Friday, August 9, 2013

Try the Opposite

Sadly my mom had some serious problems that impacted her life everyday.  For her own reasons, she chose not to get help for these problems and ended up suffering with them her whole life.  At least for all the years that I knew of.  One of the things she suffered with is agoraphobia.  This is what the Mayo Clinic says about it's symptoms:

Typical agoraphobia symptoms include:

Fear of being alone in any situation

Fear of being in crowded places

Fear of losing control in a public place

Fear of being in places where it may be hard to leave, such as an elevator or train

Inability to leave your house for long periods (housebound)

Sense of helplessness

Overdependence on others

A sense that your body is unreal

In addition, you may also have signs and symptoms similar to a panic attack, including:


Trouble breathing


Excessive sweating

Rapid heart rate



Upset stomach or diarrhea

Chest pain

Feeling a loss of control

Trouble swallowing

I can tell you that my mother showed every one of these symptoms.  One or more of these everyday.  As a child I had no idea what was going on.  As I grew up, since my folks were of a different generation, we simply didn't talk about mom's "ailment".  So I didn't realize that driving over a bridge wasn't a bad thing, shopping in a mall wasn't terrifying, being alone in public was really OK.  It was totally normal when we took stairs instead of the elevator, my grandma and/or great aunt had to go with us everywhere, you never went to a restroom alone and we never drove on an interstate.

My mom was also the ultimate "say" in all situations.  If any of us (dad included) would have a different opinion, feeling, thought, whatever and you expressed that to mom, she would freak out.  She wouldn't yell or anything, she would simply ignore you, quit talking to you and when that didn't work start in on the guilt.  One of her ideas of "guilting" someone was to respond as if she was physically stricken with "breathing troubles".  I have sat in the middle of countless restaurants when my mom wasn't getting her way that she would gasp loudly, clutch her chest or throat and breathe so heavily that anyone around us would ask if we needed help.  She would continue this until someone apologized or made things right for her.  (One time, I swear, it was over the fact that there was too much baking soda in the pancakes.  All of us tasted them and couldn't taste anything wrong, so the gasping started.  It ended when I called the waitress over, sent them back and ordered her something different.)  Sometimes she acted so impulsively or irrationally that, in the moment, you just stood quietly hoping that she would quit.  Knowing that anything you said or did would just make it worse.

My mom's agoraphobia "taught" us to panic when we drove over bridges and railroad tracks, to never be alone in public, driving on interstates were too dangerous to risk, the familiar was so much better than new, staying home was better than going out and don't do anything to draw attention to yourself.    

My personal "ah-ha" moment happened over, of all things, iced tea...  

We were a VERY southern family.  Southern Baptist church twice a week.  Show manners to your elders.  Be hospitable to those around you.  Collard greens, ham hocks, grits, red eye gravy and it wasn't iced tea we drank it was sweet tea!  Tea brewed from Lipton tea bags with just enough sugar to make you smack your lips.  There simply wasn't any other kind of tea in our house.  Well our neighbors, the Sain's, drank instant tea with lemon.  When I visited them I would get that "treat" and I liked it.  Not better than sweet tea, but as well as sweet tea.  I asked my mom if she would pick me some up the next time she was at Winn Dixie.  Well, let me tell you, it was as if I asked her to pick me up a jar of polio at the store.  Simple answer, "No".  As any good teenager, I wondered why and was told we just didn't have THAT kind of tea in our house.  The psychology of this moment has confounded me to this day, but it was a seminal moment in my life.  It was the moment that I decided that my mom was flat out WRONG about most things.  That her basic view of life was not for me.  Now I know that her "ailment" stemmed for some very real and some very ignored trauma, but it wasn't MY trauma, so I didn't need to act on it as if it was.   It is what I would later come to call my "George Constanza Moment" - that moment when he decided that in order to be happy and successful in life, he had to do the opposite of what he would normally do/feel most comfortable doing.  Well, this was long before Seinfeld, and I my personal mantra became, "What would mom do?  I'll do the opposite!"    

Starting in my teen years, when faced with big or everyday decisions I would ask myself that question and then plan on action...

Mom says to stop shaving at the knees - up the razor went.
In a new town, out of groceries, home alone, staying put - I think I remember a Publix up the road.
Mom wears clip on earrings - hello Piercing Pagoda.
How would mom act with a new boyfriend? - where is the closest Planned Parenthood?
If dad had to change jobs how would mom react? - "Charles, I don't care where we move!"
Would mom stand on a stage and perform? - Dancing, singing, acting, selling stuff live on-air to millions of people...I'll try it all!
How does mom handle conflict? - "Hey.  We need to talk about this."
"Too scary!" - "Where does the line start?!"  

This philosophy has served me well over the last few decades and I am pretty sure I can attribute my life view and personal happiness & contentment to that George Costanza Moment.  I don't really think about doing the opposite anymore, it is just an organic part of me, but every now and again, I'll get an odd panic-ey feeling that I can't understand and have to work my way through it.  But yesterday I had a big in-your-face moment during a conversation with Charles.  One where I ended up being pretty dad-gum proud of myself.  Charles has been out of town for the last three nights.  He flew to South Carolina for a business trip and his co-worker who originally took him to the airport wasn't able to bring him home.  This was not told to me before the trip, it was sprung on me last night that today I'd have to pick Charles up at the Philly airport at 11:30 pm.  *gulp*  Driving into the BIG city alone?  Driving into the BIG, SCARY city alone in the middle of the night?!  Driving into the BIG, SCARY city alone, in the middle of the night to a NEW destination?!!  *double gulp*  But here is the thing, I DIDN'T think *gulp*, DIDN'T react *double gulp*, DIDN'T say simply, "No."  I asked, "What airline and flight number?"    

Old habits DO die.  Sometimes you just have to push them over the edge of the highest bridge you can find!         

Cinnamon Ice Cream

A few years ago I gave into an impulse while shopping at Walmart.  Not really anything new, but it turned out to be a great purchase.  I got a bright red, electric ice cream maker when they were running a summer sale on them.  I got a couple of bags of rock salt to go along with it so I'd be ready to make ice cream the moment I got home.  And, boy oh boy, did I make some ice cream!  I experimented with base recipes and then worked on adding in different ingredients.  The below is my very favorite base recipe.  It is thick, rich and custardy.  Just lovely!  It is great plain, but when I channeled my inner Ben & Jerry, I added caramelized bananas, pecans and crushed heath bars.  Oh.  My.  Goodness!  That was fabulous ice cream!


Cinnamon Ice Cream

1 cup white sugar

1 ½ cups half and half cream

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the sugar and half-and-half. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, and whisk half of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk quickly so that the eggs do not scramble. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, and stir in the heavy cream. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside to cool.

Pour cooled mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.