Category Archives: Mental Health

Sunday Surprise

My very good friend invited me to go to church with her today, and as we stepped inside a couple of things struck me.  Much to my surprise, lightning wasn’t one of them.  (Let me just say, it’s been awhile.)

What occurred to me, though, is that I frequently long for some spiritual care but I have not been willing to seek it out on my own.  The predominant reason for this – are you ready for it? – is my shyness.

There, I said it.  I am shy.  People who know me well will read this and think there is no way that is possibly true.  For when you see me in my own terrain, I am animated, articulate, and gregarious.  But put me in a situation where I know almost no one, a situation that is wholly unfamiliar to me, and I might as well be nine years old clinging to the back of my mom’s pant legs.  My heart races, I feel awkward, I pretty much hate it every step of the way.

As I read over the church bulletin, I noticed a section of the morning’s events that included welcoming newcomers.  I leaned over to my friend and told her she did not need to feel compelled to stand up and welcome me.  She assured me it was nothing like that – but the mere thought of the possibility had me a little panicked.  How is it possible that at 45 years old I still get so socially awkward?  Does everyone go through this, I wonder?

It also occurred to me is how important it is to be inclusive.  Here I am, wanting for something but unable or unwilling to seek it out on my own, held back by my own social inadequacies.  It took an invitation from someone I trust to follow through.  How much better would the world be if we all just asked others to join us for one thing or another? We are surrounded by people, and yet we are a lonely planet.  Maybe the rest of the world is a lot like me…patiently waiting for the slightest encouragement.  Maybe some people are not lucky enough to get it.

So I ask you, who can you ask to tag along with you?  I’m going to try to do a better job of bringing people along with me to the events that bring me meaningful joy.  You never know, we just might make their day.

Right on Time

I’ve been known to describe myself as “neurotically punctual.”  My need to be on time does not come from a place of moral superiority, nor does it come from deep consideration for others, really.  If I sit back and analyze why it is so important to me to be on time, I’d have to say that good old fashioned anxiety is at the base of it all. Nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t know where this came from or why it came about.  I was recently talking to an evaluator of a grant I manage who is exponentially more neurotically punctual than me.  So much so, it has actually annoyed me at times.  (Bearing in mind, of course, that usually the things that annoy us most about others are the reflections of ourselves.)  She told me that as a child, she was grounded one full day for every minute she was late when her parents set a curfew.  At least she has a reasonable explanation for why she turned out the way she did. I, on the other hand, cannot explain why I am such a freak.

Last fall I got to see my time-related anxiety come to full fruition.  My friend Vance and I decided to get tickets to go see Book of Mormon in Chicago.  We were all haughty about it, too.  Like we are so cultured and cool and then we were all “we should do this more often because we are so evolved and shit.”  So we bought our tickets and then somewhere along the way my sister and brother-in-law decided to go too. They got tickets and we made plans to all ride together and have a day of merriment.

The big day arrived and I could not have been more excited.  As a means of maintaining control of the situation and, let’s be honest, the timeliness, I offered to drive.  Jess and I agreed upon a time of departure and we were all set.  But as I was filling the car with gas at a gas station near Jess’s house, I got a text from Jess:  “Where are you?”  It didn’t take long to figure out after another text exchange that Jess was at my house, and I was a couple minutes away from being at hers.  Aaaargh!  So after a quick consultation it was decided they would come back to their house and we would take off from there.  No biggie, I smugly thought.  I had built in plenty of cushion for us.

We got on the freeway and started to make our way to pick up Vance on the fashionable east side.  We exited North Avenue, and hit wall-to-wall traffic.  I mean, it was a parking lot.  At 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday. It was hard to figure out what was going on, but it turned out to be the day of Al’s Run and thousands of people were trying to get to the same place at once.  The same place we needed to get to.  Damn.  My heart started to palpitate a little.  I stayed steady, though. This is not a problem, I told myself.  We’ve got this.  

We picked up Vance who had  been instructed to wait on the corner (“Tuck and roll in, baby!” we screeched as we pulled up to him) and when he got in the car Jess and David shared they needed something to eat. We made a quick detour to Koppa’s so they could get a sandwich.  I will be the first to admit that this is where things started to turn ugly for me. I waited in the car while the three of them went inside, because I was in an illegal parking spot and I was not in need of a sandwich.  I plugged in my GPS and programmed in our theater parking garage address.  I could see by the estimated time of arrival that I had 18 extra minutes to spare – and we hadn’t even gotten out of town yet.  I looked in the windows of Koppa’s and I saw nothing.  Back to the GPS – 17 minutes.  Back to the store windows – I see David, Jess and Vance pointing at something in the store and laughing.  (My inner dialogue was something like this:  Jesus, people! Get your freaking sandwiches and get back in this car!)  Back to the GPS – 16 minutes.  This business continued until they got back to the car and we were down to 14 minutes to spare.  Fourteen minutes of cushion between us and very expensive theater seats in Chicago.  Here we go, kids – strap yourselves in!

