Sunday, January 25, 2015

Intrusive Thoughts

On the way home from work I listen to Terry Gross on NPR.  It makes me feel nerdy and smart when I can say, "Oh yes, I heard that on NPR".  I try not to make that statement be followed by any in-depth conversation since the show itself is an hour long and I only listen to it for twenty minutes. And since I miss the beginning I often don't know the name of the person being interviewed or the book, movie, t.v. show or political race that is being referenced.  I am a Cliff Note kind of listener and knowledge seeker.

On a recent show the conversation was about OCD, what this guy knew about it and how he dealt with it in his own life.  I once took one of those Are You OCD tests in a magazine.  Halfway through when I had answered "yes" to all of the questions, I laid the magazine aside.  I knew where this was going.  I didn't need Glamour confirming it so I moved on to the do's and don'ts of prairie skirts and what to wear to bed to keep your man interested - one of which has served me better than the other.

The guest described brain function and the idea of intrusive thoughts.  "These are the kind of shocking things that pop into your head out of nowhere.  Things like standing on a train platform and thinking you're going to jump onto the track when you see the train approaching.  Everyone has these.  The difference between this being normal or not is if these thoughts become compulsive or you begin to act on them."

This was the most enlightening thing I'd heard in ages.  For years I stood on the Grant St. station platform in Chicago and had that very thought all the time.  I tucked it away in my when-you-go-to-see-a-therapist notebook and went on with my life.  Through the years it got replaced by other shocking thoughts and imaginative ways to die that would pop up, and I thought that if I said any of these things out loud I would get admitted to the psych unit.

But now I find out that this is common.

Why don't they tell you these things in school when you're busy lining up your #2 yellow pencil from shortest to tallest over and over while your seatmate eats Elmer's glue all day?  Or color grouping your Crayolas and getting the heebie jeebs when Glue-Snacking Friend borrows one and doesn't put it back in the right place?  Or worse when he colors so fast and hard that the perfect pointy tip gets smashed down and ugly? 

Why. Did. He. Keep. Doing. That. To. Me?

Last weekend we made a quick trip to Chicago so Mark could attend an authentic Nerdy and Smart Conference and I hung out with my family.  My brother who is an engineer for the Edison Company was talking about electricity and the different ways a lineman can meet his Maker.  These are not helpful things for me to hear because I internalize all this where it ends up working its way into my bulging Intrusive Thought File.  He told the story of a group of media trucks that were covering a news story.  They were clumped together with the exception of one.  Off by itself when lightning struck, someone opened the door to depart and as soon as he stepped on the ground he was shocked and died.

The Brothers still love the scary shit stories.

"What you need to do in that kind of situation,"  Brosef said, "is to jump as far from the vehicle as you possibly can away from the charge."

"OHMYGOD!  What????  You can die exiting an RV just by stepping on the ground?"

"Yes.  You'll be the exit point for the electrical charge."

I thought about my jumping abilities and those track days in high school when my friends and I thought it was a better idea to ditch half the class to smoke a cigarette instead of working on our long jump.

Three feet, tops, I thought.  Three lousy feet, but God willing maybe it would be enough.

"And your feet have to land together when you hit the ground," Brosef said.

A lifetime of Intrusive Thoughts shuddered and scooted over. 

There was a new player in town.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Sacrament of Listening

There is someone I know who in the course of a conversation about a stressful problem you may be experiencing immediately responds with "I'll pray for you".  It almost always catches me off guard. 

Wait.  What?  Pray for me?  For that

While more faithful servants might find this comforting I am often confused by it.  For starters I am an ADD prayer.  While my intentions are pure and the beginning is sincere, I tend to wander far from my fervent base.  Your mom's scheduled surgery quickly morphs into my dinner plans and whether I should make baked chicken, chicken soup, chicken chili or stir-fry chicken.  Do I even have chicken?  Is it too late to defrost it?  Pizza instead?  Did I ever switch those loads of laundry?  Is the dog still outside?  What did you say your mom was having surgery for?

Prayer fail.

The gap between life shit and life and death shit is usually very clear to me.  Things not going my way and causing stress is not the same as going to see an oncologist because those random pains turned out to be much much more.     

Like the ubiquitous "have a nice day", the "I'll pray for you" seems to lack sincerity these days.  While there are some people you can count on to pray for you when times are tough, there are other cases when it seems to lack the heartfelt certainty that such matters require.  Does an emoticon on a Facebook comment of praying hands mean anything?  Is it supposed to be comforting?

At a shoe store recently, Will overheard someone giddy over finding some shoes she loved marked down to under twenty dollars.  "I prayed to God for some good shoes I could afford and he answered my prayers".  And the friend chorus nodded with a resounding "amen".

Is God spending eternity helping people find shoes on clearance?

What all of us need when life is causing us strife is a friend to listen.  Someone who leans in to hear every word.  Someone who doesn't try to fix, doesn't listen for the sake of responding, doesn't interrupt with unasked for advice, and doesn't tell you about her sister-in-law's second cousin that had the very same thing happen to them.  Someone who will step up to the plate to absorb some of our turmoil for the sake of making life a bit easier. 

Someone willing to get in the mud with you....

....because when you're on the receiving end of that it feels like a prayer.