I have discovered I have a tell, when I’m stressed or anxious: I become especially irritable and impatient with people. Not individual people, exactly, more like “the masses.”
I’ve written about this before—and it’s time for a reminder. Because I’m at it again. Specifically, in two places: on the road and on the sidewalk.
Getting exasperated at minor infractions: people not “doing it right” at four-way stops, being so close to the white line that I can’t sneak by between lanes on my scooter (legally!) at a stop light, someone not moving a little faster or a little slower so I can get around. Basically, anything that proves that I’m not alone on the road and therefore can’t just proceed at my own, self-directed pace.
And when I’m on my own two feet, anytime I have to dodge around someone walking on the wrong side of a sidewalk, groups taking up the entire path and not making room, dog leashes threatening to clothesline me.
These are all every day, I-live-in-a-city kind of occurrences. And you might say, it’s normal to be irritated and everyone does it. And you would be right, of course.
The thing is, well, there are two things.
One: I hate feeling irritated or angry. Hate. It. I spent most of my life solidly swallowing any “bad” feelings in order to avoid them, so it’s uncomfortable and creates adrenaline I don’t know what to do with and I hate it. This is obviously a much deeper issue that my new therapist (yay!) discovered on day two—maybe not so deep, after all.
Two, and this is where I’ll spend a moment today: I don’t think I really let go of the interaction. I don’t just go “come ON” and then go on my way. I will engineer, in my mind, after the fact, how everyone should have behaved in order to avoid the annoyance. If that car would only have gone a little faster, or taken their proper turn, or pulled up just a little more, then my preferred reality would have been possible and come on, people, it’s just logical. So, ironically, in the process of wanting to avoid the feeling, I instead hang onto it and try to solve it away, like a puzzle.
We’re all the protagonists of our own stories, but I can see how insane those words are: basically, everyone out of my way, what you’re doing doesn’t make sense for my reality, what are you doing?
But, it (hopefully) makes sense in their reality.
So, again, we’re at the place I wrote about before: in the tempo of our daily lives, we can’t create backstories about everyone who irritates us. Maybe it’s possible only in heavy traffic and supermarket lines, when we have nothing but time to wonder how the hell everyone got there.
Yesterday, on my commute, which was especially congested because it was the first day of school and the roads were full of people trying to figure out their new routine after summer break, it struck me just how quickly these irritating interactions happen. How long does it take a thought to flit through our minds? Practically no time at all.
So, I started counting, how long would it take for me to observe something and wait long enough for the annoyance to pass?
(Or, perhaps you prefer one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi.)
In fact, I didn’t even get to the second one-thousand.
One second, or less, is all I usually needed, for whatever irritant to neutralize.
One second isn’t enough time to tell myself, “They must be late in a hurry and didn’t have breakfast and the kids are yelling in the back of the car and they’re nervous about a presentation they have to give for their horrible boss later.” But it’s enough time for me to forget that the minivan went through the four-way stop when it was my turn. It’s certainly enough time for me to observe something and maybe even sneak in a “come ON,” but it’s not enough time for me to make a judgment, to create a story about how it “should have” gone.
So, it’s not a second to forgive or to cover up feeling irritated. But it’s a second to forget and let the feeling go instead of holding onto it.
I think that’s worth a second, don’t you?