Okay, I admit it. I’m 28 years old, and I still throw tantrums, on my bike, and in life. I throw tantrums because I like to feel like I’m in control of things and I like to feel like I’m good at things. When I don’t feel in control (and isn’t feeling incompetent just another form of lacking control?), I get frustrated, then angry, then irrational. I’ve blogged about my tantrums; I’ve written poetry about them; I’ve learned what causes them and how to, for the most part, prevent them; but I’ve never been able to kick them entirely.
It’s not like something just pisses me off and I start breaking dishes instantly. It’s more the result of a build-up, a slow simmer – which means that I’m more likely to go there when I’m already depressed or upset, because nothing says, “You are not in control of yourself,” like inexplicable sadness. Then some little, inconsequential thing will set me off, and before I know it, I’m sad and upset and have broken dishes or snapped at loved ones or thrown a shoe against the wall.
So I’ve spent the past few weeks sort of hanging over the precipice of Tantrum Mode. I had a bad week, and the recovery has been slow. I’m looking at my life and wondering what I do, or what I could do, that I enjoy the way Doug enjoys cycling – because I don’t love my bike the way that he does – but I’m so busy with work and writing and tagging along on his bike rides that I don’t even have time to ask myself what I want to do just for me, let alone go out and do it. And sometimes even trying to come up with an answer can be overwhelming. So I’ve been hanging out here on the edge.
I don’t think Doug knows how to handle me in Tantrum Mode. We’ve had a few incidents in the past few weeks where he’s demonstrated this. First, when we were going out to dinner with friends – his friends – the other night, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to wear. I tried things on, then took them off, growing increasingly more frustrated. Doug tried to help by choosing outfits (which were, in retrospect, adorably mismatched and/or inappropriate for a mostly-casual dinner on a Tuesday night). Finally, I threw on a plain yellow t-shirt and jeans, and snapped at him, “Fuck it. Let’s go.”
The following morning, we were supposed to go ride with the old dudes, and it was foggy. My longer bike shorts were in the laundry, and my jacket was at a friend’s house, so I was feeling largely unprepared. As we stood waiting at the start point of the ride, every car that went by whipped such a cold wind onto my bare legs that it brought tears to my eyes. The old dudes were getting ready to leave; I was hiding behind the truck.
“I don’t want to go,” I told Doug suddenly. I could feel the panic rise in my throat as I realized how miserable I was about to be, out on the waterfront with this cold, damp wind smacking into me.
“Okay,” he said, handing me the truck keys. “I’ll be back in two hours. Actually, take the truck home; I’ll ride home after.”
“No! I don’t want to go! I want to go back to this morning and stay home, or go for a walk and get coffee like we talked about doing if your bike was still going to be in the shop.”
“Well, you needed to tell me that before we drove all the way out here. Now we’re here, and I’m riding. Are you coming or not?”
“No,” I said.
The old guys had already left; only Doug and our friend from work, a handsome, married, 30-something who occasionally rides with us, lingered in wait of my final decision. Doug started taking the front wheel off my bike so he could bolt the frame into the truck bed. Then I started putting my helmet on. “So you are coming?” he asked, frustrated, re-tightening the wheel.
I got another mental picture of myself out on the road, unable to feel my fingers, knees, or ears. I started to cry. “No, I’m not. Just go; I can handle my bike.” To prove this, I picked up my whole bike and tossed it onto its side in the truck bed. Then I got in the driver’s seat and slammed the door and cried, harder and harder as I watched Doug and our friend disappear in the rearview mirror.
Then, changing my mind one last time, I frantically got out of the truck, put my gloves and helmet on, grabbed my bike, and raced after them – still wearing a hoodie over my spandex, with no sunglasses, and my front wheel mostly screwed on, but not locked in place. I cried a little more as I rode, and caught up to the group after about four miles. They were all gracious enough to pretend I’d been there all along; only our coworker, who’d stopped to fix my wheel, asked what had changed my mind.
“He left me there,” I said, nodding toward Doug up ahead of us.
Ironically, in every unhealthy relationship I’ve been in, the guys have known how to calm me down when I’m in Tantrum Mode: they tell me what to do. It seems so obvious: if I’m feeling out-of-control and am therefore unable to make decisions, someone else needs to be in control. I had an illicit relationship with one guy who would hear me coming undone over the phone and would say gently, “Make yourself a cup of tea, take a bath, and go to bed early.” I loved this feeling of being looked after, protected, lightly bossed around; if I was really lucky, I could even get him to tell me what kind of tea I should make. Maybe this is a little chauvinistic – the dominant male taking charge of the hysterical female – and I wouldn’t want to have this kind of relationship with someone all the time, but it’s certainly helped bring me back from the brink in the past.
Only my ex-husband, and Doug, haven’t instinctively known to do this. If I went into Tantrum Mode in front of my ex, he would look at me disdainfully, or tell me to stop acting like a child, or start fighting back and make the situation worse. Doug tries to help me find my own way out of Tantrum Mode – by suggesting outfits, or offering me the choice to take the truck and go home – because (I think) he respects me and wants to empower me to take care of myself; he hasn’t quite figured out, yet, that there does come a point when I’m incapable of making a decision because I don’t like the sound of any of the choices.
He could have said, “I like this shirt; wear this.” He could have said, “Okay, we’ll drive back to East County where there’s no fog, and we’ll go for our own ride and get coffee out there.” And I would have gone along calmly, if a little embarrassed.
But I think he’s catching on. This afternoon, I was sad because Doug had gone for a long, hard ride with the training group, and Amanda and I had taken one look at the weather (threatening rain, and occasionally delivering it) and decided to stay close to home, riding up and down the hills in my parents’ neighborhood until we couldn’t take it anymore. (This only took about 20 minutes.)
“I feel like I don’t have anything I do just for me,” I told Doug in a rush of self-pity. “I don’t have anything to talk about. You went out and did stuff and you have stories to tell, and I sat here all day. You have your bike, and I try, but I can’t do what you do, so I get left behind, and then I have nothing that’s mine. We work together, so I can’t tell you about work, and I have my writing, but once you’ve read it, you already know the whole thing. And there’s nothing we do together that’s just for us, either. I feel like we’re not connected lately.”
It made him sad that I said we weren’t connected, and he let me know it. Then he started offering options of things we could do together: would I like to go for an extra walk this week? Go to breakfast at a local deli/bakery/restaurant before work one morning? Go for a shorter ride in our own neighborhood – just the two of us? I refused each offer.
He was sitting behind me, leaning against the wall and holding me. “Do you want me to just plan something for us to do together? And then just tell you what we’re doing?” he asked.
How did you live in this room,
surrounded by pictures of my Grandma
and my friends in silly costumes
or letterman’s jackets?
How did you sleep
under my constellations of glow-in-the-dark stars,
with the rustling of that mobile I made
out of soda cans, for my art class?
What did you think
of the pink paper camels on the wall,
the glittery fairies on the shelves,
the stuffed animals piled in the red director’s chair?
For two months?!
This isn’t a welcoming guest room;
it’s my over-stimulated time capsule.