It was another whole ordeal to make our way to the freeway (because of all these damn runners, seriously people!) but we finally did.  I put the pedal to the metal and set the cruise control.  Everyone else was happily eating their sandwiches (which I recall had lots and lots of onions on them, as well as some mayo dripping down the side of their hands – but that is neither here nor there.)  I was doing my best to not look at the (dwindling) cushion of time on the GPS.  We had two hours of traffic to endure, and a lot could happen between now and then.

As luck would have it, we encountered very little road construction and only one or two significant areas of having to slow down on the way to Chicago.  The GPS stayed steady with a good thirteen minutes of cushion. Until we got to about a mile from the theater, that is, and then we hit a wall of gridlock traffic.  Inch by inch we moved forward, and I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest.  Driving in downtown Chicago under any circumstances is daunting; doing so when you have a strict deadline to meet is downright maddening.  We eventually made our way to the front of the theater, which felt like pure hell because the parking garage was still two and half long, slow, painstaking blocks away.  Jess and David were excused from the car so at least half of us could be on time.

Left only to our own devices, Vance and I endured.  We now had seven minutes to spare.  We finally made our way to the parking garage.  At last! We’ve done it!  Level one:  full, and seven minutes to spare.  Level two: full.  Level three:  full and I feel like swearing up a blue streak.  Level four: full, and six minutes to spare. Level five:  full!  Level six:  full, with five minutes to spare and NOW I HAVE TO STOP BECAUSE THERE IS AN OLD LADY WITH A WALKER.  Vance and I were now screaming at each other. “Jesus! A lady with a walker!  Are you fucking kidding me?  A walker?!  We do not need this right now!” We were laughing at our pure horribleness and almost crying and completely freaking out.  Level seven:  Parked! Four minutes to spare!

We ran to the elevator, got to the street, and ran as fast as our little legs would take us.  We got to the theater, and Vance asked where the restrooms were.  The theater employee exclaimed, “There’s no time! You need to get in the theater or they will make you wait until after the first act to go in!”  So we put our bladders on hold and made our way to our seats.  Turns out, we had what were perhaps some of the best seats in the house.  We turned to each other – hands shaking, sweat on our brow – gave each other a big hug and commented that we felt like we just won the Amazing Race.  We sat down, and with one minute to spare, waited for our chance to watch a beautiful, ridiculously funny and blasphemous show.

And the moral of the story is, if it hadn’t been for that old lady with a walker, we’d have had two minutes to spare.  I’m just sayin’.

The Truth

The truth may set you free, as they say, but before that it might kick you around a bit and bitch slap you upside the head.

I’ve thought a lot about the truth in the last year.  As I set out on this adventure to write 52 blogs in a year (yeah, yeah…I’m  a couple behind….no worries) I promised myself to try two things:  1)  write a piece of fiction (done) and 2) reveal some truths about myself (done, and painfully so).   For years I’ve carried things deep inside myself, things that – truthfully – most people would probably hear and say, “That’s all you’ve got? That’s it?”  But to me, they were my things, the things I felt too proud or too scared or too whatever to share. It has actually occurred to me that I could make a list of every stupid little secret I have and unveil them all in one single blog.  I’m not there yet, but I do wonder how freeing that might feel.

In the last few months I’ve witnessed a couple of women I admire tremendously reveal themselves in ways that stunned me and gave me pause.  The first was my friend – a blogging hero of mine – who wrote about the back alley abortion she had when she was in college.  Her rawness of her emotion practically jumped out of the computer screen as I read her story.  She used her undoubtedly painful story as a means of advocacy, and did it perfectly so.  Her story was so meticulously descript, I wondered if she wept while she wrote it. It’s possible that the events were remote enough that the sting of the truth had lost its sharp edge, but it is equally possible that the pain couldn’t fully resolve until she told that story.  In the end, as I read her beautiful story in awe, I realized that her sharing of one of her painful truths only made me respect her more. And I didn’t even really know that was possible.

