Rejected titles for this entry include:
- Waiting on the Other Shoe
- The Anxiety of Happiness
- My “Interactions Savings Account” is in the red again.
Here’s what I love and hate about cognitive psychology: most of the time you’re not telling anybody anything that they don’t already know on some level. I personally revel in this type of “I KNEW IT” validation of how my mind works and it makes me feel slightly less responsible for the dark and twisty parts of myself, but some people have a more “Okay. Why does this matter to me again?” reaction. If you fall in the latter category, I mean this with 0% snark: I’m infinitely jealous of your simplicity.
When I was a teacher we were constantly being reminded of the 5:1 positivity ratio. It’s a pretty well regarded concept at this point, so I can’t narrow down who did all the research and data tracking to establish this principle (’cause trust- I give credit where it’s due when I can), but the gist says that in order to maintain a positive relationship, there must be five positive interactions to balance every one negative interaction. For example, if you have to tell a kid to stop tapping their pencil, you must smile, pat their back, tell them good job, etc. five times before the relationship is back in positive territory. From my experience and understanding, interactions can be front loaded as a sort of “Interactions Savings Account” to draw from when needed. Also from my experience and understanding, this isn’t a concept that is applied solely to teacher-student relationships- it’s all interactions in general. So if I go to the Starbucks down the street five times and have an awesome experience, but then for my sixth visit I go and my barista is rude and order is wrong, I might let it slide. But if I go the time after that and again have a terrible experience, I’m probably going to start looking for a new coffee shop.
This is my current struggle. Not in the classroom (Did I mention I quit teaching? Now that’s a story for another time…) but just with Life.
You see, being happy can be exhausting when you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. And for as long as I’ve been aware, I’m always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Being the word nerd that I am, a few years ago I looked up the history behind the expression “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” It originated in late 19th century New York City when tenement style living was becoming more common, and apartments were built with cookie cutter layouts resulting in bedrooms all stacked directly on top of each other. When the upstairs tenant would come home at night, the downstairs tenant would hear him lay down on the bed and kick off his shoes. It became so ingrained in the normalcy of the experience that when only one shoe would drop, it would heighten a sense of impatience and curiosity and anxiety in waiting to hear the sound of “the other shoe to drop.”
Now all this is being laid out not to prove to you how I deserve an A+ in “Using Google 101,” but to lay out the current struggle that I have to heal but so far have been keeping on hospice.
I mentioned in my last post that I’m not only alive and well, but also that despite the odds Romeo and I are somehow happier than ever in this crazy whirlwind resurrection. However, we are not without our struggles. He’s stubborn and completely neurotic about making the bed and will buy one ply toilet paper that dissolves on contact if put in charge of the grocery shopping. I’m a chronic worrier and neurotic about everything except making the bed and have been known to actually cry real tears if he brings home the aforementioned toilet paper. (In my defense, you know the stuff I’m talking about, and it’s the worst.) He needs days- even weeks- to process a fight or disagreement, and I want to air out all the dirty laundry right then and there, no matter what else is going on. He’s methodical, and I’m impulsive. We are both very strong willed. These aren’t all bad combinations because in a lot of ways, we have a little ying/yang balancing action going on, but from time to time, it gets ugly.
For example, another major difference between us is that leaves his phone at home to charge and will go run errands, but I get phantom limb syndrome if I so much as go upstairs to move the wash over and leave my phone downstairs. So when Friday night he went for boys night at a friend’s to grill out and have a few beers, I didn’t expect him to be home at any particular time but was secretly a little happy when he voluntarily said he would be home at 10:00. When he still wasn’t home at 10:20, I texted him just to see if everything was okay.
Then I called at 10:22 just in case he didn’t hear the text.
I texted again at 10:25 to tell him I was going to bed.
I tossed and turned until 10:47 by which point I was already convinced he had been in a car accident.
I texted “You know I worry…” at 10:48 and called again, ya know, just to make sure.
