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M&M Days

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Sept. 14, 2012

Don’t even ask me why I thought of M&Ms. I was having a hard day today–after having had a hard day yesterday–when the image of an orange M&M presented itself to me. Not having the energy to fight off this tiny UFO, I capitulated. So today I am an M&M. Yes, the candy. I know it’s dumb, so save your breath.

I’m orange and shiny on the outside. I am smooth and pleasingly shaped. A perfect little pod of Happy. I create a cool and pleasant “click” as I collide companionably with all of you other M&Ms in the larger M&M community.

Except that there is brown stuff inside me. Brown stuff which is threatening to liquefy at any moment. In fact, maybe it already has. Well, and you would assume it’s chocolate and shrug it off. But what if it’s not? What if I happen to be the one poop-filled M&M in all of M. County, XX, and you just haven’t figured it out yet?

I dropped by our administrative offices today to pick up some materials. The ladies who work there are great, great people; and I look forward to stopping in. I am not exaggerating. I ADORE them! But today was difficult. My neediness scared me, and I had to get out fast, before I had an accident. I longed to join their little fun-size bag of office camaraderie even if it meant volunteering for grunt work. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. The caring and warmth of these women would have resulted in melting, and who knows where that might have lead? One little sneeze, one unintentional elbow or funny look, one chance remark….In fact, one false move of any sort would have started the hairline crack in my Happy, and poop would have happened.

Just being in the office this morning took great effort. It was hard to focus on the small talk and the task at hand because of the energy drain inherent in having to operate on Manual Override. On the one hand, I noted how much healing, growth, and self awareness I have under my belt at this ripe old age of 48. I realized, with surprise and gratitude, that I rarely have to operate on manual at all these days. On the other hand, this insight meant that today was a trip back into the familiar land we counselors like to call emotional dysregulation. Ain’t it grand? Come to think of it, that thought is probably why the M&M was visited upon me in the first place. M&Ms: pretty on the outside, crazy on the inside. M&Ms: melt in your mind, not in your hand.

I am just so darned experienced that I can (mostly) hide the craziness and (mostly) function normally until I wrangle the gerbils back into the cage. You can do this too, and here is a quick lesson. You just have to ask yourself about every 30 seconds: Am I being appropriate? What would a Normal Person do now? Then you do it. And you hope nobody sees the brown stain slowly blossoming on seat of your shorts. Afterwards, you go have a good cry and take a nap because Manual Override takes everything you’ve got.

It’s challenging to be professional at best, non-life-sucking at worst, when you crave a haven of unconditional love. Instead of unloading on the Executive Director, who is one of those Moms around whom you can’t help but feel safe, I had to try to be that normal person. Surely the chocolate-filled M&M wouldn’t throw herself on her superior, an overworked mother of three young boys (who is, by the way, at least a decade younger) and demand care. I am a counselor, for God’s sake, and this woman is my boss. Certainly Normal Me would not cry and feel left out because the director now has, as her office administrator, the woman who has been her best friend since childhood. They get to hang out together all the time! What–do I want her to be my best friend? YES! I mean, wait, NO! No offense intended. That’s the poop talking. I hope the office owns a canister of Febreze.

What is wrong with me!? Do you know that in the last two days, I’ve been doing my errands in a daze, once briefly forgetting where I was and feeling lost? This afternoon, I found myself unable to remember if I had eaten breakfast. Yes, counselors, we call this dissociation. I was in a haze like this once in the days after learning of the death of a dear friend. Same kind of weirdness.

I have friends. Very, very, very good ones! Well, yes, but they are very busy, and I don’t want them to think I’m dumping on them.

What I need most is to call my best friend, Hanna; or Skype with her; or write her a long letter. She knows my whole life. She always, always understands me, and she never gets tired of me–even when I have to process a-million-and-one iterations of the same matter, in my completely obsessive and annoying way, in order to bring my mind to rest. Sadly, reaching her is tough. She lives in Europe, and she works full time, and her husband tends to take over every conversation, but still….

Oh no! I just remembered: She fired me 9 months ago.

My direct supervisor, Tim, is very wise. Yesterday morning, I met with him to consult about a new case, a new couple I had met for the first time the day before. I was trying to figure out why worry had kept me from sleep. I was uncharacteristically distressed and felt completely stuck. The husband had assured me he didn’t have anything he needed to discuss in counseling. The wife had maintained she had come only in support of her husband. Hmmm, where did that leave me since they had asked for couples counseling and intended to return.

Part of what disturbed me about this couple was the wife’s denial. She had been alarmed enough about her husband’s behavior and the potential for violence to set up counseling. However, once she got him into my office, she had pooh-poohed (more excrement) and minimized everything. Obvious manifestations of mental illness were, in turn, labeled charming, fun-loving, rational, insightful, and demonstrative of superior intellect. Tim wondered if she had acted this way because she was scared of him. I’m not so sure. The couple owned a kennel, by the way, and spent a lot of time scooping…poop.

I lamented to Tim, “How can you know something and not know something at the same time, especially when it is so obvious?”

A long pause followed.

“Interesting you should ask that,” he replied with care….”I don’t think I can ever recall your saying a case kept you up at night. You don’t have to take this case, you know.”

It took a few moments for his meaning to penetrate. I had both known and kept myself from knowing so many things. At so many junctures. About Hanna and her husband Niko, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. My eventual refusal to collude with their reality had cost me their trust and a lifelong friendship.

