The day of my big, fat invisible-flaw conversation, I called Joan on my lunch break, which meant I was doing laps around my office building, gusts of winds crackling and sputtering through our chat, until I relocated to the aisles of CVS. Here is what happened.
Me: So what do you think my flaw is?
Joan: Do I really have to answer this? Do you really want to know?
Me: Yes. Whatever you say, I won't be mad.
Joan: Can I have a minute?
Me: Of course.
Joan: More Silence.
Me: I've got it. I know I asked you but I've got it. I'm selfish! I'm narcissist. I'm self-involved.
Her: Hmm...You’re the woman who delivered 29 home-cooked meals to Katie in the hospital, right after the birth of your second child and while you still had pneumonia. You're the girl that listened to me talk about my horrible married lover for an hour a night, for a year.
Me: I've got it now! I’m careless and sloppy.
Her: Yes. But that's not the flaw. Can you give me a minute? I’m not sure what it is, but—
Me: I'm brusque and outspoken.
Her: Yes. But that's not—
Me: I cut off people who move away and never talk to them again. I don't exercise. I lose my temper with telemarketers. I bully my kids into playing the violin.
Her: Please stop talking because I think I know what your flaw is and I'm pretty sure it relates to what is going on right this minute.
Me and Her: Silence.
Her: Here's what I think, honey, and I'm only telling you because you're asking. I think you’re a little high strung. You get all this energy going, and if it goes in the wrong directions—for example, 1993, 1994, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009—you really suck yourself dry. Everything is a huge crisis, do or die. You exhaust yourself...and, well, you exhaust other people sometimes.
Her: Are you okay?
Me: A few deep breaths. A nod. And then...an exquisite wince, which is an experience not unlike when you eat a green apple and the joint in the corner of your jaw spasms with a butterfly of pain and delight. Except this was happening all over my inner being.
Because Joan was correct. Living constantly on the edge of a flip out was absolutely and totally my flaw. I had evidence that predated even her: All those conversations in which people had called me "intense" or "hardcore," every situation I had wailed my way through instead of just waiting, thinking and seeing; every project I had gotten so worked up and nervous about that I couldn’t discuss it without exclamation points. Being high-strung had cost me friends and put a strain on my marriage and stalled my career and cost me a lot of emotional energy, distracting me from plain old calm things in life. Like happiness and sleep.
Next: How to change once you know