The Seventh Day
There’s a new kid in town, and he ain’t scared. It’s funny how that works. I used to experience a lot of anxiety, every day of my life. I’m not certain that I knew it was anxiety; I just used to worry a lot of the time, about things that didn’t seem to bug other people. I worried about dates on food in the refrigerator, and what might happen if I ate something with an expired date. It seemed important at the time.
I wrote a narrative called “Six Days a Week” which chronicled my successful effort to rid myself of panic attacks and anxiety issues. Now I want to recount the changes that have surfaced as a result of the mental shifts that have occurred. These shifts have come gradually over the past six months or so, replacing life-long habits, and leading me to recognize that mental habits, like their cousins, physical habits, are changeable.
I like to go to town these days, a tremendous paradigm shift in itself. I went three weeks ago to purchase the tags for my medical marijuana grow. The tags were twenty-five dollars apiece, and I had to go to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office to obtain them. I walked in as though I owned the place, and inquired brightly if I was in the correct place to purchase tags for a medical marijuana grow. I was informed that I was in the perfect spot, and did I have my medical card with me? Twelve minutes later, I was on my way home, after having exchanged pleasantries with no fewer than six Mendocino County officers, while waiting for my tags. I could never have attempted that in the past.
On that same trip to town, I had stopped in the Willits Post Office to apply for a passport, so that I could travel to Ireland late this summer. I had to have my picture taken, and I had to fill out certain forms. I had already obtained the forms by going online, another paradigm shift, and had filled them out the night before at home. Is this a good time to mention the trip itself? I am flying to Ireland this August. Upon disembarking from the plane that flew me from Korea to Oakland Army Base, in 1973, I had promised myself that I would never board another plane. And here I was, planning a trip to Ireland.
I had had to schedule that appointment at the post office, to obtain my passport, a little earlier in the day, another task that used to pose problems. It was hard for me to make phone calls and communicate with people I didn’t know.
I left the Sheriff’s office, and stopped by at Mendo Mill to pick up a few things for a project that I was working on. I called Casey to see if he needed anything, and he asked me to pick up ten bags of potting soil. No problem, I thought, vaguely remembering that I used to dread going to the building supply place. So much hassle, having to track down somebody to help you get what you needed, then tracking down someone to pay, and then having to load it up and grapple with the tying down, or whatever.
I stopped in at Ray’s Groceries to pick up a few things, and checked with Annie to see that she didn’t need anything else. She asked me to pick up a few things, so that she could make tamales in the morning for Market. I said that there was no problem. I stopped at Mariposa’s to see if they had gluten-free oats so that I could keep a good supply on hand for my cookies.
And speaking of food, the arrangement that we have made for our kitchen, breaks a few paradigms along the way. Annie and I now prepare our meals separately most of the time. Her gluten issues, and my inability to eat meat, make for an interesting challenge, as far as preparing compatible meals is concerned.
Annie has had to deal with food issues in the house, for the past thirty years. I figured she had enough going on that I wouldn’t toss meatlessness at her. Meat is one thing that celiacs can eat without fear of gluten, as long as no one is arbitrarily seasoning the meat.
So, when I go to town, I always include a grocery stop, so as to outfit the refrigerator with appropriate fare. I make my own breakfast, and get my construction lunch together each morning, so I like shopping for myself. That has not always been the case.
Shopping used to be hard, especially when the store was crowded, because I never felt comfortable in the midst of humanity. That extended to movie theaters, ballgames, crowded meetings, anything public. Now, the check-out line no longer annoys me, as I generally find someone within my range to make conversation. If I am in Laytonville, there will probably be a former student or two, or the parent of a former student, with whom I converse.
I used to go to town with one goal: to get back as fast as I could, with no more stops than absolutely necessary. Now, it is just the opposite. I figure that since I am in town, that I should take care of any and all business that I can, before I return up the mountain.
I have attended every local farmers market this summer, after only making it to three last summer. I help run the CSA booth, which is fun. I have enjoyed conversing with old acquaintances, meeting new folks, and reconnecting with people I have not talked to for many years. I share with many people, details of my recent therapeutic experience, and the common response is, “Yes, I can see that you have changed...”
My music tastes have shifted and expanded. It started last winter when I was working on the addition. The only available source of music that was convenient, was a little portable radio, so i listened to it. In an effort to find something more palatable than the local “classic rock” station, I started listening to the local pop radio station, playing the fare that many kids listen to.
I developed an ear for that genre, and that’s what appeals to me now. I wouldn’t mind the expansion, but certain older classic rock artists now annoy me, which seems a little extreme. The other thing is that not many in my circle find Kesha appealing. Instead of worrying about it, I don’t.
One consequence of my anxiety-reduction, is that Annie directly benefits. Instead of having to always worry that I am going to have some sort of issue, she can now relax. On a recent trip over to the Valley to see Benny graduate from Engineer school, Annie was fretting about time, and whether or not we would arrive for the beginning.