“I can’t help them,” whispered. And then I just felt like crying.

I referred them out.

Later I climbed onto Jesus’ lap, curled up, and buried my face in his chest. He held me and told me I was good, and He stroked my hair.

His hand felt like my Dad’s.

This post is the latest in the thread The Story of Hanna. For the prior post in the thread, click here. For the next post, click here.

When Everything German is Wurst. Or: This is How I Get Myself in Big Trouble

It’s time to balance the scales a little. I’d lose my credibility if I tried a wholesale approach in selling you on Germany!

In my posts about how everything in Germany is better, I went on and on (and on!) about all that my family missed when we returned to the U.S. in the late 70s after four years in the Vaterland.

Some of these aspects of our German experience elicited eye rolling or a good-natured groan. Others hinted at darker currents. In no particular order, here are a few German offenses to my delicate and ladylike sensibilities:

1. The German Hit Parade–the American Top 40 equivalent. A cheesy carnival of home-grown pop. A particular shout out to the ubiquitous and everlasting Heino is mandatory at this point. Oy! Apparently he is still alive and about 102 years old.

Here he is as I recall him in the 70s:

And here he is in 2015. Careful! Watching this could be dangerous to your health. I shuddered so violently, I nearly bit off my tongue.

Nevertheless, I have to give the guy credit. Off the record, I may even be developing the tiniest bit of admiration for him. He is having a heck of a lot of fun. And laughing all the way to the bank.

2. Sexism. Surely this has changed…?

Image credit here.

3. Pecking Order. This rightfully goes together with the concept of Schadenfreude–a nasty delight one feels when others experience misfortune.

The culture can very sensitive to rank and authority. Even a low-level clerk can make your day hell if he gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Grace and flexibility are commodities which may be notably lacking in comparison to the harder virtues of order, punctuality, and logic.

See what happens when you stand in line at one bureau or another seeking assistance. You may be in store for some cat-and-mouse business. The one person you need to see may take one look at your anxious face and decide to head out to lunch. One “t” on your document may not be properly crossed, and you may be sent to the back of the line. Maybe you will fail to approach the esteemed gatekeeper with proper obsequity. Or maybe you will grovel too much, and it will inflame his or her sadistic glee.

Each of these rejections will be communicated with a polite smile and a tightly-clenched anus. You will have no choice but to calmly persevere since you are the supplicant. Of course, your tormentor is probably receiving the same treatment from his or her superior and only wants to share the wealth.

Image credit here.

4. Words beginning with “schm.” I might alienate a lot of you over this one but I just can’t help myself! (I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!) I have a visceral response to this particular combination of consonants when used in certain words, particularly names. I cringe when I hear them. And when I say them, I feel like I have dog poop in my mouth. I think the surname Schmenkel may be the worst word I have ever tasted.

Ach, nein, I said it out loud.

Waiter! Listerine, please!

Image credit here.

5. Ö. This is a vowel sound. When used alone, it is a teutonic version of “uh…” or “welllllll…” which induces rage and nausea. I cannot abide that sound, as it was used by my erstwhile Latin tutor to delicately indicate my utter stupidity. Use it when you need ipecac but can’t put your hands on any. You make it by forming your mouth as though you are going to say long “o” and then actually saying “e.” Draw it out in a protracted and condescending pause as you contemplate my lack of order, punctuality, and logic, and I may have to box your ears.

Sometimes the sound is used to create “,” a hesitant and soft pink version of the good, hearty “nein.” This is for passive aggressive folks who mean “No. No. No!” aren’t willing to own it.

Both Ö and Nö have the mouth feel of kaka.

One of you is bound to ask. No, I cannot speak from firsthand experience.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

6. Hygiene. Life was pretty smelly back then. Ladies, you will be glad to know that you wouldn’t have had to break the bank on razor blades. Back in the day, life was also pretty hairy. I believe that has changed. Part of me is sad. That’s a lot of acreage to tend once you start shaving.

Image credit here.

7. Hands-off store policy. In all but the largest and busiest urban department stores, it was understood that you were not to touch the wares unless a salesperson presented them to you to examine. I couldn’t stand to go into small stores because the sales staff would always follow, right at my elbow, and watch me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t 1. Cause disarray 2. Soil anything 3. Steal anything. I stood out as an American, and Americans had the reputation of being overly familiar and crass. After reading this post, you’ll know that stereotype could never have applied to me.

The_Ugly_American_poster copy

Image credit here.

8. Sadistic children’s stories. Struwwelpeter is truly disturbing. I tried reading it to my kids once but I had to get rid of it because it was so upsetting. They didn’t even like having the book in the house. I guess it could be useful if you are trying to get your kid to stop sucking his thumb. Take a look at the orange link above and make sure you scroll down to the cautionary tale, complete with graphic depictions, of the consequences of thumb sucking. Just don’t read it before bed.

Max und Moritz is pretty bad too but I read the stories as a kid and actually kind of liked them. Here go the little cherubs–out of the grain sack and into the grinder.

Max und Moritz

Max und Moritz image credit here.

9. Toilet paper. I shit you not.

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

10. Schwäbisch. A German dialect. It has a slimy, runny, slithering sound which will make you want to run in terror. Don’t put it in your mouth.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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