A couple of weeks ago, our department held a training event in which we invited David Sheff, author of Clean and Beautiful Boy to talk about his son’s addiction to and recovery from heroin.  In the afternoon, we asked a panel of individuals to talk about their own experience with addiction, each afflicted in a different way.  One by one, they revealed their stories. Stories that I won’t share here, because I respect their privacy and the intimacy that the room of 300 people experienced that day.  But suffice it to say, everyone in that room walked out the door at the end of the day a different person.  Here were people we knew and deeply respected, who shed a bright, burning, unrelenting floodlight on the darkest corners of their lives.  More than two weeks have passed, and I’m not sure the lump in my throat has fully resolved.

As I checked in the next day with one of the most forthcoming panel members, the feelings of vulnerability were palpable.  I won’t say there was regret, but there was a detectable shred of doubt.  I assured this person that sharing their story was an act of courage I’d not see the likes of before, and it had surely profoundly changed everyone in that room. Then, one by one, emails and phone calls and personal visits were paid to this panelist to express gratitude and awe and pure love.  In less than 24 hours, any lingering doubt -and substantial portions of the power fueled by the painful past – were permanently swept away.  The truth, some of it more than 20 years old, when shared in such a public and bold way, had actually set this person free.  I saw it with my own eyes, and it was beautiful.

I’ve had my own truths to face at times, truths I avoided facing sometimes for years on end.  Truths that, when finally acknowledged, hurt like hell and made me take a good, hard, painstaking, god awful look at myself and re-evaluate everything.  But always, every single time I tell you, the other side of that mess has been a better version of me.  A better version of me with more respect for myself and more authentic relationships with the people I love.

This blog is my therapy.  More truths are on the way.

Baby Carrots and Nail Clippers

A co-worker enters our meeting room where we will take up residence and hash out important matters for the next two hours.  In one hand, she has a bag of peanut M&Ms.  In the other hand, she has a Costco-sized bag of almonds.  Others may see this and immediately think to themselves, “Snacks!  And she plans to share!  It’s my lucky day!” I, on the other hand, do not share this joyful sentiment.  Instead, I immediately feel a tightening in my chest and a clenching of my jaw.  I let out what feels like a loud, involuntary sigh, and although I can’t see it, I imagine I have a grimace on my face.  I have an immediate and enduring response that I want to flee the situation.  This two hour meeting has just turned into my version of a private hell.

For years I have known that I have a high sensitivity to noise.  It’s not just any noise, though.  The noises that are most bothersome to me are those that are subtle and repetitive.  I remember sitting in a room with my boss on a hot, humid August day last summer.  The air conditioning was running full blast – a fact for which we were all thankful. My boss was talking about items of great importance, no doubt.  And all I could hear was the click…click…click…of the blinds hitting against the window pane from the forced air of the air conditioning. I could barely concentrate on what she was saying to me.  It’s the kind of thing that most people don’t even hear, and yet it is enough to drive me mad.

Then one day a little less than a year ago, I was out to dinner with a friend.  On her own, she brought up her own sensitivity to noise, but she had a name for it:  Misophonia.  She went on to explain that this is a neurological disorder that affects up to 4% of the population, and in literal terms means a hatred of sound. We spent the next hour venting about all the sounds we hate and laughed ourselves silly because anyone listening in our conversation would either think we had lost our marbles or that we were snarky little bitches. I would argue that neither are true; others may say that both are true.  Either way, it was incredibly validating to find one of my people.  I’ve since found many more – I can spot Misophonia in someone else a mile away.

The unfortunate news is that the only remedy for my problem requires other people to change their behavior. I have learned to just let people at work know about my noise sensitivity and I usually do it with bold, unrelenting humor.  I guess I have this luxury, because I’m the boss. Over time, and enough jokes made about how I will cut a bitch who brings an apple to a meeting, the crunchy food consumption seems to have dwindled in our workplace.  Go figure. Now I need to find a way to deal with all of the pen clickers in the world.

When my fellow Misophonic friend and I got together recently, we made a list of foods that are acceptable in a meeting.  The list included yogurt, applesauce, string cheese, cuties, bananas, and our favorite food of all: “How about if you just eat your fucking snacks when you are by yourself?”

So the next time you are headed to a meeting with a snack in tow, you may want to stop yourself and think about people like me.  While I don’t believe there has been a Misophonia legal defense made just yet, I do believe the day will come.  Someone, somewhere, will crinkle a bag, clip their nails, eat some pretzels, slurp some soup or gulp their water in just the wrong way and all hell will break loose.  My advice?  Don’t take any chances.  Really.  Please.  On behalf of myself and everyone else with Misophonia, I am begging you. Leave your baby carrots at home.