The honky-tonk music spilled out of the car as my son opened the door. It was one of those “my dog died, the fields dried up and I lost my favorite boot in a pile of cow dung” kind of songs.
Kyle reached for the radio to turn the station before he settled in to his seat.
“Don’t change the channel,” I grunted.
My son glanced at me with concern, “Why, mom? It’s totally depressing.”
“I’m trying to cry.”
“Huh? Kyle shot me a confused look.
“My pipes are clogged. I have a huge lump in my chest and I need to get rid of it. I think its PTSD.”
My son nodded carefully—a wise sage at fifteen, “Good idea mom.”
As we pulled up to the bay of lockers at his high school, Kyle climbed out the car and hollered like a drill sergeant at my open window, “I expect some tears when I get back young lady! Cry! Cry! Cry!
But instead of weeping a gurgled “waaahhhhh” sound of laughter and constipated tears tumbled out of me.
Other people cry pretty. Why do I sound like a broken doorbell?
I’ve always been a little afraid of emotion. I don’t seem to control it well. It’s much easier for me to write my tears than actually cry them.
When I do cry, it’s usually a colossal mess. Tears I’ve stuffed for a solid year (or two) suddenly reach their breaking point and boil over like hot lava. And once I start, it takes ages to settle down. I whimper and mew and mew some more.
It’s best to not go there.
But emotion not expressed seeps out. And under trauma—like I’m experiencing right now with losing both my parent’s—it finds a way to escape. And this escape takes strange forms—like anxiety attacks in grocery stores.
I know this because last week I freaked out in Trader Joe’s. (And maybe I did it yesterday too)
All of a sudden I felt like a lost little kid with no mommy in sight. My blood pressure sky-rocketed and I could feel the tsunami of tears pressing in on my throat.
I clutched the cart and held on for dear life.
I honestly wanted to curl up in a ball and howl in the wine section of Trader Joe’s.
So, I did the only thing I could think of. I took three deep breaths, prayed and called a friend.
But she didn’t pick up.
So I dialed my husband in desperation.
“Tim, I’m losing my (insert bad word) in Trader Joe’s. Talk me off the cliff.”
And so my sweet husband talked and talked like a 911 operators, and somehow, someway, I made it out of the store and to the safety of my car where I could shake and hiccup in peace.
I Googled “anxiety attack” when I got home.
Apparently, I’m repressing emotions.
I think it’s ironic how our culture affirms the opposite. I keep getting kudos for being “so strong.” Where do we get this idea that strength is devoid of emotion?
I need to be a puddle for a while. The stone face is not doing me any favors.
Like everyone else in Orange County, I look fine on the outside and the inside is a mess.
I’m sort of an anxiety ball that bounces around and functions because I have three kids and a husband. I read my scriptures; I take long walks and pray for the pain to go away. But most days I just wish I could curl up on the sofa under a cozy blanket, crank up the AC, light a fire (sorry East Coast friends) and an arsenal of candles and watch HGTV for a solid week(or two).
As I’ve shared my little “panic attack” moment with a few friends, I’ve heard similar stories. After my friend’s mom died, she freaked out in grocery stores for a solid year. Another friend said her mom experienced something similar after her dad died.
Who knew this was normal? Maybe I’m not the only one out there doing “whoo whoo whoo” labor breathing in Trader Joes to calm down?
Yesterday, I made it out of the store on my own. The checker gave me a few weird looks—probably because I was shaking violently and struggled to swipe my card, but I survived.
And sometimes getting past trauma is just that—surviving until we find our smile again.
And finding someone else who understands your kind of crazy.