Noun: kat·zen·jam·mer | \ ˈkat-sən-ˌja-mər
Have you ever heard a cat wailing and felt that you could relate? Apparently, some hungover German speakers once did. “Katzenjammer” comes from the German Katze (meaning “cat”) and “Jammer” (meaning “distress”). English speakers borrowed the word for their hangovers (and other distressful inner states) in the 19th century and eventually applied it to outer commotion as well.¹
Remember when I wrote about anxiety as a stallion that can be trained or, alternately, left to run the show? Well, I can honestly say that my anxiety was pretty much in control from childhood until I was about 30 years old. Coupled with crippling self-doubt, my life was quite frequently in a state of katzenjammer.
This is the first time I have ever used this word. I hadn’t even heard of it before I looked up ‘words that start with K’. I could have used Kindness, or better yet Knowledge, but nah, I liked the sound of Katzenjammer, and besides, I’ve had my share of hangovers and distress, so I think its fitting. I’m not even sure that I’m using it correctly, but I don’t much care. I’m in that kind of mood. I will mold you, katzenjammer, to my will. Take that.
This chapter isn’t full of references to research papers or sage advice from learned professionals. It’s just a description of what happens to a person when they struggle along with no idea what they are doing and no horse whisperer in sight.
In my younger days, I had a lot of Katzenjammer (or Katzenjammers). I lived in extremes. Not always, but frequently. If I was happy, I was REALLY HAPPY. If I were depressed, I was as low as a person could be while still having a pulse.
In my 20’s, if life was getting me down, I didn’t have the foresight to try to discover why, so I just moved. I remember my mother’s address book. There were at least two pages, possibly three, with just my name and address after address crossed out when a new one had to be entered. Moving was always great for awhile. New rooms, new things to do, new people to meet. Lots of new stuff to focus on. But eventually, and inevitably, the same problems would arise. The letdown always came. When the new wore off, I was still me, with all of my anxieties and insecurities. Which, also inevitably, would lead to wailing like a cat in the night. Katzenjammer.
It took one last big move and a traumatic life event to realize that all of this excitement was just chaos with a nicer name. My life was an out-of-control stallion, and I was just holding on for dear life. So at twenty-seven years of age, I went to my first therapy appointment. I learned that it was possible to be the rider in my own life.
Learning to ride takes time. Years, in fact. But it’s a worthy pursuit, and one I will continue until I die. There are a lot less moments of Katzenjammer in my life, and many more moments of joy and fun.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with excitement. With spending our days trying new things and getting our adrenaline running. But peace and contentment and just as important. Peace is really good, especially if anxiety is your daily companion.
And if you think that you have a pretty balanced life, and you still experience hangovers and distress, well, of course you do. Life can be difficult, no matter how much you have it all together. Sometimes wailing is the healthiest thing we can do.