This is Mila.
She’s one of our two kitties. She’s a three year old tortie, and she’s my problem child.
You see, her sister, Allyse, is more of a normal cat.
Meaning that unless we’re holding chicken or interested in rubbing her belly, she really couldn’t give two shits if we’re alive or dead. (But she’s still pretty fucking cute.)
But Mila…Mila’s a little damaged. In the head, but also emotionally. I don’t know what her life was like before we got her, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it started by being taken away from her mother too early. She does that kneading-the-bread thing that, according to Dr Internet, is common in cats that were removed from their mothers too early.
But more than that, Mila is needy as hell. She has these…fits. Not like an epileptic fit or anything. She just suddenly has these little tantrums where she needs to be pet…RIGHT. FUCKING. NOW. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, she will crawl on me and deposit herself on top of me. Unless, of course, I’m not sitting down, in which case she will follow me around, crying and butting her head against me until I sit down and pet her.
She sleeps on top of me.
She sits me while I type, usually by plopping down on my wrists.
She sits on my lap while I pee.
She even once sat on my lap while I was doing that “sit-on-an-imaginary-chair-with-your-back-pressed-against-the-wall-thing” during a P90X video. It’s like there’s something in her that’s going to break or explode if she doesn’t get pet right at that moment. She’s a cat, so I can’t really say for sure what it is she’s desperate for-attention, affirmation, love, physical comfort, or something else that as a member of a different specie I can’t even begin to fathom. But whatever it is that she needs, she needs it right now and she may break if she doesn’t get it.
The thing is, I kinda know how she feels.
I call it “the tightness” because it manifests itself physically as a tightness in my chest. When it comes, it feels like something is twisting itself around my solar plexus, and the only way to release it is to cry uncontrollably or punch something. It feels like anxiety or panic, but it really has nothing to do with being anxious or panicked. Very often it comes when I’m upset, but not always. Sometimes the tightness comes while I’m not upset or angered about anything at all. Sometimes I can be in a good mood and still feel the tightness in my chest for reasons I don’t know and can’t explain.
And that’s when it’s the most dangerous. Though the tightness isn’t caused by anxiety, feeling the tightness makes me anxious. It makes me snippy and defensive. It causes me to get upset and argue about things that really don’t matter. It makes me feel vulnerable and weak, but at the same time like I need to grip my emotions as tightly as I possibly can. Like the tiniest hit or slight will cause my control to shatter and I will collapse in a pile of tears. When the tightness is in my chest, I tend to take things personally that otherwise wouldn’t phase me. The smallest wrong move or word on someone else’s part can either cause me to break or detonate. And when you’re an unsuspecting husband or good intended co-worker, not only is the tightness unpleasant to be around, it’s not even remotely fucking fair to those who get hit by the shrapnel.
So what do I do when the tightness comes? I’m not an adorable cat so I can’t run around crying and butting my head against people until they pet me. I’ve found a lot of really unhealthy ways of dealing with it, drinking and hitting things topping the list. I went to therapy for a while, until I figured out that my therapist wasn’t writing anything down and couldn’t really remember me from session to session. Crying is technically an okay way of handling it, but it really freaks my coworkers out to see me cry so I try to avoid it. Plus, then they try and make me feel better by being super nice to me, and that’s just awkward for everyone.
Prevention can sometimes be the best plan of action. Kyle knows that the tightness can come without provocation, and I try to warn him when I feel it’s grip coming on. Just being aware of it helps to a certain extend. I try to remind myself that the anxiety I’m feeling and the panic that’s rising are illogical and have nothing to do with what I’m doing and how others are interacting with me, but that’s often little consolation. Cognitively I can completely understand a situation and have no real issues with it, but I feel what I feel and logic rarely quells the tightness. Deep breaths can help some, and removing myself from the situation usually prevents me from spilling my anxiety over on to other people. Oh, and there’s running. Running clears my head and gives me a sense of peace like nothing else does. But needless to say, I can’t just walk out of my office and go for a run every time I feel anxiety in my chest. (At least, not without getting fired.)
No, by far the best thing I’ve found to sooth my tightening chest is this:
(For those of you who are confused as to why there’s singing in a Scrubs episode, the premise is that Stephanie D’Abruzzo’s character has a brain tumor that makes her process everyone’s speech as singing. It gave Zach Braff the excuse to sing and dance that we all know he was looking for, so just go with it.)
Something about that song touches me deeply. I think it’s the strength and confidence that comes with the assurance that everything will truly be okay. When that tightness creeps into my chest it feels awful, like I’ve lost total control of my emotions and the way my body responds to them. I feel helpless. But that song, and the strength that it offers, reminds me that it will pass, and I will be okay. “Plan for tomorrow, because we swear to you, you’re going to be okay,” they tell me. It brings my focus away from the immediate panic and past it towards when things are better. The tightness will melt away, the panic will pass, and I’ll be back to normal; I just have to stop, breath, relax, and trust that everything is fine. When things start to swell and contract and spin away from me, I sing that song to myself, over and over, until I calm down. It’s become the lullaby that soothes me when it all becomes too much, my mind’s big fuzzy blanket, my emotional mac and cheese.
And just like real mac and cheese, it may not solve all my problems but for the moment, is sure as hell makes them better.