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?”

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”.

20190101_200338
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.

20190101_200935
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.

20190101_200354
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.

20190101_200415
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!”

20190101_200222
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!”