Holly had given us directions, which Annie had copied, word for word. Now it was I saying, “Relax. Trust the directions and the time frame she gave us.” It all worked out; it was just odd to be on the other side of the fence.
It used to be that, if we were planning a couple of days up in Eureka, we had to pay extensive detail to each phase of the experience. If we were going to a restaurant, Annie was always worried that I would have some sort of non-negotiable issue. This might include music (too loud or the wrong “type”) service (too slow) food (“funny-tasting” or deviating in some manner from what was expected) or even being seated next to a large party of people, because that was always hard for me too.
Often, instead of simply taking the issue up with the management, or just dealing with it, I would manage to cast such a pall of anxiety over the scene, as to spoil the mood for Annie also. Even being aware of this dynamic did not allow me to vary from the script-the script that no one else was privy to.
I want to talk about whining. I have mentioned that in the past, to me whining always meant little kids and obnoxious voices. Now I clearly see it for being the annoying thing that it is: someone complaining about how one thing or another is a pain. Well, things can be a pain at times, only everyone gets to experience hard times, at different periods. Why anyone would want to listen to me whine is beyond me. And that’s the point-no one wants to listen to anyone whine-a person listens because that is what you do. Only now, I can’t stand to take that role of complainer; it’s as though I am trying to balance out the years of being a whiny so and so.
In working construction, there are a lot of possibilities for straining parts of my body that didn’t get much occupational use while I was teaching. I think that is a given; therefore, to keep a running commentary on those specific areas of concern seems a bit overkill to me. I prefer to focus on the progress we are making and leave the other to another time and space. I don’t mind hearing others complain; I just don’t want to go back to that space myself.
I want to go back to the issue of food and the refrigerator. I mentioned at the outset that I experienced a shift in my approach to the refrigerator. I do not know the origin of my refrigerator-induced anxiety. A certain portion is just compulsive behavior, a need to adhere to a consistent code to avoid anything, I guess, that would seem uncertain. The oil separating from the dressing in a bottle of Blue Cheese dressing used to mean I was done with that particular container; now, I just stir up the contents. It’s the same with cottage cheese, sour cream, anything that applies.
I used to stick to the suggested dates on food, concluding that the date indicated the time to dispose of something, as opposed to simply not being able to sell after a certain date. Logic tells me that the dates have to be conservative estimates, because no company would knowingly sell something that might prove hazardous. In the past, logic did not enter into it. I might even clearly have recognized that something was still good, but it still would taste “funny” to me, thereby negating all of the logic in the world.
The next item on the paradigm shift list is what I call “spotlight on Markus,” the feeling I always had that everyone was watching me as I came into the arena, be it a restaurant, a meeting or any other public venue. Arriving at the picnic in Sebasketball after the initial crowd, was always hard. Showing up at a party, after it had begun, was the same. This feeling would create an uncomfortable need to vanish, to disappear, to find a spot and land, regardless of the shortsighted nature of my selection.
When I went to the Giants ballgame with the summer school students the last year I taught, we sat in the nose-bleed section. I managed to get all of the kids into their respective seats, before freezing in the center aisle, paralyzed by the fear of looking down the precipitous steps we had just climbed. Combined with the notion that everyone in the stands was delightedly watching my predicament, so as to see the final plunge, I froze.
Afterwards, sitting in my seat, from which I never once moved, I watched others come and go, with the smallest amount of undue curiosity, thereby noting my own indifference to the comings and goings of others. It made no impact on me one way or another.
Most of the changes I have noted go from negative traits to positive. One change occurred that had me initiating something that had not been in place before. Beginning last March, when I was writing my narrative on my military experiences, I asked Annie to put the name of a friend of mine from the military, into the internet.
When it resulted in me reestablishing ties with him, I reached out again, and again made a connection. Subsequently, I have been reaching out and communicating with my brothers and sisters. I had never lost touch, seeing them sporadically at Christmas or other occasions; I just had not corresponded with any of them through letters or emails, except for JT. She and I had been emailing back and forth a few years ago, but that had stopped when I retired from teaching, because we did not have the internet at home.
I have been trying to reconnect with old high school buds too, and have hooked up with my best friend of long ago, but am still trying with the rest. I don’t know if that would have naturally occurred without the therapy, but I suspect not. Something got unlocked in my brain through the therapy, allowing me to not only initiate the correspondence, but to maintain it.
That seems to be a key element in the process: something got unlocked in the therapeutic journey, thereby allowing me to re-program many areas of behavior. As repetition is the key to establishing any change over time, I am pleased to notice that, though bad mental habits die slowly, they do die. They can then be replaced by good mental habits, ones which allow me to proceed in a more relaxed state of mind, while also allowing those around me to also proceed in a similarly comfortable manner.