You're the Worst, Meg Ryan.
I whole heartedly blame my inability to find joy and savor a moment on one thing alone: the movie City of Angels. Specifically the scene where Meg Ryan gets mowed down by a big truck carrying an inexplicably large amount of logs in slow motion.
Oh, by the way, spoiler alert: she dead.
So while she's getting run-the-F-over, Nicholas Cage is taking his first shower ever post-night-of-coitus, right after he decided not to be an angel of death any more so he can be with Meggie-kins.
It's a whole thing. And it's ruined me for life.
If you haven't seen the movie, don't. But do get the soundtrack, it's bumpin' (as the kids say...I think).
Anyway, here's an experiment that Brene Brown (blessed are thou amongst women) mentioned in a podcast last year: a mom, dad, and two kids are in the car driving home from grandma's house on Christmas Eve. They're singing their favorite carol, and a light snow is falling on the country road. Mom looks at dad, then turns to look at their beautiful children, overwhelmed with joy.
What happens next?
She said 90% of people say, "crash". Everyone else said something equally traumatic.
Why do we do this?? Why can't the end of that story be: dad holds mom's hand, kissing it gently, and they get home, putting the sleeping kids to bed, put out the gifts, then sit down to watch the snow fall with a nice glass of eggnog? I guess that would be a pretty boring movie.
At this point in the blog, I usually hit a magnificent writers block, so I called my sister to moan with neuroticism. Good thing it was dinnertime with my 2-year-old niece, Zoie. Oh, and she's 18 weeks pregnant, so this wasn't inconvenient in the least. Here was our conversation:
Me: "Yo whorebag, what do you think about this foreboding joy concept?"
Kellie: "What? Zoie! Do not kick the dog! Sorry. What? Joy? Who's Joy? Ok, one more strawberry, then that's it. Ok, sorry. Joy? I don't know what do you mean."
Me: <explaining the above>
Kellie: "Um. Wait. Parent Trap is on!!!! Zoie! Come watch! Yeah I don't know, you can't go insane, but also, we're not going to let Zoie do anything. Zoie, do you want to say hi to Aunt Air? No, you can't have more strawberries; you'll get a bellyache. Ok, joy? I have no opinions about anything that isn't an egg McMuffin right now."
Me: "I'm direct quoting you into my blog."
Growing up Catholic, superstitions are just part of the culture (ironically, since superstitions are a sin). I have the itch to make the "sign of the cross" every time I pass a cemetery. Crossing your fingers? Totally an old school Catholic thing (Google it). Are you Italian? Have you ever spilled salt? You know what to do...because what if the devil really was standing behind your back?
What if, man? What if.
Here's a question for all of us: what if we stopped asking "what if"?
What if we asked, "so what if?"
<ps, I have absolutely and completely stolen this from Anxiety Coach and the mustard to my ketchup, Kelli Walker of www.panicandanxietycoach.com. She's amazing. Check her out. But not now because she just had twins.>
Terrible things do happen. Planes do crash. We get in car crashes. Kids get hurt. Parasites are in water everywhere. Meg Ryan and my soul die in movies. It's true. But does over preparing emotionally for those things mitigate the hurt if they actually happen to us? We shut down the joy to stop the anxiety and worry, and how does that leave us? Scared and miserable.
Well, it leaves me scared and miserable, I guess I can't speak for you. But you're reading this which means either you're my mom, or some of this crap actually resonates with you.
Dr. Brown talks a lot about joy in her books. Her work has shown that when we don't lean into joy, it doesn't soften the blow if something bad does happen, it just makes you regret not enjoying those moments. She says that we try to "dress rehearse tragedy in order to beat vulnerability to the punch." Boy howdy.
I know this well. I've seen every episode of "I Survived", and I can tell you I am prepared for every possible scenario of disaster. You totally want me on your Apocalypse dream team. What I learned after panic attacks brought me to my knees is that my rigid ritual of knowing exactly how many exits there were in a restaurant, or how to quickly load a shot gun, or checking my house alarm 5 times every night didn't actually make me safer, it just made my world smaller.
And my small world wasn't just about my physical safety. I would bet my bottom dollar that it's not about your physical safety either. A lot of us dress rehearse a breakup. Or getting fired. Or finding out that our kid is doing drugs at church camp. Or dying alone. Or not looking "perfect" at our wedding. Or what it will feel like when we break someone's heart because we think we're not good enough to accept the love that's looking us right in the overly beautiful face. I get those too.
My second favorite pastime used to be grilling a big steak after two whiskey sours at my lake whilst dress rehearsing all of the types of disaster.
In 2018, I have a new favorite pastime...
The point is, when it comes down to it, if (God forbid) some freak terrible thing happened, we are all prepared to deal with it. We don't think we are, but we're tougher than we let on.
My (imaginary) best friend, Brene says that the antidote to foreboding joy is gratitude. When we're on the plane and we have that sudden sensation of dread, count off the things you're grateful for...even if it's forced. It will eventually become habit, and we'll start looking for the beautiful things instead of the awful.
If you're struggling with anxiety in a way that keeps you in a small world of OCD, addiction, agoraphobia, or any of the myriad of other issues out there to have, this blog is not going to cure you, otherwise I'd be very, very rich, and would not be wondering if the coin laundry in my building takes Canadian quarters.
Keep seeking out help, keep talking, and stay brave.
This life is very big, and you're doing just fine if you're still breathing. Maybe you could do one spontaneous thing today. Spontaneity is good for us! (don't tell my therapist I said that, she's been barking up this tree with me for a while now, and I have a stubborn reputation to uphold).
Call a friend you wouldn't normally call on a Monday night. Go get ice cream after lunch. Don't binge eat the ice cream after lunch. Take a ride to your lake with someone new. Kiss a stranger in the middle of the street. Actually, don't do that, ask first. But do go sing karaoke even if you're terrible. Give your number to an old friend and make sure they call you for lunch.
Definitely call me up when the weather gets nice and take me to get a DeFazio's, then sit with me in the park and watch a family of skunks appear to scare the crap out of you (true story).
Adding a little pizazz breaks those habit trains in our brain, and gives us some joy to lean in to. No more "what ifs." Try "so what if," and enjoy all the things while you can.
You don't necessarily have to ride your bike in the middle of a Lake Tahoe road after having sex with Nicholas Cage, though. That's just asking for a truck carrying an entire forest of logs to flatten you.
Freaking Meg Ryan…