A Self-Imposed Thanksgiving Day Disaster
From bad to worse, to praying for the sweet release of death.
One of the more frustrating aspects of over-thinking is its tendency to make us do extremely stupid things. I’ve often found myself in situations in which I overthought what should have been a simple decision, but, instead, I got lost in a maelstrom of options ranging from “meh” to “oh hell, I’ll gonna regret that later.”
The “I should go with this decision because it’s the healthiest, most logical, and contextually appreciate” choice somehow gets lost in the shuffle, much to my detriment…and, sometimes, bodily harm.
And that’s on a good day.
On bad days, anxiety — the diesel engine that so often drives our overthinking-based indecision — will talk us out of a rational choice, leading us instead down a path on which bad decisions compound one another. We then manifest the worst-case scenario we were dreading.
If you can relate, I’m sorry, and I feel your pain.
Feels a bit like walking barefoot across a desert of loose Legos, doesn’t it?
There are too many instances in my life in which I’ve shot myself in the metaphorical foot because, even though I knew what the rational, correct choice of action was, I panicked, overthought the situation, and made a bad choice.
Since it’s Thanksgiving, the following story is a timely example of what I’m talking about.
Thanksgiving Day, 1998…
At my high school, if the varsity football team made the playoffs, the varsity and junior varsity coaches would get together and select a number of the JV players to move up and join the varsity team. This was done to allow the younger players to start learning the varsity system and for the varsity coaches to get a look at and begin evaluating those of us who would be juniors playing at the varsity level the following year.
I was selected as one of the guys moving up to varsity.
If I sound like I’m bragging, know it wasn’t a glamorous experience. Those of us that moved up served primarily as a practice squad, glorified hitting dummies, and grounds crew. We moved equipment, then put it away after practice, and waited behind the seniors and juniors for water.
While it was an honor to be called up, it was also a trial by fire. Take my word for it — there’s nothing glorious or honorable about getting your bell rung because you got trap-blocked by a senior who outweighed you by 50 pounds and scraping yourself off the field afterward…or getting up and ready for the next play with your helmet still on sideways.
Despite the occasional pancaking, I loved it. I was learning the system for the next year, bonding with a lot of the guys who would be my teammates the next season, and getting to know the varsity coaches — all people I would come to love and respect.
Those were good days…mostly.
What does any of this have to do with overthinking, bad decisions, or Thanksgiving? I was just getting to that part.
Our team advanced to the second round of playoffs, which meant we had practice over Thanksgiving break, including the morning of Thanksgiving Day. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we were going to have a big team breakfast after practice. And, we would get done in time to go home and catch the afternoon NFL game on TV, which seems like it was always the Cowboys and Giants, and watch John Madden distribute the various legs of the Turducken to players who performed exceptionally well that day.
My dad dropped me off in the parking lot behind the gym that morning. I grabbed my gear out of the back of his truck, and he drove off. As I walked toward the locker room, I heard whistles. From the hill behind the football stadium, I could see practice had already started.
It wasn’t just getting started. It was already in full swing. The team had already split into position groups which meant I was a good half-hour late.
How could this have happened? Did I get the starting time wrong? I must have. But how?
My stomach dropped into my shoes as one thought repeated on a loop in my brain.
“Oh, no…no no no …What do I do now?” Well, that wasn’t exactly what I thought. What I was actually thinking isn’t fit to repeat, and my mom (who reads these) would be horrified by what I thought and may have said out loud.
I must have stood there for a good five minutes just staring at the practice I was missing, paralyzed with indecision.
Eventually, the gears in my brain resumed turning, but they went from zero-to-overdrive in fractions of a second. A shotgun-blast of thoughts peppered the forefront of my mind, none of which let me know how to go back in time and not be late for practice. Moreover, it was going to take me at least ten minutes to change into my gear and get down to the field. By then, I would have been almost 45 minutes late, and I didn’t have an excuse.
Complicating matters further was the fact that I hadn’t made the best first-impression on the varsity coaches.
That day they came to our JV practice to let us know who would be moving up to the varsity squad? I wasn’t there because I’d gotten detention earlier that day for failing to turn in a homework assignment.
Yes, my high school gave both “behavioral” and “academic” detention, or “JUG.” Justice Under God was a big deal at Jesuit schools, as was not turning in one’s assignments on time.
