I was driving my dog to the vet this morning when I realized I didn’t know where I was. My vet is outside of town, but the farms I was passing looked totally unfamiliar, and it seemed like it was taking a really long time to get there. I drove several more miles, hoping I was just momentarily disoriented, until I found a road sign that finally let me orient myself. I had missed a turn, and gone driving–for a long time–in the wrong direction.
I got back on track, but arrived at the vet with my dog fifteen minutes late. As soon as I walked in, the receptionist told me there wasn’t enough time for the vet to see him and do the x-rays that he needed for followup on his pneumonia. They had scheduled me for a regular half hour appointment, and all of that needed more time.
“We’ll need to reschedule,” she said. “You could see a different doctor this afternoon…”
I started crying. “Never mind,” I said. “I’ll call you later. I’m very upset and it took me a long time to get here and I’m just really frustrated.” I turned and left without making a new appointment. As of now, I’m not really sure what to do about those x-rays. I made the appointment specifically with the owner of the clinic, because we’ve been with her for about twenty years and we trust her, and I wanted to do everything perfectly for Courage because I still feel very raw from losing Chewie and feel like maybe I let him down.
It wasn’t one of my best moments. I felt angry because they’d made a mistake and messed up my day and my plans. I don’t like that. I don’t have so much free time that making two trips to the vet in one day sounds like a good way to spend it. But at the time I responded, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing or why.
I know what the “correct” and “adult” thing to do would have been. I would have stuffed my feelings down and whipped out my smartphone (which I would have remembered to charge and bring with me, unlike today), and made a new appointment. But doing the correct thing always is Old Catherine.
New Catherine is in touch with her feelings and when they come up, she shares them and takes time to think about what she’s feeling and why, and then decides on an appropriate response.
Old Catherine had to be perfect and adult at all times. Old Catherine more or less kept it all together, because she had to. Being perfect, being a “good girl,” was how she kept in control, and if she stayed in control, nothing bad would happen and everyone would love her. Except it did and they didn’t.
New Catherine is ok with not being in control. She doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be a good girl. She doesn’t mind being perceived as emotional, unstable, immature, unreasonable, or even…crazy. Oh, crazy. That word that above all others keeps women in their place and under control at all times.
And because New Catherine is ok with being emotional, out of control, and crazy, she’s also okay with bursting into tears and leaving a situation because having to reschedule a vet appointment is just a bit too much now, m’kay?
I’ve been practicing this new, more radical brand of emotional honesty for a while, now, and there are two shocking things about it.
First, pretty much everyone reacts positively to it. Second, it almost always leads me to a better, more adultier solution than the adult solution I bypassed in order to let my crazy out.
Example. Earlier this year we refinanced the house. One of the steps in the process was a appraisal. In order to get the best rate, we needed to be lower than 70% loan/value. Our appraiser lowballed us, and because we didn’t make 70% or less, we were going to have to pay a $1600 fee.
The appraisal did not inspire confidence. It came out way low on a per square foot basis, in spite of the fact that we have a pretty damn nice house in a very desirable neighborhood. Plus, there were errors in the appraisal. I protested the appraisal with the bank, and they got the same appraiser to send a new appraisal. The new appraisal was randomly $40,000 higher, and still full of errors, but it still didn’t meet the 70% mark to save us that $1600. I was extremely angry when this came through. When the bank manager emailed the new result, I was ready to go to war. I was angry with the bank and felt like I was being cheated. I composed, but didn’t send, a scathing email.
Old Catherine would have done the adult thing. She would have suppressed that emotional response. She would have sucked it up and paid the $1600, even though the whole thing seemed very shifty.
But New Catherine had a better option. New Catherine had the option of just being honest and open about the whole thing, and giving the other party the benefit of the doubt. We had already spent $400 on the appraisal, so I called the man at the bank who was putting together our loan and told him, without blame or recrimination, that we had been spooked by the whole deal, and were going to walk away from our $400 fee because we just weren’t comfortable with the dodgy practices of the appraiser. And it was the simple truth. Just accept the loss, be honest about how you feel, and don’t try to control the outcome.
And a surprising thing happened. Within half an hour, the bank called. They agreed that the whole appraisal situation was dodgy, and they didn’t like it either. How could he have been off by $40,000, to just add it on later? The appraiser had been hired by the underwriters, and they were out. But the bank liked our loan well enough to underwrite it themselves. All of this happened after 5 PM on a Friday.
I’m not saying every conflict or problem turns out for the best when you give space for your “crazy” or “immature” feelings. In fact, I have experienced some significant pain and personal loss as I have transitioned to being more honest about my feelings. But I did it anyway because I knew I had to be true to myself. And I sort of braced myself for more conflict and ugliness going forward.
So the fact that people actually tend to respond positively, and offer better solutions than I could have come up with myself–well, it blows me away.
As I write this, I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the x-rays. I’m just sitting with my crazy, immature self, trying to figure out what that self is trying to tell me. I think I wanted more than an expert opinion on my dog’s recovery. I think I wanted a bit of catharsis. I wanted to connect with “our” vet after the nightmare of the emergency vet experience and intensive care and the loss and everything else. I think I wanted to hear her say she was sorry. I wanted to know why the other vet at her practice sent Chewie home, when he was literally five hours from death. I left having no idea he was in any danger. And I think I’m still struggling with the crushing cost of the whole thing–$4500. The followup appointment and x-rays will probably cost over $300, and I guess I need a minute to make peace with that expense, too, before I whip out the Visa card again. Knowing I have these needs helps me decide what option works best for me. Old Catherine would probably have seen any old vet just to get it over with. New Catherine will probably make an effort to connect with the clinic owner, so she can cry with me a little bit like she has for our other pets for the past twenty years. I need that, and Old Catherine wasn’t very good at honoring those needs.
This isn’t really a conflict in the way the refinance was. I’m not looking for a solution from them, really. I just need some time to hold my crazy parts, listen to them, and let that lead me to a wiser choice. It’s a new way of being for me. I’ll never go back.