When Intrusive Thoughts Ruin a Family Outing


My family was getting ready to go run an errand and go to the library. My husband made my coffee, I got the baby ready to go. I was heading out the door, with baby and coffee in the same arm, when she suddenly jerked the cup from my hand, spilling its contents. Luckily, I only drink iced coffee, so no one was hurt. No one was hurt physically, anyway.

Every time I spill my coffee first thing in the morning, my day is ruined. This dark cloud fills my mind. I get that “sense of impending doom” and my mood is instantly bad. I begin to make a mental list of everything that could possibly go wrong, in relation to the present day’s tasks. This goes on for hours and everyone around me will bear the wrath of this intrusive line of thinking.

“We’re going to wreck the van.” “We’re going to get robbed if we go to the downtown library.” “The kids are going to make too much noise and get us thrown out.” “We’re definitely going to wreck on the way there.” “They won’t have the books I need and we will have wasted our time.” “Everyone is going to stare, because I can’t control my rowdy toddler.” “I just know we’re going to wreck on the way there.”

In case you didn’t notice, my anxiety is greatly centered around driving. But that’s a story for another day.

When I’m overly anxious, I can’t be bothered with the simplest of questions or the smallest of talks. I am incredibly snappy, without even meaning to be. My poor husband gets the brunt of it and it really puts a damper on his mood as well.

I relentlessly fidgeted with my cube, turned up the radio and counted things outside my window. Nothing was working. My replacement coffee wasn’t the flavor I’d ordered, which made me angry and further verified that the day would be all sorts of wrong. I began to feel mentally drained from all the racing thoughts. I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to scream. I just wanted to run away until the feelings and thoughts passed, so my family didn’t have to put up with another one of Mommy’s silly meltdowns.

We parked the van downtown and started unloading the kids. Of course, our toddler immediately started screaming “I walk!” when she was put in the stroller. That drove home the thought of my parenting being judged. There was an elderly man going by in a motorized wheelchair, that tried to talk to her and calm her down. “He’s going to try to take her!” How unrealistic, right? I feel so bad now for even thinking that. Also, rather silly. But intrusive thoughts are often outrageous and make little sense.

We finally got everyone inside and the baby started crying. Our toddler was getting crankier by the second, because she hates being in a stroller. Our 6-year-old was looking embarrassed, because she is her mother’s daughter. My husband looked more aggravated with my reaction, than what the kids were doing. “We’re seriously going to get kicked out of here, before I even get anything done.”

So, he took them on a walk while I used the computer to print something. The stupid numbers wouldn’t type for me to log in. Here comes social anxiety Shelly, approaching the front desk to ask why the number keys wouldn’t work. After a few awkward sentence exchanges I said, “it couldn’t be that the number lock is off, because the zero key is working.” So, the librarian walked over and rudely hit the number lock key for me — of course it worked after that. “OK?” She said it loudly and I felt like the smallest person in the room. I just wanted to hide under the desk. This day was turning out to be even worse than I had imagined.

I finally got done with my print job, my family had returned from their calming stroll and we made our way to the children’s section. More crying, more crankiness, more of me wanting to scream and run away. I told them they were embarrassing me, to which my husband replied, “You’re what’s embarrassing.” And he was so right. I walked to the bathroom, feeling like the worst person in the world, so I could finally let the tears fall. I had been so rude to everyone, including the young staff member at the children’s desk, when she simply asked how I was doing.

We were finished getting books and movies, so I quickly took the baby to the van, speed walking past the desks, avoiding all contact with anyone else. I was so ashamed of myself, but the ride wasn’t over. We didn’t have a wreck, or get robbed, or thrown out of the library, but I continued to be rude and snappy for at least another hour. My husband was getting more and more frustrated with my behavior. I don’t even remember what finally brought me out of it, but the damage had been done. I just did my best to make it to the end of the day, with a few more snappy patches, because the day was just a bust.

Every time I spill my coffee, first thing in the morning, my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) ruin my day.

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Thinkstock photo via Olarty

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