Diagnosis: Annoying

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD, for short), among a small assortment of other neuroses.  Maybe you have GAD, too, or know someone who does.  Let’s chat about it!  It’ll be like a party, but NO FUN.

So like most parties, then.

My clinical diagnosis of GAD and OCD came at age 23, after struggling since early childhood with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

I never had a time in my life when I didn’t feel like there was something very exhausting with the way my brain worked.  As a child I felt petrified with worry all the time, 24 hours a day, and I could never shut off my brain.  I lived in a near constant state of anxiety.

I kept my worries and anxiety to myself, so it came out in a myriad of other ways, all of which were SO GROSS, particularly the cuticle chewing.  My fingers were perpetually gnawed up, swollen, and bloody.  It got so bad one time that I stopped chewing on my cuticles in favor of just pulling two fingernails out by the root over the course of a day at school.

I remember when they finally came out that day in Mrs. Leward’s class.  It was near the end of the school day, and I was up in the reading loft alone, since I had finished my work early (and I was a total suck-up for that reading loft).  I climbed up with ten nails to page through “Ramona The Brave” and came down with eight.  Ramona was clearly better at bravery than me, but at least I didn’t throw up in class like she did that time with the blue oatmeal fruit fly experiment.

How much do you miss Ramona books??

I hid my two gross, nail-less fingers from adults until they grew back in, because even when you’re nine years old, you know they lock people away for those kinds of shenanigans.

Sorry, I know that whole thing is a horrifying picture.  One of those nails grew back in totally crooked, too, so I have a daily reminder of it anytime I look at my right hand.  I’ll show it to you sometime so you can be like, “Grrrrross!!!!”

If I didn’t have a distraction in front of my face (I heart you, television), the anxious, racing thoughts that started out being just a little scary would ramp up into some serious god awful bloody horror movie stuff in 10 seconds or less.

My mind could turn the sound of a simple branch brushing against the bedroom window at night into a man standing over my bed holding my mouth shut, kidnapping me and holding me captive in a basement for six months and passing me around to his inbred brothers and cousins, and eventually stabbing me to death in the woods and throwing my body to a pack of dogs. The thoughts came like lightning, and they felt so real I couldn’t catch my breath lying there in bed most nights.

Even at the age of six, my thoughts could get so dark and so frightening, so fast, I felt like they could literally kill me from inside my own mind if I didn’t distract myself from them.

It was like Freddy Krueger lived in my brain, day and night, and if I didn’t keep constant vigilance, he would get me.  I even started watching horror movies – the gorier the better – in the hope that seeing those scenes on a screen would make them leave my thoughts, the way you get a song stuck in your head and the only way to get rid of it is to actually listen to the song.  I even bought Fangoria magazine, and lobbied for a life-size Freddy Krueger cardboard cutout in my room (more on that later this month).

I could soothe my racing thoughts temporarily by counting and touching and blinking at things, but then that just spiraled completely out of control when I hit adulthood, as you may have previously read about here.  It just got so much harder to hide it as I got older.  Finally, I reached out for help.

I was 23, and it was my first visit with a therapist.  Her name was Pamela, and she was short, maybe 50 years old, well-dressed, had a blonde bob haircut, a very soothing therapisty voice, and a very friendly face.  She reminded me a social studies teacher I had in middle school, so I felt kind of familiar with her, even though we had just met.

We sat down in her office and she said, “So!  How’s your day been going?”

With the disposition of a dog that had just been caught snacking in the cat litter box, I sighed and told her I’d had a rough day because it had started out really badly.

She said, “Okay, what made it start out badly?”

I said, “I was almost late to work this morning.”

She nodded her head and said, “And?”

I repeated myself, with emphasis, “I was almost late.  To WORK?”

She said, “What would happen if you were late to work?”

I took a deep breath.

“If I were to walk in late to work, then my boss would ‘have something’ on me.  From then on, if he ever decides he wants to fire me, he’ll say it was because I was late that one time, and he’ll be right, because I was totally late that one time!  It’ll be undeniable.  Then I’ll be fired!”

