Friday, August 2, 2013

The Time I Cried on a Mesa

            I’ve always been an intensely emotional person. The day my mom brought me home from the hospital after I was born, I apparently cried so hard my belly button came undone. I know. I didn’t know that was possible, either. The pediatrician said she’d never seen anything like it before, which, I’m sure, was a comfort to my 23-year-old first-time mom.
            A lot of things make me cry: lack of sleep, stressful social situations, pretty much any time I have to say goodbye to my parents. It’s as though my tear ducts never progressed developmentally past the second grade. While I am thrilled that I made the decision to move from my hometown of St. Louis to Denver, it did lead to a 400% increase in crying due to change-induced stress.
            Because of a peculiar personality quirk, I am also drawn to novel situations. If it sounds irrational that change makes me cry but I’m drawn to change, that’s because it is. The result of this masochistic paradox is a lot of situations in which I enthusiastically sign up to try something new only to cry while I’m actually doing it. I’d probably be much happier if I could content myself by sitting on the couch and watching Real Housewives of Duck Dynasty, but no- I sign up for helicopter lessons and white water rafting instead.
            My grandpa taught himself engineering via mail-order courses and created a successful steel pipe construction company while also managing his epilepsy. Although his engineering abilities bypassed me completely, his stubbornness has manifested itself in me in a way that is not even remotely useful. Some people would use this genetically-gifted tenacity to become CEO of a fortune 500 company, scale Mount Everest, or take over a small eastern European country. Me? I attempt impractical hobbies and refuse to quit even when I am miserable. I have yet to see an evolutionary advantage to this.
            This also means that I’m drawn to the adventure of certain activities while being overly emotional about much more common activities. For example, I had no problem parasailing over the Pacific Ocean, but cried every night when I had to go to sleep away camp for two weeks (I was fifteen). I was wound so tight in middle school that I had a nervous twitch, but I managed to skate to Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” in a regional figure skating competition. A few years ago, I got up in front of a packed bar and read my adolescent journal entries out loud in front of over 200 people as part of a comedy night, but last weekend I had a panic attack while camping with 15 other people. There’s really no pattern to it. Believe me, some very competent therapists have tried.
            My simultaneous love of adventure and wanton use of tears for anything from fear to frustration didn’t affect me much until I moved to Denver with my boyfriend. When Tom and I first started dating, we bonded over, among other things, our love of adventure. However, “adventure” in Missouri, where I grew up, looks very different from “adventure” in Colorado. In St. Louis, it was like,
“Want to see if Beale on Broadway has a good Blues band so we can go dancing?”
“Want to drive to Chicago to see the Million Dollar Quartet this weekend?”
“Want to drive up to Hannibal Missouri and take the ghost tour trolley and heckle the Mark Twain impersonator?”
“Well... We did that last weekend.”
            In Denver, there are legitimate sports that scare the shit out of me. And my wonderful, adventure-seeking boyfriend wants to try all of them. Together. I spent the first several months oscillating between being honest about my limitations and desperately trying to be the laid-back, trendy “Colorado”-style girl: the one who never wears makeup and manages to look tiny even when wearing ski pants, who owns both a road bike and a mountain bike, and who, incredibly, knows how to fly fish. I wasn’t very good at it.
            Our first weekend here, we went hiking with friends. In St. Louis, hiking is a relatively flat activity geared toward people who think nature involves pavement and who are generally not in the best shape. Since most of my Missouri hikes involved asphalt trails, it didn’t occur to me that tennis shoes weren’t appropriate until about five hours into the soul-crushing wilderness mountain climb, when  was halfway up a boulder without a foothold.
 That was the time I cried while clinging to the side of a gigantic rock.
            I also bought cross country skis without ever having attempted it. I figured it was one of those “figure it out as you go along” sort of sports.
I know myself well enough to know that I am terrible to be around when I’m trying something new. I hate not being good at things, so I often swear, get frustrated, and occasionally throw things. As we drove to the Nordic trail, I tried to prevent this bad behavior with positive self-talk: “This is going to be SO much fun! Falling doesn’t need to be frustrating- it means I’m learning! The more times I fall, the more I’m learning!”
            After my second face plant in a row, Tom says, “Babe. You are learning so much today.”
That’s the time I whimper-cried while carrying my cross country skis down a mountain.
            In spring of our first year in Denver, we spent a weekend in Moab, Utah. Neither of us had spent a lot of time in this part of the country prior to living in Denver and we were ready to explore. The night we arrived, we collected every single activity-related brochure in the hotel lobby and fanned them out on the dinner table.
            “Should we go rafting? Or take a horseback ride tour?” I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks. I was overly excited and sounded like someone from a local access “Visit Moab!” commercial.
            “What about mountain biking?” Tom asked. I stared at him. It sounded dangerous and stupid. But. Tom and I had been dating about two years, and I figured he probably knew my crying threshold by now. Surely he wouldn’t choose anything I can’t handle. Tom promised we’ll take the easiest trails, it’s really not that different from riding my bike at home, and we can always quit if we don’t like it.
            The next morning, I’m sliding around the side of a mesa (or some other strange-looking geological structure we don’t have in the Midwest), praying to God that I don’t hit a rock at a bad angle, and conjuring venomous thoughts in my head. I am in a dark place. Tom casually mentions that oops, it turns out we’re on a different trail than he thought and who would have decided to name the technical trail the ‘EZ Trail’, anyway? I see him occasionally looking at me out of the corner of his eye, calculating the exact right time to ask me what’s wrong. He’d rather put it off as long as possible, but at some point, I may actually explode.
            He finally asks and I completely lose it.
            “What’s wrong?! I'm bouncing around on this fucking seat, I’m pretty sure I have whiplash, and all I can think about is why did I choose the higher deductible on my health insurance plan?!”
            To Tom’s credit, he sat down with me and talked to me about the way that I’m feeling. He didn’t make me feel any more ridiculous than I already do about losing my shit on the side of a mesa (or something). After we sat and talked for a few minutes, I was ready to get back on the bike and try again (but at my own pace this time, and getting off to walk the bike when anything looks even remotely scary).
            I think that’s what makes me feel better about being such an awkward person and having an intense temperament. Do I wish I wasn’t constantly the girl with lipstick on her teeth who backflips out the back of the white water raft? Yes. Do I wish I could spend more than two hours in a social situation without needing to take a nap? Absolutely. Do I wish I could be one of those super laid-back, trendy Colorado girls who bikes down mountains without sweating and then run a half-marathon while looking like someone out of a Lululemon ad? Not really, but I do wish I could punch those girls in the face.
My tears are embarrassing and something over which I often have very little control. However, they usually come as quickly as they go, and I always dust myself off and try again after the initial burst of tears (I call those the “first wave”).
My enthusiasm for trying new things and subsequent realization that I’ve overstepped my comfort zone mean that I’m constantly testing my boundaries and pushing myself. Yes, staying in a ski condo for an entire weekend with five other people may not sound courageous to most people, but that’s okay. I’m sure there are things at which I excel that other people wouldn’t even consider attempting- things like organizing fundraisers, teaching preschool, or eating an entire box of Cheez-Its in one sitting. And each time I repeat an initial tear-inducing adventure, I handle the experience with slightly more grace. For example, the next time I found myself being forced to boulder in tennis shoes, I didn’t cry. Instead, I simply yelled “This is not fucking okay with me!” (twice), and then I was totally fine.

Also, I need to start wearing hiking boots.

Victorious on top of a mesa, post-emotional meltdown

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