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?”

The Feelings Booth

I’m not a huge fan of being wrong.  You’re blown away at what a unique person I am, I know.  Most people just positively adore being wrong.  I’m a real one-of-a-kind hero.  Put my face on a coin someday, but make sure it’s front-facing because I’ve never been a fan of my profile.

In the meantime, since minting coins has a rather spendy start-up cost, just go ahead and put coins on my face.  Sacajawea dollar coins or GTFO.  Don’t cheap out – it’s the holidays!

You know what, though?  My skin is super sensitive, and coins are just about the dirtiest thing on Earth besides your weird uncle who likes to hug me way too long and says stuff like, “Wow, you really grew up if you know what I mean,” so you can just go ahead and put the coins directly into my bank account, along with all of the rest of your money, electronics, and jewelry.  This is a stick-up!

I honestly can’t believe you didn’t see that coming from a mile away.  Situational awareness, people!  You should have taken the advice of the, frankly, passive-aggressive victim-blaming posters at the mall parking lot that say, “Don’t make yourself a victim!”

Certainly, nobody likes being wrong, but I feel like I aggressively don’t like being wrong, if that’s a thing?  I’m sure that’s a thing.  It’s probably the “thing” that puts a lot of people in prison.  Or law school.

My typical response to being told that I’m wrong is blind rage.  You would never know it because I keep it tucked safely inside, but just know that when someone points out that I’m wrong about something, mentally this is what I want to happen to everyone in the world right at that second:

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I never act on my blind rage because, obviously, I can’t go to prison.  They make you go to the bathroom in front of other people in prison, which means that I would never be able to go to the bathroom again.  As it is, I can’t go if I suspect another human (or one of those sensitive dogs who looks like he’s really thinking) is within a ten mile radius.  If I were to act on my blind rage, I would go to prison, never go to the bathroom, swell up like a tick, explode, and die.

Nobody wants to die that way in prison.  Everybody wants to die valiantly and poetically in prison, after being shanked in the yard over a stolen pudding cup.  At least that’s how I’d want to go.

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“She died as she lived, fighting over pudding that didn’t belong to her.”

I’ve had to find creative ways to stuff down the blind rage for as long as I can remember, so when someone tells me I’m wrong, I will often turn to a solution like quietly leaving the office and walking to my car, screaming at the top of my lungs and punching the steering wheel, and then quietly walking back into the office.  How else is a person supposed to deal with making a typo and then having someone point it out?

“Hey, Maggie, I think these letters are transposed.”

“Oh, are they?”

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Walk outside, scream, punch, walk back inside, fix the typo.  This is life.

I assume a lot of people do this in the car, at least from time to time, or else more people would be using public transportation.  The entire reason that I own a car is so I have a private place to freak out when needed.  I call it my “Feelings Booth”.  What do you have a car for?  Getting around?

Feelings Booth aside, I think the most creative (and on-brand) way I’ve ever dealt with the whole “being wrong” thing was when I was 8 years old, arguing with my sister Bonnie about what all kids argue about:  Hall and Oates song lyrics.

It seems Bonnie believed the title to the song “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” was “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid”.

That would make her correct, in case you think you’re just seeing things.  No need to re-read that sentence.

I believed the title was a different line in the song and that it was “Some Things Are Better Left Undone”.

This was pre-internet and none of us owned the album, so the only way to settle the matter was through a third party.  That would be my sister Julie.

I went to discuss the matter with her alone and she said, “Actually, I’m pretty sure Bonnie is right.  It’s “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid”.

I felt the rage swell inside me, took a deep breath and said, “Okay.  If I give you a dollar will you go out there and tell Bonnie that it’s actually “Some Things Are Better Left Undone” and that she’s wrong?”

Julie said, “But she’s actually right.  You’re the one who’s wrong.  You’re willing to pay me to tell her that you’re right, even though we both know you’re wrong?”

I pulled out the dollar bill and said, “One.  Dollar.”

She took it and said, “You’re an idiot,” and then marched into the other room to tell Bonnie she was wrong.

Of course, I just looked up the lyrics now (yay internet) and saw that the line I was wrongly trying to argue “Some Things Are Better Left Undone” is actually “Some Strings Are Better Left Undone”, so I wasn’t even right about the line to begin with, let alone that it was the title of the song.

I’ll excuse myself to my Feelings Booth now.

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The Princess of Principles

I decided somewhere in the vicinity of the third grade that I wasn’t going to do homework anymore.  Not because I was lazy – of course not!  Because I was principled.

