I bumped into a woman the other day who I hadn't seen in a while. I knew from word on the street -- or, more accurately, word at the school bus stop -- that she had caught her husband running around with another woman, or maybe it was that she had been diagnosed with Lupus, or possibly it was that her over-achieving-never-tasted-failure kid didn't make the all-star team and is now in counseling for his grief-induced migraines. Truth is, I don't recall exactly what tragedy befell this woman because I only pay half-attention to the words that circulate at the school bus stop. But I know it was something terrible and of a magnitude that would easily unleash someone's Inner Crazy.
You know what I mean when I say Inner Crazy, right? Our Inner Crazy is the voice in our head that is always trying to escape through our mouth. It is the excessive sharing thing we do when we are nervous, the harsh retort we wish we could take back, the inappropriate disclosures that take place after we've had some wine. It's Richard Sherman in an after-game interview, unfiltered.
Anyway, this woman for whom a recent tragedy has befallen was as poised and gracious and warm as could be. She feigned great interest and understanding of my holiday weight gain and subsequent dieting efforts. Sweet, she went all sweet on me, even when I probed with a meaningful "and how are you?"
I kept looking for a crack in her veneer -- an eye twitch that belied her happy-happy white-tooth smile. I saw nothing and left the conversation with some envy -- not of her louse of a husband who I suspect does cheat or her spoiled over-achieving kid but of her ability to control her Inner Crazy.
She has clearly mastered total control over it. She keeps it together in public at all times. She won't show up at her husband's office like Julia did to Joel on NBC's "Parenthood" this season to demand a conversation about the state of their marriage and she won't turn into Mommy Dearest in the middle of the office when her son calls to say he needs pipe cleaners, molding clay and three colors of spray paint by dinner or he won't get his Cell Project done on time even though he's known about said Cell Project for six weeks. There are no straws that break this woman's back; she just keeps on smiling that smile.
I have no idea what goes on in the privacy of this woman's shower or behind her therapist's closed door, but to the naked public eye, this woman is as worry-free as they come. How nice for her.
Me? I admit that my Inner Crazy sometimes emerges. I have a short fuse that ignites quickly over perceived injustices, especially those affecting my kids. I can be a coach's worst nightmare, a mean teacher's nemesis, a bully's match with a better vocabulary and a HuffPost Big News Page column to prove it.
I also know that everyone has an Inner Crazy. I don't really believe that this woman's life is any more trouble-free than anyone else's. She has just learned to manage her public face better.
Happiness may come down to how we respond to the crisis in front of us. Do we melt down or buck up? Are you someone who lashes out in anger, sobs on the nearest shoulder no matter whose it is, drowns your sorrows in nightly booze and call it "unwinding" -- or do you practice self-control with varying degrees of success?
It isn't a matter of denying your feelings; it's more about not letting them spin wildly out of control in inappropriate ways. It's the emotional equivalent of portion control when you diet --let it out in small bites.
I am currently wrestling with my Inner Crazy. So yes, I will stop by the crafts store on my way home from work and pick up pipe cleaners, molding clay and three colors of spray paint. I will meditate my way toward an apology to my son-- not something that excuses his forgetting a school deadline but hopefully something that reminds him that his mother has deadlines of her own.
And going forward, I will practice my very best happy-happy white-tooth smile.
Follow Ann Brenoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnnBrenoff