Monday, August 31, 2015

Misery Loves Company

We all know people who seem miserable for miserable's sake. Meaning, they seemingly have most everything they want or need, yet still find reason to (at the very least) complain or (more often) attempt to drag others' to their level. For those of us who aren't equipped with the insight, knowledge, and/or mental energy to fight it often succumb. In fact, most people who get caught in this relationship are joyful, happy, and at peace-feelings miserable people realize are missing in their lives. Those who surrender can become miserable themselves, perhaps not only perpetuating this pattern with the original miserable person, but also other people in their lives.

It is a vicious cycle that most understand as "misery loves company." I think it's safe to assume everyone is familiar with this person. This is the friend who only has negative comments when you share good news. This is the family member who monopolizes entire evenings with "woe is me"-type anecdotes that are decades old. This is the co-worker who consistently shatters your good vibe by implying your job isn't secure.

This is not the person currently going through a tough time or the person attempting to cope with mental illness or the person who has a random vent session. Sometimes, those lines are blurry and the understandable reaction to grief, anger, frustration, or anxiety is considered misery. I am suggesting that is dreadfully incorrect.

As someone who wears my feelings as an armband, proudly and openly, when I am upset, it is usually very clear. I often worry that I come across as negative or miserable when I am having a tough time. I will obsess (out loud) if given the opportunity, if I feel safe and understood. I will cry and scream to release my tension, again if the opportunity arises and I feel safe and understood. Admittedly, I am too trusting with these emotions and when I am faced with opposition, I feel not only hurt, but betrayed. It is a bit dramatic, I agree. But dramatic or not, it's how I feel.

Having grown up with a large family (half of whom keep every unpleasant feeling inside until they snap, half of whom will tell you exactly how they feel-who, what, where, and why), I sometimes couldn't make heads or tails of how I was supposed to cope with my feelings. So, I learned by trial and error (what upset people, what got their attention), as well as a profound interest in psychology. I'm sad to report I also picked up several negative coping skills along the way, BUT I'm certain every human on this planet has at least one of those.

Being so open with my feelings has led to many disappointments, particularly from miserable people themselves. In turn, I have experienced most conflict with such people, usually after finding myself in a most frustrating dynamic of negativity, pessimism, and (of course) misery. Sometimes, when the cycle reaches epic proportions, an onlooker cannot distinguish one miserable people from another. And THAT continues to be a wake-up call for me when I feel myself slipping back into that relationship.

Sadly, this means I have had to adopt a new attitude of loving indifference to said individuals. To protect myself from being another casualty of the "misery loves company" war. Loving indifference (I have no idea if this is actually a term-I literally just made it up-but if it is please don't sue me!) means I love this person. They are my [fill in the blank] and of course I want nothing bad to happen to them. I want them to be happy and joyous. Sadly...they are anything but and therefore I need to limit my interactions, reactions, and (most sad of all) expectations of change.

Having spent years studying psychology, counseling, and then putting those studies into practice as a therapist, it is beyond disheartening to concede that some people will not change. Ever. Like, EVER ever. And sometimes miserable people are not individuals you can simply cut out of your life. They may be your boss or co-worker, your child or parent, even grandmothers can be miserable people. And let me take this moment in time to assure you, I acknowledge that many miserable people are unaware they are, in fact, miserable. They may just believe they have a few "difficult" people in their lives who "don't understand" them and they move onto the people who don't challenge their miserable behavior. That being said, when a miserable person has been told numerous TIMES by numerous PEOPLE they are miserable, it might be time to take inventory of your life. Or, as some may do, keep living in blissful ignorance.

So, when all else fails and you've come face to face with a miserable person-one who will not acknowledge they are, in fact, miserable and consistently attempts to drag you into their web of negativity-just remember...


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Have Gun Will Travel

My mother and I have never made the train trip to Connecticut from South Carolina together. Separately, our trips have been fine, albeit long. We decided the course of events that occurred during our trek happened ONLY because there were two of us, therefore better equipped for the shitshow (as my brother would call it) that took place. For your reading pleasure...

We arrived at the train station in our fair city of Greenville late one Saturday night to find out the train was an hour late. Not entirely unusual for Amtrak, so we didn't sweat it and found some seats to hurry up and wait. We watched families enter and do the same. The hour dragged, but I had a good book to keep me entertained (American Gods by Neil Gaiman). As it neared the new departure time, Mom and I got our belongings together as the Amtrak worker came out to make a new announcement:

"I just received news that a couple committed suicide on the tracks in Spartanburg. They laid their heads on the track and died. So, there is a longer delay and I have no idea how much longer. The train is coming, it wasn't your train that hit the couple, but you can board the train and we will just sit and wait."

Okay. Absolutely horrifying for ME, as a full grown adult, I can't imagine how horrifying it was for the children who heard, never mind the adults with them who were likely bombarded with questions after that announcement. Once we boarded the train, Mom and I discovered we were privy to not one, not two, but THREE screaming children while we parked at the Greenville station for another 90 minutes. After everyone boarded, the conductor came to the newly inhabited train car and, again, explained the situation. Thankfully, he was less descriptive than his colleague, but telling us coroners and police would be spending some time "cleaning up the tracks" was more than I needed to know.

I, hopped up on my nightly doses of Melatonin and Benadryl, attempted to get some shut-eye amidst the (literally) screaming children. I did okay, but woke up super grumpy. To avoid casting myself in the best light possible, I had some choice words for my mother who was trying to hold a quiet phone conversation with my grandmother. I believe the words "Are you fucking kidding me with this?" exited my mouth. Not a proud moment. Mom informed me the dining car had opened a couple hours earlier for breakfast, so I made the voyage down five bumpy train cars and back, only to have spent a small fortune on aspartame-flavored yogurt and a bag of pretzels. All other breakfast foods were gone. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. Grateful we had packed some of our own snacks, I carb-loaded and took a small nap, hoping I would wake up happier. (I'm certain my mother was hoping the same!)

I did. Our train was still 2.5 hours behind, but Mom and I were confident we would come up with a Plan B since it was likely we would miss our connecting train from New York City to New Haven. We had stopped in DC for a bit, to refuel, and I was eager to be one of the first people in line to get lunch as it was now approaching 1:00pm and all I'd eaten since 8:00pm, the night before, was orange juice, a Luna bar, and half a bag of pretzels. I needed *food*. When the train started rolling again, I hopped up and rushed to the dining car. I was not the only one who had the same idea, but I was confident with my place of third in line.

Finally! My turn to order! I smiled and ordered two turkey sandwiches, a bag of pretzels, a Starbucks Frappucino and a bottle of water. The woman (who did not return my smile) held the sandwiches up and said, "Hot or cold?" Confused, I said cold, as I wasn't expecting a turkey pannini. She handed it to me and said, "Well it's frozen, so..." I laughed as I handed it back and said, "Well, then yes, please heat them up." I didn't realized the "cold" in that suggestion meant frozen. Let's use our heads, people. C'mon. We're in this together!

I gleefully returned to my seat and began telling the "frozen sandwich ordeal" to Mom, as I unwrapped my sandwich. And (why I was surprised is still a mystery...) my sandwich was still frozen with the saddest little ice crystals on top of the shadiest looking "turkey" I have ever seen. It was so pitiful, I didn't even bother to eat it. Mom, convinced her sandwich looked less shady, was brave enough to give it a bite. The poor woman couldn't even swallow it! Thank the baby Jesus for my Frappucino, because it gave me insincere energy and made it easy not to eat for a few more hours.

I had now reached sleep-deprived, hungry moodiness of epic proportions. I would be giggling and giddy one minute and the next nearly in tears that my sleep mask had fallen on the floor-therefore by my OCD standards it essentially became garbage and was thrown away with the turkey sandwich. I was also becoming increasingly anxious about bringing my over-sized luggage onto the train in New York, where checked baggage was not an option and I would be forced to wheel my ginormous bag (packed for 6 weeks) down the aisle and attempt to find a "standing room only" area to put it, preferably in the same train car with empty seats. To say I was spiraling would be an understatement.

But ever the planners, Mom and I had a Plan B-get on the next soonest Amtrak train to New Haven. We knew exactly what to do as soon as we pulled into Penn Station:
  • Get checked baggage
  • Get new train ticket
  • EAT!
In that order. That's exactly what we did. It went seamlessly. We were scheduled to get on the 6:00pm Amtrak (instead of our original 3:30pm) to New Haven. We ate dinner as fast as humanly possible and anxiously got to The Board, where everyone is crowding around, ready to take off the moment they see their track number. 

