Mac and cheese, my old enemy, we meet again.

Photo courtesy of Jspatchwork on Flickr.
Actually, I can’t believe how many pictures there are of mac and cheese on Flickr. People love it so much that they’re taking photos of it. Gross.

I cannot say it loud enough: I hate mac and cheese.

Hate it. Detest it. Loathe it in the way some people shy away from rats or snakes or spiders. I don’t like spiders either but give me a choice between a house spider and a bowl of Kraft and I’ll take the spider every time.

I realize this places me in a very small subset of humanity. Most people not only like mac and cheese, they adore it. That’s weird to me. How can you like ingesting a bowl of slimy, orange-yellow noodles covered in fake-cheese?

As a child, I honestly thought that it was only my brother who loved mac and cheese, because he was my brother and therefore a weirdo. Anyhow, as my  brother, I expected that he’d love all the things I hated, just to be difficult.

But then I went away to college.

Lo and behold, everyone there was stocking up on mac and cheese , eating it on rainy days and singing its damn praises. I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding mac and cheese  up until that point, but it was  everywhere in my dorm. In my room. In the hall garbage can. Dishes caked with the orange residue of mac and cheese clogged the bathroom sinks. Microwaves smelled of it. It was like being in a Kraft horror movie. All of a sudden I realized that my brother was not the weird one. I was the freak show. It became clear that I was The Only Mac & Cheese Hater in The World.

Oh come off it, you might be saying. So you didn’t like a food and a lot of other people like it. Get over yourself.

Am I being a big baby about this one particular food? Oh yes. Completely. I choose to be stoic about other things I don’t like: violence, chicken soup, traffic, fires. But the smell of macaroni and cheese? It makes my gorge rise.

My hatred of mac and cheese was so bad when I was a kid that my mother, an Irish-Italian matriarch of the Clean Your Plate vintage, wouldn’t make me eat it if she was serving it for dinner.

This isn’t to say that the poor woman didn’t try to overcome my mac and cheese aversions. At first she took my dislike as a challenge. She and my dad figured okay, I hated Kraft Mac and Cheese, let’s make this kid some real macaroni and cheese from scratch before she develops a phobia. (If you’ve read this far, you know that approach didn’t work.)

They made scores of recipes. Some had meat in them. Some had vegetables. All of them had cheeses I liked in different dishes. Some were baked. Some not.  I remember thinking that one dish in particular was tolerable, so my mother made it again, but the second time I had a very hard time choking it down.

My father tried to reason with me, based on my love of Italian food. “Ann,” he said, “you like lazy lasagna.* Lazy lasagna has both macaroni and cheese in it.”

I chose not to hear this, but even so, it made me suspicious of any noodle not covered in tomato sauce.

In the end, my parents gave up, and I was allowed not to eat mac and cheese at dinner, which was a great relief.
I guessed that as I grew up  and moved out into the world, I’d meet other mac and cheese haters and we’d form our own little mac and cheese haters’ club, but that was not the case. Because apparently the rest of humanity loves it some Kraft.

By the time I was out of school, I was afraid that I’d be turning down mac and cheese for the rest of my life, trying to suppress the awful faces my inner child wants to make at the site of the dish, when I was served a big piece of luck: when I was 25, I was diagnosed as being intolerant to both gluten and lactose. Hallelujah! I sure missed eating pizza, but it was worth it, because now no one would expect me to eat mac and cheese.

But recently, gluten-free technology caught up with me.

Right now, there are a bunch of mac and cheese restaurants out there. Some entrepreneurial hipsters thought that would be a great recession idea, I guess – comfort food during a time of need. A mac and cheese bar would be like the seventh ring of gastronomical hell to me, but fine, I’m allergic to everything in those places, so no worries.

But no. Because the considerate proprietors of these restaurants have created gluten free menus. And even worse? Kraft has also changed its ways. The awful orange cheese sauce? It’s gluten free. And people are cooking it over brown rice pasta.

Terrifying.

In conclusion, I will not come to your birthday party if you have it at one of these restaurants. Please don’t be mad at me; it’s really better if I’m not there. And if you show up at my house with a packet of GF Kraft sauce, I won’t be there. I will be hiding under a rock with a bunch of spiders.

*Lazy lasagna is a casserole made with tomato sauce, a lot of cheeses and ziti. It is nothing like mac and cheese.

Me and My Panic Attack: What Fresh Hell is This?

This afternoon, I think I had a mild panic attack.

I don’t know for sure if it was a panic attack because I’ve never had one before and I sure didn’t think I’d be getting one any time soon. My breath became short, my heart pounded, my hands shook and I started to stutter. I was able to quickly dispel it, but I was shaken, and disgusted with myself.  Stuttering, A.J., really? What is that?  The last time I stuttered, I was in high school.

So what was I doing that caused such fear? Making a phone call. That’s it. That’s all. I was calling someone for work.

I never have liked making calls. In college I always hoped that someone else would call for the pizza, but I never had any huge problems with dialing the phone. Like just about everyone in the first world, I have made millions of phone calls for work and never had a panic attack. In fact, I spent a decade making hundreds of phone calls a week, sometimes dozens a day, when I worked as a reporter. I knew, when I was making those calls, that a lot of those people didn’t want to talk to me. In fact, some of them were downright hostile, but my attitude at the time was much more “game on” than “freak out.”

Today, the shadow of the phone calls I had to make – a task that should take less than three minutes – hung over me from the moment I woke up. I actually slept in a little to avoid them. I dreaded them. I did everything else on my to-do list first. I sent emails. I did research. I paced the floor. I went on Facebook. I emptied the dishwasher. Finally I decided to just do it. I wrote out all the things I had to talk about in each call, something I’ve never done before and picked up the phone.

The first went off without a hitch. The second triggered the attack, if that’s what it was. I forgot my name. I forgot my phone number. I forgot my business. Then I was angry with myself, which made it all much, much worse. It took me a half an hour to make myself confront the fear and make the third call.

Now the callbacks are giving me trouble. Though I know I can now go about the rest of my day knowing the calls are over with, and though any callers could leave me a message, I feel compelled to linger over the phone, doing nothing,  just in case someone calls me back.

I have no idea why the phone calls would cause me such anxiety. They weren’t particularly difficult calls.  But all of a sudden it feels like I have a sudden phone phobia, and it’s hard not to judge myself here. Phonephobia sounds like a disorder for weirdos. And since when do people suddenly sprout phobias? Since when do I sprout phobias?

One of my resolutions for 2012 has been to work on my anxiety, which has been growing, inexplicably, over the last few years. In the days since I made my resolution, I’ve been doing some research on ways of handling anxiety, reading books about it, practicing yoga daily to control my breathing, looking for my triggers, all that good self-help stuff that one is supposed to do. Then today happened.

I don’t normally share my struggle with anxiety, which quite frankly embarrasses me, because – as someone once asked me –  what have I to be anxious about?  But I’m beginning to think that keeping quiet about anxiety might be contributing to the problem, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll jump into the conversation. At least I can get it out there. Maybe it will be one less thing to worry about.

Still scared.

If I were Alice, the sight of this guy would have sent me shrieking and clawing back up the rabbit hole.

I thought I was over it.  I appeared to have outgrown it. I was sure that it was gone and would never trouble me again. Unfortunately, like so many other things from the ’80s that should be gone forever, my fear of caterpillars has returned.

 

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