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.

Stone Cold Killa

This is Sherman. Sherman is dumb as a bag of hammers but he’s very sweet. Because he’s such a lovable cuddle bear, people refuse to believe he has a ridiculous prey drive. (RIP all of the lizards.)

The other night, he and his sister, Lulu went outside at about 0300 for whatever dog reasons and I immediately heard them losing their damned minds. I ran to the backyard to prevent my neighbors from hating me and saw a coyote right on the other side of the view fence.

My house backs up to a wash with tons of cacti, trees, and rabbits. Coyotes and javelinas hunt back there all the time. Most nights, they go about their business quietly and my dogs sleep through it. But nooo…

Sherman was barking like an absolute lunatic and I grabbed his collar right as he tried to lunge at the fence. This coyote lunged at the fence at the exact same time. There is plenty of space between the wrought iron bars for noses. Sweet fancy Moses, my Sherman was less than two feet from fighting with a wild animal through the fence and still barking in kill mode.

I marched him inside, blocked the dog door, and went back to bed. My dogs jumped on the bed and crashed like nothing unusual had happened. I, on the other hand, lay there with my heart pounding in my chest like I had just run a 5K in my flip-flops. Sherman didn’t even thank me for saving his life.

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.

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