Calm Down, You Hysterical Woman

Let’s talk about a girl’s best friend.  It’s not diamonds.

It’s validation.

I was thinking about it recently while seething with rage after having been stuck in traffic for over an hour.  By the time I got to where I was going, my blood pressure was through the roof and I was livid from having sat through four light changes at every stoplight for eight miles.  The drive normally takes me 15 minutes.

So imagine how pleased I was to have a guy tell me to “calm down” and that “at least” my drive isn’t normally so bad and to stop being “hysterical”.  This made me want to throw him out the window.  Not for one single second did I think, “Hey, he’s got a point there!  I’m being really dumb about my own feelings about a stressful situation right now!”

I think there is still, in 2019, some confusion as to what women are looking for when we storm into a room, faces red, gesturing extensively about a stressful incident.

We do not want you to tell us that everything is fine.

We want you to say, “That sucks!  You have every right to be upset.

This is a helpful string of words.  It shows that you’re listening to our concerns, you understand how upset we are, and you trust our judgment that it was, indeed, a shitty situation.  What we want is validation.

You know what’s not helpful?  Telling us to “calm down” and that it’s “not so bad” and that we’re being “hysterical”.  When you do that, not only are we still upset about the initial stressful incident, but now you’re telling us that we have no right to be upset about something that we are clearly very upset about.  At that point, you might as well just go ahead and yell, “Your feelings are WRONG!” and then tell us we look fat in these jeans.

Most women have a real hair trigger with being called “hysterical” because most women have been called hysterical their entire lives over their totally normal reactions to stressful events.  Hey, I can get hysterical for sure.  Sometimes I lose my shit over totally trivial stuff, but that doesn’t mean that everything I lose my shit over is trivial.

I lost my job one time and came home sad about it and had a boyfriend tell me to stop being hysterical.  I had a single, lone tear running down my face.

I found out an ex-boyfriend had cheated on me the entire time we were together and when I calmly confronted him about it, he told me I was being hysterical.

And, for my personal favorite, when I was hit by a car when I was 15 and broke half of my body and I was quietly crying in pain on the backboard in the emergency room, the ER doctor told me to quit being hysterical.

This guy actually said, “Quit being hysterical.  It’s not like you’re not the first person who ever got hit by a car, honey,” and ROLLED HIS EYES AT ME.  So in addition to being frightened and in pain and not sure whether I was going to die from my injuries, he made a 15-year old girl feel like she was being stupid for crying about it.

Nice job, dick.

I mean doc.

Wait, no.

I mean DICK.

For the record, I’ve only met two doctors in my entire life who I didn’t want to punch in the face for the way they talked down to me, dismissed my concerns, and/or acted like I owed them a favor for them so graciously allowing me to be their patient while simultaneously removing thousands of dollars from my and my insurance company’s pockets.

Welcome to being a woman seeking medical care in America:  Where doctors act like YOU work for THEM.

Did I already say DICK?  I mean, it’s absolutely worth repeating.  DIIIIIIIICK.

Now it would seem that I’m still bitter over these events, and that’s because you frickin’ bet I am.  Because while some of these incidents that I mentioned above happened a million years ago, guess what I recently got called for merely being pissed off about what was literally called “The Worst Day in Traffic History” by the local news?  Hysterical.

This particular word is only ever used to describe women being upset over something.  Never once have I heard a man be called hysterical for anything.

Even when their sports team fumbles a ball, and they get so mad that they go crazy and knock over a bar stool, punch someone in the bar, get into a DUI accident on the way home, open fire on their entire family, hold a cop hostage, take on the whole SWAT team, get sent to prison and stage a riot where dozens of inmates and guards are killed, collapse a small government, and blow up the Earth creating a rift in space-time that destroys the entire universe, nobody ever says he was hysterical.

They say he was “troubled”, and that’s pretty much the end of that judgment except to add an “Oh man, you know how bummed you get when your team loses – we’ve all been there, right?  I remember that year the Dolphins blew that lead against the Jets during the playoffs.  That was pain.”

Guess what that previous sentence was right there?  Validation.

