Sunday, August 30, 2015

It's Not a Mullet: And Other Head-Related Trauma

One time I was moderating a focus group somewhere on the east coast and right in the middle of the discussion a nice-looking woman said, 

"Awww, when are you due!?"
"SO! How many months? When are you due!"....

"Oh, um, I'm not pregnant."

When you moderate focus groups you have this two-way glass mirror where, usually, your clients sit hidden behind you, observing. On this particular day there were no less than eight CPG clients silently monitoring the situation, invisible behind the magic glass. It was them along with my boss and three of my coworkers. This was a big ass, multi-city project.

"Yeah, um, no, ha! yeah, Nooo, I'm not PREGNANT, it's just... 
(I'm thirty pounds overweight...lonely as hell...definitely drinking out of the mini bar tonight...Dammit lady! I could burst into tears and rip your throat out at the same time. Is there any logical excuse for how stupid you must be?!?)... 
Haha, this is one of those empire shirts that can make your stomach look kinda big!!! YOU KNOW!! ha. hmm. OK...SO!..."

You could hear a pin-drop inside that focus group room. You could smell the collective regret / shame / fear of all six middle-aged women sitting around that focus group table. 

Ellen DeGeneres once wrote about how weird women are when they accidentally walk in on someone else in the bathroom. There is this passive oh no, I'M sorry thing that women do when this happens and they are so mortified that IT IS THE WOMAN ON THE TOILET WHO APOLOGIZES to the woman who has accidentally opened the door. It's like, "I'm so sorry to have inconvenienced you and caused you embarrassment (even though it's YOU who fucked up)!!"

So, naturally, this was my reaction in front of the focus group. Not only did I have to apologize for the collective regret / shame / fear of these suburban upper middle class ladies with east coast accents, I had to apologize for the overall collective regret / shame / fear of all the clients, coworkers and MY BOSS in the backroom, undoubtedly mortified over what to do next. I knew, as the Moderator, it was my job to dissipate the collective train wreck mortification of this moment that felt even more embarrassing than when someone farts in the middle of yoga class and everyone has to pretend like nothing happened.


This was how I felt the day I fell off my bike and bumped my head on a bridge and had to go to the hospital to get my brain checked. I couldn't believe how clumsy I had been to fall off my bike on an innocuous little flat bridge I know like the back of my hand. I had just completed this 49-mile ride in the Tour de Tonka and it was on mile 50 very close to my house that I fell.

The mandatory
"scene of the crime" photo for Instagram.

If you've never had a head injury, I can tell you that it is a bizarre experience. It is so strange to experience the reaction the Self has when short-circuiting the human operating system. I don't remember much of the actual fall. And I didn't even black out for more than a few seconds, maybe. But, somehow, there was suddenly this nice man crouching on the grass next to me, calmly telling me that "We need to take a look at that bump on your head, please, take your hands off your face, dear."

There is a variety of reactions to hitting your head and mine seemed to be reverting to the passive I don't mean to trouble you response. 

"Do you know what happened back there on your bike?"

(I had been thrown off my bicycle once it hit the metal lip of the bridge, So - bless it's soul - my Bianchi was peacefully resting several feet away, having gracefully released me from my clipless pedals like a high performing pair of downhill skis.)


"Do you know. Why you fell. Off your bike."

"I have to go home. You can leave. I am fine, thank you. I am not hurt. Thank you. It's fine. I'm fine. I'm OK, it's fine...Please leave."

Now, had it been me witnessing a bike accident, I think if it were violent enough my survival instincts would kick in and I'd go help. But, if it were one of those tip-over-type falls I would probably politely turn around and walk the other way, out of respect for the bicyclist so as not to make him/her suffer further embarrassment. 

After what ensued next, it became clear that this mysterious fall was more the former as opposed to the latter. I remember cupping my left hand over my left cheek and draping my right hand across my forehead and not letting go. Like, I think I held my head that way for a good 45 minutes from the scene of the crime, into the car, and into the emergency room. The only emotion I can remember is regret / shame / fear of hitting my head. Now. I wasn't necessarily super embarrassed that I fell. In some biking circles, a bad fall would be considered "badass" even if it was a five-mile-per-hour tip-over-type fall AS LONG AS THERE IS VISIBLE DAMAGE to some part of your body. At least, these were the new rules I made up for myself in dealing with the aftermath. 

The nice man was perhaps growing impatient.

"So, I am afraid I think you are gonna need to go get some medical help."

Again, the child-like embarrassment.

"NO! No, I do not. I am fine, you can go."

The conversation went on like this and, looking back, it is so weird how I was acting so childish. But it was the regret / fear /shame factor that I believe was kicking in, along with a deep dark feeling of oh, I think I may have done something seriously wrong to my body.

