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.

 

 

The Love Boat Promises Something for Every Neurosis

I looooove television.  Not just any kind of television.  60s, 70s, and 80s television.  You can take your reality shows and stick ‘em where Sonny from Bosom Buddies don’t shine.  I would rather stare at a blank screen all day than watch a reality show.

Okay, fine.  Unless it was the first or second season of Bret Michaels “Rock of Love” on VH-1 because that shit was genuinely entertaining.  #TeamHeather

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Every Heather has its thorn. My god, I adore this woman.

I totally want to party with her, get arrested together, break out of jail, and live life together on the run.  Or at least break out of Catholic school with her.

Then we’ll get free stuff from gas stations and happen upon a strip club that has an amateur night, and I’ll dress up in a men’s business suit and hat, except I’ll be wearing carefully applied lipstick.  She’ll wear a white bellbottom outfit with a sparkly bra and enter the stripper competition.  I’ll pull off my hat at some point during her routine, revealing that I’m actually Alicia Silverstone.  Biker guys will swoon.  We will win the competition and use our prize money to get a motel room for the night.  The next day we will taunt a handsome man on a tractor.

I realize this is actually just an Aerosmith video that I’m describing, which doesn’t make it any less important as a personal goal.  Don’t shit on my dream.

When I went through my Howard Hughes OCD psychotic break in 1994 and stopped leaving the house for a few months, the one thing I looked forward to more than anything was when The Love Boat would come on at 3am.  I love that show so freaking much.  The problem was that between midnight and 3am, there was jack squat on TV.  I could buy some time if there was a good guest on one of the late night talk shows, but for the most part, it was a lot of sitting around and waiting.

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The first thing I bought for my new apartment seven years ago. Not even remotely kidding.

I suppose I could have done, I don’t know, something besides sit around and wait for a television show to come on, maybe read a book or “think about the future” or whatever, but I had fallen so far down the well I couldn’t even be bothered to shower more than once every two weeks at that point.  Reading a book or doing anything constructive might as well have been climbing a mountain.  Everything was too daunting.

I would get so anxious in those hours waiting for The Love Boat to come on, wishing and praying more than anything that time would just move faster.  This was before I got any kind of treatment for my OCD, so when I got anxious like that, I got extra compelled.

Obsessively compelled, that is.  Black gold.  Texas tea.

Shut up.  You don’t have to quote The Beverly Hillbillies theme song.  We get it.  You like TV.

Hang on, though.  This one’s my favorite.  Perfect Strangers theme song:

🎵 Standing taaaall on the wings of my dreams.  Rise and faaaaall, on the wings of my dreams.  Rain, thunder, wind and haze, I’m bound for better days.  It’s my life.  Myyyy dream.  Nothin’s gonna stop me now.  (Harmonica part.) 🎵

You are the literal worst.

Every four minutes between midnight and 3am, my OCD would make me do a security check in the house where I would go room to room to make sure all the windows were closed, all the doors were locked, and all cabinets, closets, bathtubs, and under-bed areas were free of psycho killers.  Light switches, door knobs, anything along the way had to be touched between four and sixty-four times until it felt “right”.

At every four minutes, this translated to fifteen security checks per hour.  But the number fifteen was deemed “bad” by my brain, so I had to do another quick check right before the hour was up to make it an even sixteen times.

Sixteen was a really good number that gave me momentary mental relief.  Nothing felt as great as the number sixteen.  Bad numbers included all prime numbers, particularly the number three, and anything that wasn’t divisible by four.

Bad numbers?  Oh man.  Bad numbers just simply could not be tolerated.  If someone on TV said the number thirty-one out loud, I would have to whisper, “Thirty-two,” or else I’d become extremely uncomfortable with that thirty-one just hanging in the air.

If someone else happened to be in the room, they would say, “What?  Did you just say something?” and then I would say no and tell them that they must just be hearing things.

Most people with OCD will tell you something similar to the above.  There are totally innocuous things that are arbitrarily classified as “good” or “bad”.  Numbers in my case, obviously, but I had certain electrical cords that I deemed bad for no reason.  Round foods were deemed good.  Square foods, bad.  Knocking on doors, good.  Doorbells, bad.

This is because the very technical scientific term for OCD is “broken-assed brain”.  Thankfully in my case, I was able to get it fixed later down the road (mostly).  My therapist said there was probably a reason buried deep somewhere that I had assigned good/bad to certain things, but that it ultimately didn’t matter.  OCD is illogical, and trying to apply logic to it is a waste of energy.

It was a shame I never had the cleaning compulsions that some people have or else my house would have been museum-spotless every night before The Love Boat came on.

Don’t get me wrong.  People who have the cleaning compulsions will often scrub floors until their fingertips split with gangrene and their nails crumble and rot down to the cuticle, so it’s no picnic, either, but at the very least you get a clean floor out of it.  The most my compulsions were doing for me was making sure that there wasn’t a miniature psycho killer crouched in my bathroom cabinet.  I mean, it’s a good thing to know there wasn’t one in there, but at the same time, the odds were generally pretty slim of one actually being in there to begin with.  My time could have been better spent, especially given the filth I was living in.

So I would do my routines for all those hours in anticipation of The Love Boat every night, night after night.  Walking around the house in my filthy Nirvana tour shirt with the glow-in-the-dark seahorses on it, checking and touching and checking and touching, and then I’d eventually put some nice, round Crispy Crowns in the oven around 1:32am (around means precisely or else you have to wait until 1:48am).  I would eat the Crispy Crowns in even numbers, making sure to chew each one sixteen times on each side of my mouth, and get ready for my show to finally start.

2:59am.

The show was about to start!

It was finally about to start!

I was so happy as the ending credits rolled for the show that was on before The Love Boat.  Yes!  My show was about to start!

Then the clock would strike 3am and the theme song for The Love Boat would come on.

🎵 Love…exciting and new…come aboard…we’re expecting yoooooooooou…. 🎵

I would be so elated, so relieved, and so relaxed it was finally on, that I would fall asleep halfway through the opening credits and sleep through the entire show and then be furious I had missed it.

Every night.

 

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Imma let you finish, but in 1994 I was more Angela Chase from My So-Called Life than Angela Chase was Angela Chase.