The 40-Something Ridiculous Crying Thing

It took me by surprise when I went to have a tire patched at Pep Boys last year and drove home from the experience in full, wailing, sobbing, freak-out mode.  Because as much as I have banned myself from ever crying with eye makeup on, it turns out my desire for mascara-free cheeks is no match for 40-something hormones.

I had a nail in my tire, and it was deflating quickly, so I needed to stop by Pep Boys.  When I got to the service desk, they told me it would be about an hour.  An hour later, they told me another hour.  An hour later, they told me another hour.

Meanwhile, everyone in the waiting room around me was watching videos on their phones of TruTV or something similar, where the shows consisted of people screaming and being chased by the police, and for some reason, all of them had the volume cranked to 10, on phones that were seemingly made entirely of broken speakers.  It sounded like a room full of robot parts being dragged across a floor made of chalkboard.  You know, in a bad way.

(Oh, hey, side note:  When watching a video on your phone in a public place, turn the volume down to a respectable level, you goddamned animals.  Literally NOBODY wants to hear it.  Also, don’t say, “Oh man, you gotta see this!” and then make someone watch a five minute long video on your phone when you’re just out to dinner.  NOBODY wants to have an unscheduled five minute long video thrust upon them when they’re sitting at a restaurant.)

I’m hypoglycemic and my blood sugar was starting to get really low, so I reached for my emergency snack in my purse only to find it wasn’t there, so I had to make do with eating sugar packets from the free coffee station in the waiting room.  As I tossed back the sugar packets like someone throwing handfuls of dead mullet at a sea lion’s gaping maw, I couldn’t help but feel it was a classy move by a classy lady.  /brag

When the service guy emerged from the bay three hours later, he handed me my keys and sent me on my way.  I pulled out onto the road and immediately made a wrong turn, which meant I would then have to make a U-turn.

That was it.

I immediately burst into tears and started sobbing like I was having a nervous breakdown.  This went on for the entire thirty minute drive home. I cried so hard that I had burst capillaries around my eyes the next day.  I cried so hard my neck muscles were sore.  Because making that wrong turn was just IT.  Five minutes after I got home, I was fine.

A few months ago, I got into my car after work and burst into tears for literally no reason.  Then I cried even harder because I couldn’t figure out why I was crying and sobbed and shouted at myself, “I don’t know what’s wrooooonng!!!!!”  Five minutes after I got home, I was fine.

More recently, my boss emailed me a couple follow up questions on a long project I had just turned in.  He asked nicely, as always, because my boss is actually a really fantastic boss.  So anyway, he asked nicely, and then the tears started welling up in my eyes, and I had to leave the office to go collect myself in the ladies room before I completely fell apart.  Because he asked me a couple follow up questions.  Nicely.  Five minutes later?  Fine.

One day I was watching a duck waddle across a street, and I burst into tears.  Totally fine five minutes later.

I have melted down in the past year because the dishwasher had clean dishes in it, because that meant I had to put them away, and I was not emotionally prepared to put the dishes away right at that moment.  Sure, theoretically I could just put them away later, but in the meantime I would sit on the couch and it would just gnaw and gnaw at me that I was lying around doing nothing when there was work to be done.  Basically, I cried over clean dishes because I have a really good work ethic.

To summarize, these are the situations that will make me cry in my 40s, along with a visual aid of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek to demonstrate the crying scale:

(1) Making a wrong turn:

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(2) No reason at all:

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(3) Being nicely asked a couple follow up questions:

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(4) Ducks:

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(5) My own work ethic:

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The only thing they have in common is that five minutes later, I’ll be fine.

40-something hormones?  You figure that shit out.  I have to go make sure that in the past five minutes I haven’t started growing a mustache and a dumpster ass like Mike Ditka.

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 of 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?”

Building The Perfect Panic Pizza

I’m not particularly skilled at this thing called “cooking”.  I appreciate your attempts at being polite when you pretend to enjoy the frozen pizza I made you that is somehow completely burned on the edges and bottom yet still frozen in the middle.  It’s a magical skill, I know.  How does one even accomplish that in a conventional oven?