She nodded her head and said, “And are you frequently late?”

I looked at her like she was nuts.  “God, no!  I’ve never been late once in the three years I’ve been there!”

She said, “Okay, so what would happen if you were late one time?”

I went on, “Well, after I get fired my boss will never give me a good reference since I was late that time, and then I won’t be able to find another job, I won’t be able to pay my bills, I’ll be homeless, my car will have some huge repair that I won’t be able to afford and I’ll have to sell it for scrap, I’ll end up having to move in with and marry some guy named Earl or Chet who’s really mean to me because he’ll know I’m in dire straits and can’t do any better.”

Pamela nodded, “Go on.”

“And then he’ll knock me up on purpose and I’ll be chained to him forever with some kid who hates me and treats me like crap and is mean to animals and tries to poison my coffee, but I’ll deserve it because the kid will be able to see that deep down I really do resent them because I never wanted to have them to begin with, and then they’ll grow up to be a serial killer and all the news stories will blame me for it because they always blame the mother.”

Pamela nodded again, “Go on.”

“Then, finally, after thirty years of hell, I’ll feel like I’ve got nothing left to lose and I’ll get the courage to leave Earl or Chet, and then he’ll hunt me down and murder me in the street and say, “If I can’t have you, no one can!”, and as I’m gurgling and choking on my own blood, all I’ll be thinking is, “This is my fault for being late to work that one time!”

Pamela starting writing on her clipboard and said, “Okay, so have you previously been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder?”

I said, “I mean, doesn’t it seem easier to just make sure I’m always on time to work?”

Forgive Me, Father, For I Am Only Here for The Meatballs, Drinking, and Gambling

One of the things I love most about Winter is the return of an event I call “The Catholic Festival”.  I’m not Catholic, as demonstrated by the facts that:  (a) I don’t need to be tied up and beaten in order to have a good time on a date, and (b) there is a lack of existential guilt present in my general daily demeanor.

I was raised with a light smattering of Protestantism from time to time, and what it lacks in guilt it more than makes up for in the worst potluck dishes you’ve ever eaten in your entire life.  You would think Campbells Cheddar Cheese condensed soup was these people’s personal savior.  I’m surprised they didn’t serve little cups of it with the communion which, by the way, is simultaneously the least showy and most pathogen-containing communion in the world.  At least Catholics use a real wafer and an actual cup – and everybody gets their own!

In some Protestant churches I visited as a kid, they would bust out a loaf of stale bread from Costco and then pass it around and you’d have to tear off a piece with your filthy hands and pass it to the next person’s filthy hands so they could tear off a piece, and so on and so on, and by the end of all that tearing and passing, the loaf looks like a flock of rats had a field day with it.  Unruly children are forced to use the remainder as a sad punishment football after Sunday school.

And instead of a little cup of wine or grape juice, they make you dip your germalicious bread-shred into a big shared glass of grape juice and THEN eat the soggy, purple bread!

Now, I’m not religious, nor do I have any sort of religious education*, and I don’t mean to offend anyone here because people should be entitled to believe what they want to believe, but I’m pretty sure that the Eucharist, the sacred Eucharist, that which is supposed to represent the body and blood of Christ, were meant to be ingested separately and not made into some kind of unholy combo meal that you swallow in one soggy bite.

Sacrilegious?!  I’m not being sacrilegious!  The people who’ve turned communion into a Smuckers Uncrustable are the ones who are being sacrilegious!  Take some of that money you collect in the coffers and buy some wafers and cups for crying out loud.  They’re not expensive and you don’t even pay sales tax!

Where was I?  Oh yeah, The Catholic Festival!

Of course, it’s not actually called “The Catholic Festival”.  It’s called the “St. Something of Somewhere Parish Something or Other Festival”.  Since I didn’t have to grow up in the Catholic church, I find the pageantry of their religion absolutely fascinating.