I felt that the school day took up more than enough of my time, and once I stepped outside of the actual building, my time should belong to me, most certainly not homework.  My time was to be spent doing more important things, like watching television, catching minnows down at the pond, and smoking sticks of bamboo like cigarettes in the woods.

So I didn’t do it.  I went on strike against homework.

I take that back.  I only did homework, projects, and papers that could be done during school hours.  If I had extra time in one class, I would use that time to work on a paper for another class, or do work during lunch time.  Once the school bell rang at the end of the day, though?  It was pencils down.  Sorry, teacher-type folks!  3:30 PM is the beginning of MAGGIE TIME.

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The face of principles.

While going on strike against homework was, in itself, specifically problematic, you know, good grades being important and all, the more sinister problem was that I had successfully developed a way to trick myself at a very young age into believing I had very, very firm principles about things.

It was funny, because I only had the aforementioned firm principles about stuff I didn’t want to do.  I don’t think I ever had principles that revolved around things I enjoyed doing.  Can’t think of one time.

I don’t recall ever having had principles that governed my behavior around listening to Poison cassettes, eating Fudge Stripe cookies, or spending my birthday money on trick gum and a gigantic 6” x 6” pin for my acid-washed jean jacket that read, “Is that your face or did your neck throw up?”

If you were to spring something like a weeks-long science project on me?  Oh man, I would become the most principled kid you’d ever met.  I would lay out a case like a lawyer at trial, listing a myriad of principles that would prevent me from turning that project in.

Thank god the term “self-care” didn’t start floating around until recent years or I would have dropped out of school in the fifth grade because school didn’t “nourish my soul”.  On the up side, at least I’ll never die from workaholism.

This principle lasted all the way through school, culminating my senior year of high school with my refusal to submit a portfolio for judgment in my AP art class, the class that I nearly killed myself working for three years to get into, because as I explained to my art teacher, “I think it’s wrong for people to judge art.”

It certainly wasn’t because putting together the portfolio would have been months and months of work.

He smiled at me, leaned back in his chair and put his arms behind his head and said, “Well, if you’ve got a bullshit excuse for not turning in work that would get you college credit, I guess that’s a pretty good one.  I mean, I don’t buy it, but I can see where you do.  I’m impressed with your ability to blow it.”

I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I’d gone to one of those Montessori schools where kids have the freedom to choose what they want to work on during the school day.  I would have plunked myself down on a rug the first day and said, “I feel like watching Fraggle Rock all day, so thanks!”

It cracks me up to no end when people get all excited that their babies are into books, thinking that it makes Junior seem inquisitive and intelligent, and I’m standing in the shadows like a villain in a black hooded robe, cackling and hissing, “Sure, they love books now, but just wait until those little suckers see television.”

I mean, I’m sure your kid is inquisitive and intelligent.  As much as I’m sure regular milk seems like a great thing – until someone gives you chocolate milk for the first time and you decide that regular milk is the most disgusting thing on Earth.

I’m just saying don’t buy books for Junior too many years in advance until you have a full understanding of what television will do to their wide little eyes.  By the time I was five years old, I would have pitched every book I owned into a bonfire if it meant I could watch another episode of The Facts of Life, and aside from being a total asshole, I turned out just fine.

I mean, I did get a failing grade on a book report for “White Fang” in the sixth grade because I wrote a ten page paper on it having only read the back cover and first two pages of the book and my teacher figured it out, but I think on some level he must have admired my moxie.  Especially after I had my mother go meet with him in my defense, still thinking I could finesse my way out of it.  That book was SO BORING.

If there are any eleven year olds out there today pulling that sort of thing, I would love to sit down for a chocolate milk with them sometime.  I *adore* foul-mouthed little criminals.  Kenard was one of my favorite characters on The Wire.

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When Kenard stole that package of heroin and said, “Package up my ass, gump!”, I cried several tears of joy.  Who wouldn’t love this kid??

Plus, even with forty to sixty hours of television a week as a kid (not even remotely an exaggeration), I still turned out to be a writer, so meh?  Maybe reading books as a kid isn’t THAT important.  Who knows, though?  Maybe if I’d chopped it back to thirty hours of television a week I’d be writing about something like the Higgs Boson Particle instead of writing dissertations on the pros and cons of being Charlie Sheen versus Emilio Estevez.

Happy Friday – thanks for hanging around!  I’ll be out next week, so smell ya later!