That being said, there is one kind of pizza that I’m actually pretty good at making:

The Panic Pizza!

Oh, you don’t know how to make a Panic Pizza?  Well hot damn!  Let’s start the Home Shame Economics cooking class!

The first and most important ingredient in a Panic Pizza is the human-shaped dough glob that is you.  Hopefully, you’ve mixed and mashed yourself with so much alcohol and so many carbs the night before that by morning, you’re ready to be scraped off the couch and rise, get punched a few times in the gut, and then tossed up like so many cookies into the air of daylight.  After all, it’s another day for you to try your best at not being a shit show.  Good luck with that, paisan!

Now your dough is ready for sauce.  Since the jar of sauce is too hard to open and you don’t feel like walking all the way over to the cabinet that’s four feet away to get the jar opener thingy, you decide this Panic Pizza will be sauce-less.

You trailblazer, you.  It takes a lot of guts to have that kind of Lack of Motivation, which brings us to our first topping!  Lack of Motivation!

Hang on.  Now you’re picturing a loved one trying to chew the dry, sauce-less pizza and then they get the hiccups when they try to swallow a particularly large and dry bite, then they start choking, you totally suck at doing the Heimlich Maneuver, and then the morgue comes to take their dead body away because you killed them with your dry pizza because you were too unmotivated to get the jar opener thingy.  The hearse will pull away and you’ll be inconsolable, crying, “Why couldn’t I just get the jar opener thingy?  I should have seen this coming!”

Sorry, Lack of Motivation, but the first topping on this Panic Pizza is Anxiety.  Rookie mistake!

So, first layer on some gloppy Anxiety, then Lack of Motivation.  Our Panic Pizza is starting to really take shape!

Now that you’ve got Anxiety going, you can sit back and put your feet up for a while.  It’s time for Anxiety to take over, which means Anxiety gets to pick the rest of the toppings.  That’s what you get for letting Anxiety into the kitchen.  Once that guy comes into the picture, he takes over EVERYTHING.

Anxiety wants you to feel pretty bad about what a bother you are to everyone when you act like this, so let’s liberally sprinkle some Guilt onto the Panic Pizza.  You want to take it right up to the edges so you don’t get a single bite without at least a little of that zesty Guilt flavor.

Now Anxiety wants you to feel really weak for not being able to control Anxiety, so you slice up some Shame and lay it out on the Panic Pizza in concentric circles.  Those circles better be perfect, because if they’re not perfect, then nobody will like you…

…which is just in time to add Insecurity to the Panic Pizza!

Insecurity gets sprayed onto the pizza from an olive oil mister so that you can be sure it’s evenly coated all over the Panic Pizza.  Oh man, despite all your preparation, it looks like you missed a spot.  It’s probably because of the next topping going on the pizza…

…and that topping is Stupid!

Really, nobody could confuse it for anything else, seeing as you’re a grown adult with adult responsibilities who should be more than capable of handling your own jacked-up and self-destructive thoughts by now, but since you can’t, I guess that means you’re just Stupid!

You know what?  Let’s not render the verdict on that one yet.  Maybe you just haven’t tried therapy, religion, yoga, meditation, herbs, oils, deep breathing, visualization, and grounding techniques yet!  Maybe you just need to try harder to defeat your anxiety disorder!

Oh wait.  You have tried?  Tried and failed, you say?  Then go ahead and toss some Stupid onto that Panic Pizza, then pop open that smoky bin next to it, and LAYER ON THE FAILURE.

The only thing left to add to your Panic Pizza is the cheese of Anxiety’s choice, which means you don’t get any cheese, because Anxiety thinks you don’t deserve any.  Instead, Anxiety will give you the last topping in the form of a little cup of that garlic butter “sauce” from Papa John’s, because if that shit ain’t Self-Loathing, I don’t know what is.

Mamma mia!  Anxiety make-uh you the perfect Panic Pizza pie-uh!

Related, I found this at Wal-Mart this weekend.  Feel free to mark this on your calendar as the day humanity officially gave up.

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This is not okay.