When I arrived at practice, my line coach pulled me aside yelled at me for showing up over an hour late (getting JUG meant missing the first half of practice) before begrudgingly telling me I was moving up to varsity at the end of the season.
And on that first day of varsity practice, I forgot my cleats. Without any other option, I wore my normal street shoes to practice, which would have been bad enough under dry conditions. But it had been raining on and off all day, and the grass was wet and muddy. It was like I was playing on a Slip ‘N Slide and everyone else was on solid ground. At one point, Coach Evans, the varsity line coach, asked my JV coach if it was a mistake bringing me up to varsity.
So I was pulled aside once more to answer questions like, “Where the hell are your cleats, Johnson?” and “Do you need a hand pulling your head out of your ass?”
At home, Coach, and yes, Coach, if I could get hand with that, I would appreciate it, seeing as how I managed to lodge my own head firmly up my own colon and, currently, it seems to be stuck.
Mercifully, my standings with my coaches improved over the post season as I did things like remember all the necessary equipment and show up to practice on time.
Only, that Thanksgiving Day morning, I was unforgivably late.
The rational part of me knew the best thing to do was head into the locker room, change into my gear, hustle down to the field, profusely apologize for my tardiness, take the ass-chewing from my coach like a man, and do the after-practice disciplinary conditioning with minimal complaint.
But the rational part of my brain was quickly shouted down by the anxiety surging through me. I began overthinking what could happen if I went down to the field and faced my fate.
What if I was thrown off the team? What if I soured the varsity coaches so much that, no matter what I did, I wouldn’t get to play in any games the following season? What if I became a pariah among the friends I had on the team?
Again, my rational brain knew this series of outcomes was highly unlikely. But, in the short, internal shouting match that followed, Anxiety won a decisive victory. It screamed many things at me, but the gist of it was, “Bail! Cut your losses and run!”
So I did.
I took my gear and walked to the front of campus. I used a payphone to call my dad and ask him to pick me up at the front of the school “after practice.” I didn’t say anything about being so late and panicking so hard that I’d decided to bail on practice that day.
Why the front of campus? Because what if my coaches or teammates saw me and discovered I had been there the whole time, but not gone to practice? That thought set off a whole new festival of panic-fueled worst-case scenarios. And though he didn’t say anything, I’m sure my dad figured something was up when he picked me up three hours later, at the front of the school, and I was just as clean I was when he dropped me off.
Yes, three hours later.
I sat at the front of campus for three hours, second-guessing my actions and stewing in my own self-induced misery. At one point, I went to my locker and got my biology book because 1) it provided a feasible, albeit flimsy reason for my needing to be picked up at an alternate location as the lockers and classrooms were closer to the front of campus, and I could claim I needed the book, which I’d forgotten, for a homework assignment, and 2) I was so bored, I needed something — anything — to read and take my mind off the series of poor choices I’d made.
As for missing practice, my plan was to claim I had been sick that day. Yup. That was sure to work.
Karma, it seems, has a sense of irony and humor. That night, we went to my great-aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a Thanksgiving I’ll never forget. Besides the morning’s practice debacle, my great-aunt undercooked the turkey — which I ate, not realizing it was underdone. It was only a few, short hours later that I realized missing practice that morning was the least of my concerns.
To this day, I’ve never vomited more in frequency or volume. I threw up so much, I made Linda Blair from The Exorcist look like she had a mildly upset stomach.
The silver lining? At least I had a legitimate excuse for missing practice the next day…even if I needed to fudge the timeline a little.
Still, I felt bad about it.
Because I’d let my anxiety get the better of me, which I lied about, and planned to lie about the following day.
I don’t like having to face the truth of that.
I don’t like that I was willing to damage my trustworthiness with my parents, coaches, and friends because I’d panicked and made bad choices.
And I don’t like that, instead of accepting the consequences for what was a foolish, but honest mistake, I ran away from it like a scared child.
I look back on that experience as a cautionary tale, something I strive to learn from. I’d like to say it’s a lesson I’ve learned. For the most part, I’d say I have.
Still, my propensity to overthink and react poorly to difficult situations and that voice that cries out “Run away!” is always there in the background.
Hopefully age and wisdom gained will silence it.
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Just a writer looking to peddle his stories. TOP WRITER on Medium in Humor, This Happened to Me, Mental Health, Disability, and Life Lessons. C-5 incomplete quadriplegic. I love comic books, coffee, all things Dragon Age, and the 49ers.