I mean, how many worldwide religions can declare someone to be a saint after they die and then carve up their dead body and send the pieces on world tours, where worshipers clamor and gather to pray over a severed finger?  Who does that?!  That’s like something out of a movie!  Here’s an actual line from an actual story about it I found on Pulpit and Pen:

The severed hand of Saint Francis Xavier will be making a 14-city tour of Canada from January 3 to February 2. It will be traveling with Angèle Regnier, who says the adventure “will be like having a road trip with a friend.” On flights, the hand will have its own seat next to Regnier.

THE HAND GETS ITS OWN SEAT ON THE PLANE.

Then there’s the kneeling, the rosaries, the confessional, the holy water, the candles, that dangly incense thing they throw around, Jon Bon Jovi’s chest hair – all fascinating.  Traditional Mass is delivered in a language that nobody even speaks or understands!  And the clergy outfits!  The clergy outfits alone are worth the price of admission.  That’s quality craftsmanship there!

Imagine how boring The Da Vinci Code would have been if it were centered around something lame and boring, like Presbyterians.  The entire cast would consist of Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball and – spoiler – they already made that movie and it’s called Castaway.  Conspiracy alert!  Don’t send me weird emails about this.

Aside from the general pageantry, I love The Catholic Festival so much because it features three of my favorite things in the whole world all under one roof:

A rummage sale;

A roulette wheel where not only can you gamble but the prizes are bottles of hard liquor; and

Food tents where they serve seemingly endless meatball subs made by Italian nonnas named Isotta and Allegra.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say that with perks like that, these people are actively recruiting, but as most Catholics will tell you, they don’t really want your sorry ass.  If you weren’t born into it, they’re not interested.  Sure, there are ways to convert, but even if you did, you know every time you walked out of the room, the born-in Catholics would say, “So, now that it’s just us real Catholics in the room…”

That’s why there’s no hard sell when you walk around the festival. No pamphlets, no sign-up sheets. Try walking into an unfamiliar Methodist church and see if you even make it through the front door without being tackled by three women named Kitty who want to sign you up to run the pancake breakfast, teach Sunday school, and join the choir.

You’ll never be woken up by a Catholic knocking on your door on a Saturday morning asking if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  They just wait until you show up at the festival and then yell, “Meatball sub tent is in the parking lot, heathen!  Good luck in Hell!”

It’s like they don’t want me to join their religion at all, which as George Costanza would tell you, makes them that much more desirable to me.

Sometimes I think about sneaking into a regular service on a Sunday just for the food and the show but I’m pretty sure someone would spot me standing when I should be kneeling and they would drag me out there like a sack of potatoes while I screamed, “Chill, Catholics!  I’m only here for the pageantry!”

So I do the next best thing.  I go to The Catholic Festival once a year and take it all in.  I buy vintage knick-knacks at the rummage sale with a stiff cocktail in one hand and a soft meatball sub in the other.  I bring gambling money – to a church!  I eye the rosaries that are for sale by the door as the old nuns eye me back, knowing that they know damn well I’m an imposter and if I tried to buy a rosary they would very sarcastically say, “You know this isn’t a necklace that you wear, right sweetie?” before snatching it back from me and laughing.

Then I would skulk away, wondering if any of their severed fingers will ever end up on a world tour BECAUSE IF THEY PLAYED THEIR CARDS RIGHT THAT COULD LITERALLY HAPPEN.

*Every single thing I know about Catholics I learned from the two hundred times I’ve watched Saturday Night Fever.  Shout out to John Travolta’s hair.

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The man is a national treasure.

 

How To Succeed in Acquiring 5,000 Kittens (Without Really Trying)

Nearly all of our family pets growing up were found in a ditch.  In the rain.

There were so many pets found in ditches in the rain, you would think our neighborhood was a Serbian battlefield in World War I.

Now, it’s important to know that “ditch in the rain” was really secret code for “not actually a ditch in the rain”.

