Ever had a conversation, maybe at a party, in a grocery store, or hanging out on the pole, that slowly transitions from mildly pleasant, to boring, to punishing? By punishing, I mean, physically uncomfortable. By physically uncomfortable, I mean, like having restless leg syndrome while being skinned alive.
Well, I figured something out recently, and it is this: The conversations I’ve just described really are torture, as defined by that dusty relic, the dictionary: “to inflict severe pain on.” As with torture, the brain chemistry of a person on the receiving end—the listener, in this case—temporarily changes.
I have proof for my hypothesis that the conversations do in fact fit the dictionary definition of torture, and this isn’t just me, employing hyperbole to make my point. You see, I have noticed that during these conversations, I would find it preferable to no longer be alive. And I know this because during one such “chat” recently, when I was on the brink of losing my mind as addled thoughts swirled the drain of my brain, the following thought popped into my head: “I can’t wait to die.”
Compounding the issue was the fact that the topic was completely over my head. I was listening to a complicated explanation of something totally foreign to me, yet I had to pretend that I was getting it, because I didn’t want to start all over. And it just wouldn’t end. Every sentence had a digression, a clause, another exit to “Even More Complicatedville.” I was afraid to ask a clarifying question because I’d been faking it for so many minutes.
You know you’re in the middle of an ICWTD chat, with no emergency exit, when you start feeling panicky. For me, I become so disturbed by the thoughts going through my own head that I even start wondering if the person currently talking at me can hear them, or discern what the little voice in my head is saying by the pained look on my face, which is probably a cross between acute intestinal distress and utterly hammered. The thoughts drifting through my head range from the banal, “Can he tell that I’m not tracking?” and “How long can I smile and nod?” to the more sublime: “I’m going to shit myself and see if he notices.”
Believe it or not, there exists a worse type of conversation: ICWTD by Proxy. This is one where a person, let’s say my husband, is regaled with a retelling of an ICWTD conversation that I was subjected to earlier in the day. These ICWTDs usually start with me saying, “Oh my god I had the most punishing conversation today…so there I was…” and end with him sawing his own head off with a dirty spatula. Just kidding. He sits patiently, listening to my retelling. During this time, three things are happening: I am describing physical pain that I experienced earlier in the day; to a lesser degree, I am experiencing the pain again, by re-telling it; and he is experiencing physical pain by listening to the retelling. Wait, there’s a fourth thing happening: He is very unhappy.
ICWTD chats are real—real painful. If waterboarding was a conversation, they’d be ICWTD chats. And it is not lost on me that I, in fact, may be the source of some of these chats for others. I’ll make you a deal: If you are ever engaged in conversation with me, and it occurs to you that you’d rather be dead, just say so. Or, like someone I know, the second you sense an opportunity, slowly turn and look over your shoulder, then follow your gaze, one step at a time, toward the horizon.