My head hurt in a way I'd never experienced. It felt like it was made of lead. It was like a headache, yes, but it was also pounding with a pulse, like my heart was in my head. It felt like there was a lot of pressure building and I was alert enough to experience it and feel a rising panic of what would happen next.

"My Mom. She lives. Near here."

I  remember telling him my home phone number and thinking that I must be fine because I had no trouble remembering it. But what I don't remember is how my mom got there to the bridge (I mean, she drove her car, obviously) but my memory of it is that she just appeared. 

The nice man talked to my mom as though I was not there.

"Yeah, I'm not sure quite how it happened, but I was walking by and found her over there. I think, you ah, might want to take her in."

"NO! No, I am fine. I am fine."

This was when I finally looked at my mom and did another odd, regret / shame / fear thing.


My left cheek and eye were stinging really bad and I knew I was bleeding because I could see some spots on of blood on my biking jersey. Again, there was such an illogical embarrassment (the regret / shame / fear factor). It's scary when you hurt yourself. And your survival instinct kicks in and you DON'T WANT TO LOOK AT IT which, when you think about it, makes no sense at all. Do you think this was the way things went back on the tundra? Like, ooo, a tiger just gashed my calf on the hunt and I will probably die soon but I WILL NOT LOOK AT IT and pretend it's not as bad as it probably is.

Anyway, this is how I felt, and that dread stayed with me all the way to the hospital into the emergency room where I was hesitant to even allow the nurse to see my face. Once she did, it was obvious that it wasn't THAT bad, but it was bad enough that I'd have to "get that road rash cleaned out" which made my stomach churn. My face was already so sore I could not imagine someone touching it, much less scrubbing it. I felt zero bravery.

The mandatory 
"I must be a Badass now" photo. 
For Instagram.

I didn't start crying until the doctor came in and said with calm-yet-cheerful detachment,

"So! we're gonna need to take some CT scans, hon. Of your head and your cheek, Mmm'K?"

Wait. Why of my cheek.

"Oh, well, you know, we want to make sure that there is no fractures in your eyebrow or cheek bone! SO! I'll be back soon, OK, Dear?"

And that was when I leaned back on the crinkly paper and cried. Now I was really embarrassed. And annoyed. (Regret / shame / fear ). Yeah, sure, later when I captured the entire thing in various forms of social media, it was easy to be "badass" about it when I knew I had no brain bleeding. But, at the time, I was scared and feeling very alone and claustrophobic inside my pulsating head. 

The mandatory
"Hey, check it out I am better now" photo 
for (you guessed it) Instagram.

My poor mother. She sat there with no doubt the same terror my clients, boss, coworkers and focus group participants felt on the day someone mistakenly thought I was pregnant.

In the end, I had a mild concussion (and, incidentally, cannot imagine the misery of an actual Traumatic Brain Injury). My mom bought me a Medium Oreo Blizzard on the way home and I was instructed to "not use my brain" for 48 hours which, of course, is impossible.


In planning this post, I knew that my point would be about the phenomenon of people being embarrassed for you for something after something embarrassing has happened (even if it is later deemed "badass"). And I knew that I was growing out my hair, thus was waiting for the mandatory, "Are you growing your hair out???" which would signify that the cut was indeed growing into a mullet. Or, the tipping point where you have become overweight enough in your belly to where a stupid woman is dumb enough to ask if you are pregnant - no - assume you are pregnant and ask when you are due - in front of a room full of people.

But, alas, I cut my hair this weekend and I have since lost a good deal of weight since that fateful focus group day. Still, it is embarrassing. It happened. And, had I not been so fortunate with my fall, that would have been saturated in regret / shame / fear for much longer than just a week or two.

I guess the moral of the story is that, when someone does something embarrassing, do not sit passively, allowing the regret / shame / fear bubble to the surface. 
  • If someone falls bad enough to look hurt (so, not a tip-over-fall), go help them. 
  • If someone farts in yoga class, clear the air with a hearty laugh so the class can get on with things. 
  • If you are moderating a focus group (or, just a person, in the world), do not under any circumstances whatsoever, wear a baby doll shirt




  1. Some progress here.
    At the end of the XIXth century, psychiatrists used to describe with an image, the dominant symptom of hysteria and called it the "beautiful indifference", term still in use nowadays.
    It represents a scene with a curtain, with the solution to the problem behind it, and that the "passively sat person" lives with, at work, at home, and everywhere, but ignores it, or rather, seems to ignore. Therefore repeats patterns of isolation, conducted by this denial.
    What you advise in the end is clear. It is the almighty power of desire, (when accepted). A key, a door, a movement.
    This is called love. No more, no less.

    From somewhere in the world.