I Snapchatted a black screen “Are you alive?” and Facebook messaged “I know I’m being annoying but I’d rather be mad you’re ignoring me that convinced you’re dead” because both Snapchat and Facebook message have read receipts and I wanted to confirm whether he was seeing my messages or was in fact dead on the side of the road. (My fellow crazies out there already knew my rational. You’re my people. And I’m real sorry ’bout that.)
I tried to FaceTimed him at 10:57 in an attempt to catch his attention with a different ring in case he was able to gain conciousness in the mangled truck I imagined had flipped into a ditch.
At 10:58 I started mentally preparing to call the hospitals and jails.
I was in full blown panic when he called me at 11:00 on the dot. “Is everything okay? I was charging my phone and lost track of time.”
I know that everything about this was insane. Typing it out only reinforces my own understanding that it was fully and truly unhinged. I don’t know if it defends my actions or just adds as a proof point for the psychosis, but I actually was convinced he was dead. Sure I had reason to be mildly annoyed, but ultimately he was 100% in the right to be frustrated with me after he realized everything was actually fine on my end and that all problems lived only in my imagination.
This morphed into a fight where each of us indignantly insisted that we didn’t feel respected in the interaction, until he finally, exasperated and hurt, exclaimed “Why don’t you trust me?”
Shit shit shit shit shit.
Dealing with long standing demons is the only thing worse than single ply toilet paper. (Actually, no. They’re equal. That toilet paper is pure evil.) It took me walking away from the conversation for a few minutes before I finally realized it wasn’t that I didn’t trust him; I didn’t trust Life. My 5:1 “Interaction Savings Account” is so stocked with damning childhood memories of my family; past love affairs that have soured at the worst possible moments; friends and acquaintances with cheating, abusive, lazy, pathetic addicts for boyfriends/fiancés/husbands/fathers; songs, books, articles, and movies full of emotional and physical destruction just reinforcing that every fear I’ve ever had can and will come true… How can happy every survive in a world like this?
Pause–> It’s important to note that yes, some things have gone to shit in my life, but this seeing life through One Ply Colored Glasses is a side effect of damage done mostly in my mind. My worst “interactions” are things that never even happened to me, but just what I’ve imagined could be true based on the darkest parts of my mind. When it comes to my neurosis, I’m Public Enemy No. 1. Play –>
Choking back tears, I told him:
Me: You don’t beat me. You don’t cheat on me. You take care of me and support me and love me, and you are wonderful. I don’t distrust you, I distrust Life. If the smallest thing happens- if one shoe drops- I’m crippled with anxiety waiting for the other shoe will drop too. For the longest time, if I didn’t hear back from a guy, I assumed he was over me, so most of the time I would kick the other shoe off myself just to finally end the purgatory of waiting to see what possible negative outcome would manifest. You and this life bring me so much joy, which only further underscores my fear that Life is going to take you away from me.
Romeo: I hate that you feel this way, and it helps to know what’s going on in your head, but don’t you understand that when I finally do see my phone and I see 17 missed attempts to contact me, I assume it’s an emergency.
Me: You don’t get it. In my mind it is an emergency. My reality has already shifted so that what I fear to be true feels so much more real than what actually, probably is true.
Romeo: I promise to try to be more considerate in the future, but babe… We can’t do this again and more importantly, you can’t live your life that way.
I hate when he’s so fucking right.
All the foot stomping and insisting that he should cater to my dark and twisty fears might work. He could just cave to my will and join me in the nightmare. But thankfully he won’t, and even more, thankfully he insists that I pull myself out, too.
So this is where I am now. Trying to rationalize and subdue the constant fears that a home invasion/ coyote attack/ tornado/ running trail rape/ car accident/ incurable diagnosis is going to completely upend my life. Even as I type this, the poetic irony in my mind suggests that I will press submit and turn around to be held hostage in a Starbucks terrorist attack. But deep breaths and trust (and probably less caffeine) are going to get me through this imaginary crisis. I hope. I’m going to go about my day and try to enjoy being happy instead of catering to the quiet, seething fears that “happy” can’t last. I hope.
At least I’m going to try. I hope.