5:50pm...still no track number
6:00pm...we should be departing, but still not track number

(Meanwhile the entire time, I was in full obsession about my bag being too big and had reverted to pre-breakfast disaster attitude...)

The announcements explains: Due to power outages and difficulties, some Amtrak trains are being delayed indefinitely.

Mom and I looked at each other, panicked. 
"What are we going to do???"
Then Mom said, "What about a limobus?"
To which I patiently answered, "What the FUCK is a limobus???"
Then, a notion struck me. Something I had done years prior when I attempted this same trip ON BUS. I shrieked, "Let's take the MetroNorth! Let's take the motherfucking subway to Grand Central!"

Mom, being nervous about the subway, was a good sport and agreed. We followed the signs, I went to the information desk about which subway to take to Grand Central and through her choppy answer, I felt confident. Hell, I had been to NYC many times by myself. I raced over to the MetroCard Machine, got two single ride tickets. 

Then, I realized my over-sized bag (what was becoming the bane of my existence on this trip) might not fit through the turnstile. Mom suggested picking it up over the turnstile, but I was convinced it would go through just fine with both our cards. I think we all know where this is leading...

End my confidence and begin complete and utter panic for the next 30 minutes (although it seemed like an eternity). My bag was stuck. Like STUCK stuck. And it was RUSH HOUR. In New Motherfucking York! I basically wanted to die. I felt I already was-of panic, of heat exhaustion, of sheer humiliation. Mom went to tell the information desk lady, who instructed my mom to go through the emergency exit. Mom was a vision as she appeared on the other side of the turnstile, but that relief lasted mere moments, because she was alone.

Mom: "No one is coming, I don't think the woman understood that you were stuck!"
Me: "Well someone needs to come help! This is a NIGHTMARE!"

Mom later told me the woman originally asked if Mom needed the police! We watch enough Law & Order: SVU to know the NYPD has bigger fish to fry than my stupid suitcase. Finally, someone came to help and I was free! We hustled to the subway platform, where I had a sinking feeling we were going in the wrong direction and the random stranger my mother asked confirmed it. So down subway steps with The Bag From Hell...up subway steps...down...up...finally we are on the right platform, going the right direction when...TRAIN DELAYED. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

I'm completely drenched in sweat at this point, my mother is literally throwing bottles of water and OJ at me to keep from passing out. I scream, "Let's just take a cab to Grand Central!" Up more stairs...

Except, instead of being in front of Penn Station where one can find a lines of taxis waiting, we were on some random street. During rush hour. In New York City. (I feel it's important to keep reminding you of those facts.) We were wandering aimlessly and directionless down streets and I was weeping. Just openly sobbing in the streets of New York and, of course, no one batted an eye.

At one point, Mom asked if I told my friend, who we had asked to pick us up from the train station at 7:45pm (it's now after 7:00pm), that we weren't on the train and not to bother. I hadn't. FUUUUCK. By sheer luck or cosmic intervention, Mom reminded me and I called my friend just as she was getting into her car to pick us up. The us walking aimlessly around New York City, nowhere near New Haven! The us frantic and panicked! The us keeping things together (Mom) and falling apart (me). I was barely coherent when she answered the phone as I cried, "We're still in New York! This is a nightmare!"

Finally, we get directions from a passerby on how to get to the front of Penn Station and our mecca of taxis awaits us. We walked up to one and the driver says (I kid you not...), "Your bag is over-sized." Neurons in my brain were popping and firing and it took everything in my body and soul not to flip the fuck out. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? YOU ARE A TAXI DRIVER. YOU HAVE NO NARROW AISLES FOR MY BAG TO GET DOWN. YOU DON'T HAVE A WEIGHT MAXIMUM. I DON'T HAVE TO LIFT MY BAG UP OVER MY HEAD TO STOW. That's what happened in my head. In reality, I said nothing but my face said it all.

Thankfully, he must have taken pity on us, because he (effortlessly, I might add) packed my suitcase in the trunk and drove us to Grand Central. We made it with enough time to get on the 7:34pm train to New Haven. As soon as Mom and I sat down, we looked at each other (her looking perfect, me resembling Nick Nolte's mugshot) and started laughing hysterically.

Needless to say, before making the (gratefully uneventful) trip back to South Carolina, I bought two smaller bags and left the big one to be brought home in Dad's truck in October. #overit


*Title credit: Song: "The Ballad of Paladin" written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe in 1962