Sunday, July 22, 2007

Be Gone Ye Dragon!

It’s like a jump off a diving board into a cold, murky pool — when you don’t know how to swim.
That’s what it feels like on the days I walk one mile to work. What am I afraid of? That’s what I asked myself this morning.
I thought about all the good reasons to drive instead of walk: I would get there sooner, my right knee was hurting, and I’d just eaten breakfast and hate to walk on a full stomach.
I thought about all the good reasons to walk instead of drive: I had made a commitment to my health and exercise would strengthen my heart and lower my blood glucose levels, I wouldn’t be using my car and it would help the environment, and I had lost another 2 pounds. Boy, these reasons outweighed the others. What was I waiting for? If I collapsed at the side of the road surely someone would stop and help me. The same thing could happen while I was sitting in the car or at my desk.
I stepped out the front door into a beautiful summer day and stopped. I should take the car, I thought. Why? I went over the same concerns as before. No; walk, I decided. Quickly I took off before my anxieties gave way to the good things walking had to offer.
You can learn a lot more about your neighborhood when you walk through than when you zip past sealed up in a car I decided. At the end of the block, it sounded as if there were a party going on. It was a group of guys laughing and joking over coffee in the back yard, letting off steam before leaving for a construction job.
About a block away from home, on the street that runs parallel to ours, I heard a rooster crow. Then I heard it again. Chickens in the city! It’s amazing how some neighbors get along so well with each other. Evidently none of them found roosters annoying. Or if they had, they decided to live and let live.
When you walk alone, you also have time to contemplate your life. Twice a week I have one-half hour to think about people I love and people I could live without, trips I’d like to take and, of course, where I’ve been in my life and where I’m going.
The jump off the diving board, the jump out the front door – both are like the leap of faith that writing is: putting down your thoughts and hoping that you'll find it both a good exercise and rewarding. Of course it's the happiest thing when your writing gives someone else information they need or want.
In 2003 I went to Italy by myself – if you don't count the hundreds of other people in the airplane, all of them strangers – to meet a group of women in Umbria. I got there without dropping unconscious by the side of the road. During that trip I confessed to the group of women that I had anxiety attacks. One of them said, “Oh, doctors know how to deal with that now."
Is that right, I thought sarcastically to myself. I'd been having these attacks for about 40 years and no one had ever given me very much help.
She explained that breathing in through your nose to a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four and then exhaling through your mouth to a count of 10-12 would work for me. I should practice this breathing to be ready if an attack came. So, I did. There wasn't much to lose.
A couple of nights later I woke up around 2 a.m. and it started; that terrible anxiety.
The breathing I thought, over my panic. I began breathing and holding and exhaling and I'll be darned if the anxiety didn't stop. In that dark room in Umbria, I could literally see the dragon - that for so long had his claws wrapped in my hair - let go and fade away into the corner. I felt so powerful; so wonderful.
However he still lingers in my memory. He hasn't come back full force and I don't want to allow that to happen. The memory of the claws is why I play the mental game with myself - should I walk to work or drive. Yet I know that every time I walk I'm doing more than getting exercise.
I'm leaving that dragon a little further behind every time ... and good riddance.

1 comment:

John said...

Man Jeanne...that's one heck of a long story..! I can't wait for the movie.

Make sure you walk on the "sunny side of the street"!

"Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street"