what the hell that has to do with anything. My focus is on employment laws, policies, and equitable treatment. Whether or not I like someone is completely irrelevant. Also, I’m mean to everyone.

That’s great in HR but not so great in real life. In real life, people want you to feel something. They expect you to care. They expect you to answer your phone. I’m terrible at all of those things.

My current therapist refuses to let me off the hook. Every week, she forces me to dredge up some memory that I would rather leave forgotten. “Tell me about the first time you remember feeling <insert feeling here> .” I attempt to deflect and generalize. Then she tells me, “You don’t have to like it but you do have to acknowledge it.” Fuck. Okay, fine. So I describe it and then she directs me to my happy place for processing. I hate it and I don’t want to do it. My throat closes up and I can’t breathe. I’m dizzy; I’m also sweating and I have mascara streaming down my face.

Then it’s over. I fix my makeup and get on with my day. Because there has to be a middle ground. I see people wearing their pasts on their sleeves and just wallowing in the misery of a nonstop pity party. I get that my denial is just as destructive. So deal with it when it’s time to deal with it and then just leave it the fuck alone. Also, don’t call me unless someone died.

The Bliss of Low Expectations

An appointment this morning made me think of a project assigned by my high school French teacher a million years ago. I think we had to create a collage centered around a particular phrase that evoked some emotion with which we could identify. That’s a pretty brave thing to ask from a room full of angsty teenagers.

I chose “Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed.” Google Translate shows that as “N’attendez rien et vous ne serez jamais déçu.” Since language skills are extremely perishable, I can’t remember if that’s what my paper said all those years ago. I do, however, remember the look on my French teacher’s face when she saw it. She is one of the kindest people I have ever known and I thought she was going to cry.

That phrase has been my go-to for decades and it has served me well. Perhaps that’s why I have spent so much money on therapy. Regardless of the root cause or the emotional cost/benefit analysis, I leave plenty of room for pleasant surprises. Think of it as an extremely conservative emotional budget.

So back to my dental appointment this morning. My hygienist has a disposition which is far too sunny for that time of morning but she is truly a delightful individual. I was embarrassingly pleased with myself when she told me my gums “are in tip-top shape.” She also said, “Everything looks great.” I am the valedictorian of gums and she absolutely made my day. I will concede that is a sad state of affairs but consider the alternative. I’m pretty sure I win.

I attended a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon last month and was asked if I am 35 years of age or younger because I could be eligible for a Junior Membership. The lady who asked the question was extremely apologetic because there’s just really no easy way for those words to flow. I burst out laughing and told her that was the nicest thing anyone had said to me all week. I missed that cut-off by nearly a decade and was thrilled to have been asked.

I guess my point is if you stumble through life expecting adoration, you will end up bitter and disappointed. The more satisfying alternative is to start out bitter and disappointed only to be proven wrong. Everything is awful; except when it isn’t.

Anxiety is the New Black

I’ve always been more tightly wound than the average bear. I went to kindergarten in 1980 and since we only did half-days, I spent the entire morning, every morning, dreading going to school. I hated every minute of it. In third grade, I began having mild panic episodes but it took another decade for me to define them. I was gifted and was awarded my first college scholarship the summer before my sophomore year in high school. I later dropped out of college due to the anxiety caused by going to class.

Back then, we didn’t talk about anxiety. It never crossed my mind to acknowledge what was happening to me. Instead, my plan was to stay too drunk or too hungover to go to class. I only discussed my panic attacks with a few people close to me. The first couple weeks in the dorms, I lived on Dr. Pepper and brownies from the vending machine because I couldn’t force myself to go to the cafeteria.

When I got married, I suddenly developed horrible stomach pain that lasted for years. I underwent comprehensive testing. It wasn’t an ulcer. It wasn’t a tumor. My doctor said there was nothing physically wrong with me. I was given Paxil for my anxiety so I ate and slept and gained a ton of weight. I was given Phentermine to suppress my appetite so I was doing laundry in the middle of the night but by God, I was 95 pounds again. I was given Sonata so I could fucking sleep already. My poor husband had no idea what was going on or why I needed to see a therapist every week for two years.

When I finally divorced my husband after more than six years, the stomach pain disappeared. The anxiety did not. I have been prescribed nearly every anti-anxiety medication on the market at some point in my life. For decades, I expected the pills to solve my problems. When I finally realized that’s not how any of this works, I stopped the meds and learned how to regulate myself. I cut toxic people out of my life. When I turned 40, I decided I would stop doing anything I didn’t want to do. I stopped feeling pressured to cook all the time. I stopped feeling pressured to date. I stayed home and spent time with my dogs and that worked relatively well for several years. But sometimes life just happens, despite years of meticulous proper prior planning.

Now it seems like everyone has anxiety. If you’ve never had a panic attack so severe it mimicked the signs of a stroke, don’t come at me with that nonsense. People refer to their attention to detail as “being OCD”. Oh, honey…no. Spend a day watching me Clark W. Griswold my entire life, trying to suppress the ritualistic behaviors. Xanax has become a recreational drug sold out of trunks of Honda Civics all over the country. Xanax was literally a lifesaver for me. It pulled me back from the ledge more times than I care to remember and allowed me to function. Anxiety and the medications to control it have become a status symbol on social media.

I am currently only lightly medicated. I haven’t had a true panic attack since May of 2012. My therapist wants me to start bringing some artifacts out of the vault and I would really rather not. I’m much more comfortable leaving the past in the past but now that it’s fashionable, I guess I’ll own that shit.

Here…this is you.

I was at my mom’s house one day in late 2004, probably to mooch some food and complain about my life. She handed me a photo she had printed from the internet and said, “Here…this is you.” I looked down at a black and white image of two steam locomotives that had crashed head-on. The coal boxes were sticking up in the air and several men were standing around with their hands on their hips gaping at the mess around them. And then we both laughed.

She wasn’t wrong. I was a train wreck and I stayed that way for a few more years. On that day, I was 29 and had been divorced nearly 3 years. I was in a light bulb (off and on) relationship with an alcoholic who was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My anxiety was off the Richter scale and I wasn’t handling things well. I had moved back home to Kansas and was living in my grandmother’s rental house in a terrible neighborhood. I hated my job and myself for moving back to my hometown and basically failing at life.

14 years later, we still laugh about that photo and that moment. Now my mom tells me I should write a book because there are some things which could only happen to me. Once again, she’s not wrong. Writing a book about about my experiences seems a bit extreme but I have reached a distance sufficient for me to see them through a very humorous lens. It’s on the list.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