Yesterday morning I took and failed a road test. It was humiliating—in some ways it still would have been so, even if I passed.
I arrived at the testing location and sat around with a couple of teenage boys and their parents. The representative of the driving school chatted with them. I played a balloon-popping game (obsessive and soothing at the same time) on my phone.
I did a terrible job on the test. Afterwards I sat in the car and listened as the guy from the RMV lectured me and explained to me why I’d failed. I remember hoping he’d shut up soon so that I could leave the car and get home before I started crying. By the time he was done with me I was just hoping to get out of the car before I started crying. It was like being 23 and drunk and going from telling myself "I will not throw up", downgrading to "I will not throw up until I get home" and settling for "I will not throw up until I get off the bus."
I settled for crying once I was out of sight of the school and not sobbing out loud until I got home. I walked down Dane Street with water leaking out of my eyes. I pulled out my phone and went back to playing my game on my phone (no-I’m not crying and walking down Dane Street—I’m playing a game on my phone and walking down Dane Street.)
I got home and let the rest of it out. There’s a reason I mentioned vomiting, because the experience was very similar.
Sometimes I feel like there are three layers to my consciousness—there’s the physical layer, which suffers headaches and enjoys salty snacks. The emotional layer reacts to events—sometimes in an irrational way and then there’s the third layer. This is the part of me that’s most logical and is trying to make sense of the data reported by the physical and emotional layers. This is the layer that has to decide if the head cold I have is bad enough that I should stay home from work, whether the soup needs more salt or more ginger and whether or not to heed my emotional layer when it (the emotional part of me) is screaming it’s head off about something. I don’t always feel all three layers, but yesterday morning was an occasion on which all three layers were obvious.
Yesterday morning the emotional layer of my consciousness was throwing up. I wasn’t going to be able to do anything—go out for breakfast, text my sister and tell her how it went or decide what to do next until it was done throwing up.
I must admit that sometimes I don’t like my emotional layer. Yesterday I was upset, but I was surprised that I needed to cry so much. I mean, I expected to fail my road test—I just didn’t expect to fail so…completely.
Part of me, the part of me that’s supposed to be riding/driving the rest of me, had accepted that and was already moving on to figure out where I went from there (get new school? Give up entirely? Get back on the horse that bucked me?). Another part of me was pitching a fit over the situation. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I’ve sat through a panic attack while explaining to other people that really, it was fine (or it would be in a few minutes.) The problem—or part of it—is that I’m not always able to tell when to ignore my emotional layer. I really should ignore it when it’s telling me that I’ve left my door open, or my stove on (but what if it’s right? Maybe I can check—just to be sure I’m not about to burn the building down.) I shouldn’t listen when it tells me that yes it was nice to hang out with those people—but they were only being polite. They don’t really like me. I’m not intellectual enough.
I’d like to counter-balance these examples with something positive—at the very least some instance when my emotional self had lead me to believe I have competencies I do not, but most of the time I sit around worrying that I think I have expertise that I don’t really have. Yesterday’s experience would certainly support that narrative. I thought I had a 50-70% chance of passing the driving test. I figured I’d fail because I got one or two things wrong. In reality I probably had about a 20% chance of passing, and I failed because I got everything wrong. That hurt—a lot. It made me very angry. But I was mad at the driving school for not preparing me properly—not at myself for trying something and failing.
I have a tendency not to be willing to try something unless I’m sure I can do it (partly because I react so badly to failure—see above references to vomiting.) I know that’s no healthier than being a chronic risk taker. So even though I wasn’t sure I was going to pass the road test I didn’t cancel it. I’m proud of myself for that. Obviously, I’d be prouder if I’d passed the test, but if I can’t drive safely, then they really shouldn’t give me a license to operate a motor vehicle.
What dismays my logical brain is the tendency of my emotional layer to seize up. As a consequence I do my best to minimize it’s exposure—since it’s bound to misbehave. This leads to a rather proscribed existence. It’s not that bad though. After failing my driving test I attended a zombie party and then went out on Sunday for breakfast with my fellow zombies.