Ever since you were a baby
You’ve been trying to grow up
But that’s nothing that a therapist can cure
There’s an unconfirmed report
Or could it be a cruel hoax
That death is just the punchline
To a tall tale told
At the speed of normal(John Wesley Harding, “The Speed of Normal”)
It’s been years since I’ve spent any significant amount of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices and waiting rooms and ERs, but the last couple of months it’s been one thing after another: my knee injury, Renegade’s broken finger, ultrasounds of my mysterious ovaries, Rebel’s long overdue five-year-old checkup (complete with the trauma of inoculations), finally dealing with my feet, and (of course) weekly sessions with my therapist. And I’m at the orthopedic surgeon’s office again, now, and there is a long delay, and the waiting room is filled with the worst sort of curmudgeons: old people with aching joints, bad knees, creaky hips, and (the worst) a combination of loud voices and complete obliviousness to the fact that they are in public talking about incontinence, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. And it’s not as though I’m any less frustrated by the fact that we’re all seemingly stuck here waiting for a surgeon with a God complex (imagine that!), but — much more important — I’m too busy having panic attacks and chest pains over the swirling mess my life has become — rather surprisingly and quickly — over the past week.
But that’s not entirely true. I feel as though my life is in disarray, but really it’s just my internal world that’s taken on the shape and color of a firestorm or duststorm or sandstorm or (really) all storms in general: chaotic, shifting, unpredictable, and uncontrollable — be they red or green or brown or grey, they are all just a fucking mess and if my brain were like Herman’s Head and had little people arguing up there they’d all be holding on for dear life by now — or rendered deaf, dumb, and blind by all the noise. But what my therapist pointed out today is that my life is actually quite all right by anyone’s standards, and it’s just because *I* feel all out of sorts that I *think* it’s all falling apart. By all outward appearances, I’m doing fine: I bathe frequently, dress in clean clothes (often quite stylishly), get my work done (mostly), call people when I need to reach out, show up when and where I am needed, keep on track with my meetings (for the most part), and participate in relationships (even if it’s been with a fair amount of irritability and impatience as of late).
“But it feels so crappy!” I declare during therapy.
My therapist smiles in that way she does (so saccharine that my almost-violent response to it is quite irrational and disproportionate) and says, “Welcome to life.”
And I have the same reaction I have when my sponsor tells me I’m doing a bang-up job and I want to strangle her for it: “Isn’t there a book I can read or a pill I can take to make this all go away?” And of course she laughs at me and asks if I’d like for her to teach me some relaxation exercises. “There’s room enough on the floor in here,” she says. Uh, no.
Last week Sax Man and I were hanging out and I don’t quite remember what he did but — as I recall — I snapped at him and told him I wasn’t in the mood and he stopped and I proceeded to feel quite guilty for at least half the time we were together that night, so eventually I apologized and he pointed out that perhaps I had an inaccurate perspective of what I actually sounded like, as he hadn’t experienced it as snippy. And I’m not silly enough to think this is the case *all* the time, as I know myself well enough to realize I can sometimes become an irritable and unpleasant person…but it’s interesting for me when I realize that making neutral statements about my feelings causes me to feel like a bitch extraordinaire, experiencing normal stresses of life makes me feel like a complete failure as a person, and coping with difficult situations makes me think I should find an old bomb shelter and curl up there with a good book and come out in about 42 years. Maybe I’d at least lose a few pounds that way, which definitely isn’t going to happen if I keep on eating vegan cake and organic peanut butter cookies for dinner because I’m so stressed and “deserve” a treat.
All this is swirling around in Thought Storm Central (i.e., my head) and Renegade snaps me out of it when we get called into the examination room and he says, “I can’t believe how horrible those old people out there were!”
Of course, I’m busy blogging and just nod my head and say, “That’s kinda how old people are.”
“When I am an adult and you’re old, please don’t act like a dork,” he says in response, and quite adamantly at that.
“Do you think I would?” I ask.” And what do you even mean?”
“Like most people when they’re old they say dorky things like ‘dang’ or ‘that’s junk’ instead of swearing,” he says. “And they’re fucking* embarrassing, too.”
“And do I embarrass you now?”
“No,” he says (after thinking for what I would argue is a smidge too long), “I’m just offering up a warning for future reference.”
And in that moment, what I think isn’t that he’s a silly boy (though he is) or that I love how he makes me laugh (though I do) or even that these snippets of conversation don’t come as often as they used to (because they don’t) or that they will probably become even more infrequent (because they will) but, rather, that I’m happy to have Renegade in my life. He is so unlike me, yet so very much mine… and at the best times possible, he gives something solid to hold onto during those swirling storms which inspire so much panic. Maybe what I need in all areas of my life are a series of warnings for future reference. But who knows? After all, I’m a little bit crazy.
I’m reminded of the Little House on the Prairie books, where Pa strings a clothesline (or something like it) between the barn and the house, so that when there’s a blizzard he can hold onto the rope to get back and forth between the two. And that’s how I feel these days — panicky and scared and pretty fucking cold here in my blizzard, but also knowing there’s a lifeline out there somewhere, and if I can only find it, I’ll end up OK. I don’t know if it will be the house or the barn, but it will be safe. It just has to be.