I do not handle stress well. Never really have. It’s a terrible trait that, ironically, I’m better at handling a situation if the stakes are really high, like an accident/life or death, than I am with basic, everyday stresses where I become a basket case of epic proportions. The other day we were driving in Shatzy (our car) to your friend’s birthday party – which like all other parties at cool and expensive destination locations, was ridiculously far away – and I was using the navigation system in the car. When the coolly polite voice informed us we’d arrived at our destination, you were the first to say what we were both thinking…that we definitely had not. That this, wherever the hell this was – random residential street with no desirable kids play factory anywhere in sight – was clearly not our journey’s end. Our technology had lead us astray. I checked the system and, for some unbeknownst reason, the address was totally wrong. Now, I hadn’t put it in wrong, but somewhere between my dashboard and my drive shaft the computer had decided to change De Soto Avenue to the unknown Arcola Avenue on which we were now sitting. I tried retyping in the address but without a zip code the system wouldn’t let me proceed, and every time I typed in the street number, the street name would disappear. I did this 5 times before I flipped out and decided to put the address into my phone instead. My iPhone however was hell bent on giving me directions to a place in De Soto, Arkansas that would take me 1 day, 2 hours or 1 day, 4 hours depending on the route I chose. I went back to the nav system and tried to use voice control, but De Soto apparently sounds like everything and anything other than De Soto. I tried spelling it letter by letter, but by now I was basically screaming at my steering wheel.
Me: D-E-space S-O-T…
Car: You are clearly having trouble. Here is a list of possible commands to give you a idea of what to say…
Me: Navigation. Street Address. 2333 De Soto Avenue, Woodland Hills…
Car: (showing 3 possible address all starting with the word La) Pick a line or say None of these.
Me: None of these!!!
Car: Spell the name of the street. You can say things like 1234 Smith Avenue…
Me. 2-3-3-3 D-E-S-O-T-O
Car: (showing 3 lines that, aside from starting with D, have nothing whatsoever in common with De Soto) Pick a line or say none of these.
Me: F*^# you you f*^#ing stupid piece of s#^*….none of those, none of those, none of those.
Car: (not even slightly ruffled by my torrid of profanity) You can say a command by looking at the screen for options.
Me: Cancel! (hitting the steering wheel) @#$%^&**&^%! Stupid, @#$^&*’…..
Little sob from the back seat.
Me: (Immediately getting a hold of myself and feeling like the worst parent on earth) Oh Lochie, I’m sorry. It’s not you. I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m behaving so badly.
You: (Sniffy little voice) I want to go to the party.
Me: I know baby. Me too. But this stupid system won’t listen to me.
You: (sticking up for the car whom you often have conversations with where I do the car’s voice) It’s not stupid, It’s part of Shatzy.
Now if I’m not the worst person ever at this moment, I sure feel like it. Turns out we were 4 blocks away. 4 blocks! And I had a fit. A true temper tantrum that you had to witness. Before we ended up driving (I finally got directions off my phone) I turned around and told you again how sorry I was. I let you know I handled the situation extremely poorly and admitted my way of dealing with stress was awful and that you should look to your Daddy on how to handle this kind of situation (ones that don’t go your way) and not to me.
Your Dad is like Zen Master calm and I’m like just add water anxiety.
Still I feel awful. I wish I wasn’t that way. I recognize how foolish it is and how I could be making a better choice and yet I find it almost impossible to stop myself. I hate that you witness it and I hate more that you might someday emulate it.
Your Granddad is an epic stresser. The daily loss of his keys is a crisis of Herculean proportions. The swallowing of a bug leads people to believe he’s having a heart attack. But like myself, my Dad handles vast amounts of stress quite well. It’s the little things that get to him. Perhaps it’s like that expression when you’re married and fighting and people say “its not about the dishes”. It basically means the fight you’re having may have started over something small (like the dishes) but it’s the underlying feelings that are feeding the argument. People like Granddad and myself may be handling our major crises silently but our internal stress levels are so elevated that if one insignificant thing goes awry we just lose it. It’s the proverbial straw. Perhaps if we both looked into handling our major stresses more appropriately we wouldn’t be so exercised sweating the small stuff. I’ve witnessed my Dad’s mini meltdowns and it’s simultaneously not pretty and like looking in a mirror.
This spring your Dad and I went to a parenting conference where one of the lectures I attended was “Nurturing your Child’s Brilliance” and the speaker said something that really affected me. His theory was that we work within two vastly different states of intelligence. A conscious intelligence which he referred to as our “brilliance” where we think freely and see problems laid out clearly, and a responsive pattern of reactions that we downshift to in periods of tension or stress that cloud or active brain forcing us to fall back on old habits. The speaker believed that in periods of stress our brilliance and problem solving skills were overtaken by these repetitive patterns that made it impossible for us to access our natural intelligence. He claimed that most adults live primarily in that repetitive response zone, repeating patterned behaviors, unable to get back to our higher levels of cognizant behavior.
Children on the other hand, work almost solely using their natural brilliance because in times of stress or anxiety they use a tool that we, as adults, are socialized not to use, which is our emotions. When a child is stressed they show it. They cry, they scream, they have tantrums, and in that release they are able to clear their minds and upshift back to their conscious, intelligent, natural brilliance. As we age we’re taught to see that kind of behavior as inappropriate. We curb and stifle it so as to better fit in to society’s expectations. According to this speaker we are ultimately teaching ourselves to turn off the one thing that could free us up. His theory was that if, in times of stress, it was socially acceptable to show our emotions, we would be able to get out of our heads, move away from our fallback behaviors, and re-access our highest cerebral functions. I thought the whole thing made a lot of sense and it also made me feel a bit better about my personal freak outs. I’d hazzard to say it’s a version of this theory at work in traditional talk therapy. When people are allowed a safe environment in which to express their emotions they unburden and unblock themselves often making it possible for them to access their intelligent mind and solve their own problems. It’s probably why therapists are so quiet. Allowing people their feelings creates space for the clarity that allows them to answer their own questions.
The doctor used the example of a real moment of grief in an adult’s life (such as the death of a parent) where society loosens their rules on public displays of emotion. After openly grieving and crying for days people have been known to say that they feel better than they have in a years. The release of emotions actually cleared their brains. I think people often do this kind of emotional purge with TV, movies and sometimes commercials. The medium itself is a catalyst to express our feelings in an appropriate environment. It’s a sad movie so we cry. Only part of that is for the movie. The rest might be for something else but the emotions appear in context so it seems less messy.
I’m messy a lot. People can almost always tell how I’m feeling as I’ve never been particularly gifted, or inclined, at hiding how I feel. I’ve been known to freak out my stiff upper lip WASP parents and peers with my gregarious displays of emotion, and it’s been everything from embarrassing (crying when you don’t want to) to unnecessary (the situation with my Nav system) but for the most part I think it’s for the best. I don’t carry a lot of emotional baggage and I’m not weighed down by hidden feelings. I feel what I feel when I feel it, and then it’s over.
Ultimately there’s no weakness in feeling what you feel, and in many ways there’s a strong argument for expressing it. Though my open displays have yet to unlock my inner Hawking, I am happier not being all bottled up. What I can learn is how to better handle the small stresses so I don’t give them power they don’t deserve. If you can stay calm at all times like Daddy, then all the power to you. If you find your self hot like me, just know that there are times and places to better express yourself so you can pop off and still fit in socially.
At the very least you can watch Hallmark Christmas commercials or join a football team or something.