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I can assure that this little loverboy, Oscar, snuggling with me in my acidwashed jeans, was found in neither a ditch nor the rain.

“Ditch in the rain” could mean many, many things.  It could mean that a guy outside the grocery store had a box of kittens with the word “Free” written on the side of it.

It could mean that your friend’s mom told her she had to get rid of her pet rabbit because the new baby was allergic.

Most often it meant that your friend from a few blocks over had a cat that had kittens and her father told her if she didn’t find homes for all of them by the time they were eight weeks old that he’d take them to the pound.

I’ve gotta tell you, as sad a story as the truth may have been, it wasn’t usually going to get the job done with my mother.  If you had the audacity to show up at home one evening with YET ANOTHER kitten, that kitten better have one hell of a backstory.  You damn well better had found that kitten in a ditch in the rain.

This kitten?  This kitten was no ordinary unwanted kitten.  Hell no!  This was a lone, abandoned kitten with no support system, no one to care for it.

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Gorgeous and sweet Fujita, also not found in a ditch in the rain.

This was a wet, orphaned, shivering cold kitten wandering the night alone, frightened and helpless.

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K.C., also not found in a ditch in the rain.

This kitten had been through hell, and all it wanted was to be warm and dry and held.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Just to be held and safe?  Isn’t this kitten really all of us?

This kitten was part of the huddled masses, yearning to be free as its Trans-Atlantic ship approached Ellis Island in the 1800s.

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Although one of these cats was found outside a Wendy’s, and we therefore named him “Wendell”, none of these cats were found in a ditch in the rain.

This was:

The Saddest Kitten in The World.

As Mom said, “Nope.  No more.  I am not taking in one more damn kitten!  End of discussion!” you’d hold it up to her face until it let out a teeny, tiny kitten meow.

Then the promise went as follows.  Let’s all say it together:

“Please let me just take care of her tonight, and I promise I’ll find a home for her tomorrow morning!”

This is why it’s important to bring the ditch rain kitten home in the evening.  If you brought it home at 10am, you’d have plenty of daylight hours left to pretend you were trying to find it a home.

But it’s late!  It’s dark out!  This kitten needs to spend the night!

So without fail, within a few hours and when you were getting ready for bed, you’d peek around the corner from the hallway in your Rainbow Brite nightgown to see your mother holding the kitten on her chest, petting its tiny head with her thumb and whispering, “It’s okay, little one.  It’s okay.”

Then you knew that kitten was IN.

There was no way that kitten was leaving for at least the rest of its natural life, and it would be lovingly buried in the backyard eighteen years later after a long and happy life.

The only other way you acquired pets was when your own existing ditch rain pets gave birth.  This was because most people in our neighborhood were really, really, tragically terrible about spaying and neutering.

(As an adult, I used to trap the strays in my old neighborhood and take them to the nonprofit vet clinic in our area and have them spayed or neutered, dewormed, vaccinated, and microchipped for fifty dollars a pop, but fifty bucks to anyone back then in the neighborhood may as well have been a thousand.  It’s terrible, I know, but it’s the way it was.  I’m such a big supporter of low cost spay and neuter clinics, it absolutely guts me when I think of the animal situation in our neighborhood when we were kids.)

So when you were a kid and your own cat had kittens, you had to sort of work the ol’ “ditch in the rain” in reverse.

Your mom would say, “You said you would find homes for all of these kittens!”

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Yeah, right.  Like I was giving up these kittens.

Then you would just answer, “I went door to door ALL DAY asking if anyone wanted one!  I even put up a sign down at the pond!”

You did none of these things, of course.

“I don’t know what else to do!  I think we may have to just keep them!”

Then she would say, “No.  Absolutely not.  End of discussion.”

Then you would scoop up all of the kittens, hold them towards her face in a chorus in teeny, tiny kitten meows and say, “What should I do?  Put them all in the ditch??  And I heard the weather man on the news say it was going to rain tonight!”