(And I swear to god, if anyone pulls a “not all men” on me, I will punt a casaba melon right into this plate glass window in front of me.  Of course I am not referring to every single man walking the planet in this post.  There are tons of men out there who are awesome and supportive and empathetic, and I’m lucky to have so many of them in my life.  Now I’m going to walk away from the casaba melon and trust that we understand each other.)

Diagnosis: Foot-in-Mouth Disease

My favorite teachers were always my art teachers, except for that one.  That one that I lamented to a classmate, “Mrs. Strickland is such a bitch – I can’t stand her and her stupid “art should always be beautiful” crap.  If you think art has to be beautiful, then you’re a moron who doesn’t know a damn thing about art.  Why doesn’t she go teach Hygiene or something?”

Then my classmate said, “Umm, you know she’s my mom, right?”

And that’s how I found out Emma was Mrs. Strickland’s daughter.

You know how much I just can’t stand to brag (all evidence to the contrary), but I’ve got an unparalleled knack for putting my foot in my mouth.  I don’t even really have to try that hard, it just sashays into any scene like 1950s Marlon Brando in a stained white t-shirt and starts smashing lightbulbs.

If you have something you care about, like and respect, please feel free to count on me to say the most awkward thing about it after having mistakenly thought we were on the same page about it.  Oh, you like Paris Hilton and named your baby after her?  How…interesting!  After I just spent ten minutes trashing her.

I used to try to backpedal when this happened, like I did with Emma when I’d responded to this mom business with, “Oh, uhh.  Well, I mean, she’s actually really nice!”

Even though Emma was only 15 years old at the time, she gave me that look of, “Don’t patronize me.  Just take your awkward medicine and live with how uncomfortable you just made both of us.”

It has taken me years to understand that look, that sometimes you just have to exist in a bubble of discomfort until it passes.

In a recent foot-in-mouth incident, I was forced to attend a seminar on healthy lifestyle habits that turned out to be one long sales pitch from a Real Housewives of Orange County-looking chiropractor who wanted to sell me magnetic shoe insoles to solve every health problem under the sun.

If a chiropractor has helped you in your life, that’s great.  I just don’t like being told that I’m going to learn about healthy lifestyle habits and then get the hard-sell on magnets – unless it’s that weird guy who’s on The History Channel all the time.  He’s like a train wreck I can’t look away from, like The Hogan Family after they replaced Valerie Harper with Sandy Duncan.

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The next day I walked into my office and someone asked how the seminar had gone.  My coworker butted in and he and I answered at exactly the same time, only he said:

“I was impressed.  It’s exactly what me and my wife need.  I signed us both up and we start on the whole regimen next week!”

And I said – at exactly the same time:

“It was some hard-sell, snake oil bullshit from a chiropractor who looked like a reject from the blow-up doll factory.  Yeah, no.  I didn’t sign up for her magic beans.”

I may have used air quotes around the words “magic beans” for effect.  Maybe (yes).

I can tell you, the ensuing silence clung to the air like a dog fart.  And not one of those dog farts from a beautiful dog.  It was a junkyard dog fart.  A fart from a dog that eats a steady diet of discarded, rotting mob victim-flesh and spent motor oil.  The kind of dog fart that makes you banish even a beloved dog from your dining room and think less of them as a family pet from that moment on.  A dog fart of destruction.

Did I immediately backpedal?  No – this time I didn’t.  Because I believed in every word I had just said.  I hadn’t said it to insult my coworker – I said it because I truly felt this magnet saleswoman was a scam artist and should be called out for it.  I had no idea he was going to barge into our conversation.  Nobody had even asked him his opinion to begin with.

So I let the dog fart sit in the room, and did nothing to dispel it.  I didn’t say, “Oh, I was just kidding!  I’ve actually heard great things about those magnet soles!” like I would have years ago.

Because sometimes you just have to sit with the discomfort and let it be uncomfortable.

As a lifelong codependent and people-pleaser, this can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.  To let someone be mad at you and then just sit with it?  Not cow-tow to them to try to make things all better?  Not rush in to smooth things over?

It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.  Say it with me, out loud:

“It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.”

I’m not saying be rude – far from it.  Just stop making it your job to fix everything.  Be okay with the discomfort, and don’t change the subject to distract everyone from the discomfort.

Man, that Hogan Family went downhill after Valerie Harper got fired.