Raisins, a blow-hole, and how I learned not to drive angry.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Raisins, a blow-hole, and how I learned not to drive angry.

Dr. Grad Student, if you are reading this, please understand that not only am I taking the study seriously, I am enjoying it, and look forward to learning from the techniques you are teaching me. The following story, however is too good not to re-tell.

A month or so ago, I got an email that a grad student was conducting a psychological project/study on "angry driving". Now, I'm not normally an angry person, or at least I don't think I am. However, as a 25 plus year Long Island commuter, who travels about 80 miles a day round trip on some of the most harrowing, grueling collection of roads in America, I do tend to get angry from time to time. You can read that to say, all the time. I clicked on the link in the email, and took a 10 or 15 question survey, submitted it, and forgot about it.

Until I got an email, that I almost deleted as spam, from the grad student, inviting me to participate in this study. Apparently, my anger levels matched her critical mass limits, and I was a good candidate.
This, honestly, sounded like it could be nothing but fun. Count me in!

I meet student-soon-to-to-be therapist, and she goes over what I'll have to do, and what the "treatment" will be during the study. I had no idea there was a "treatment", but again, it sounded like it would be more fun than I could pass up. For two weeks, I would have to take a clicker in the car with me, and whenever I got angry, click the button. At the end of my trip, I was to count the times I was angry, record it in a log, and write my most memorable "anger invoking" moment. Only one? I dutifully do this, fill out my questionnaires and surveys, and send them off, but not without email prompting from D
r. Grad Student. I am a master procrastinator, but I do eventually get around to getting it done. In addition to being a procrastinator, I am a rule follower. And an impish little bastard.

So tonight, I meet with Dr. Grad Student, and we begin our first session. She explains that we will learn to focus on things that we normally do without thinking, such as eating. So in the first exercise she hands me a box of
raisins and instructs me to take some. I happen to love raisins. I actually adore raisins, and have been known in my younger days to eat so many that I got sick. This is a key plot point to the story, so do try to keep up. Me plus 5PM plus delicious raisins in hand does not equal a situation where I can focus on anything other than the tasty raisins.

The doc tells me to take a raisin and carefully inspect it, taking note of its shape, size, texture; really look at it, as if it’s the first time I've seen a raisin. I consider this raisin to be my "subject". Of course I'm doing this, but I have all these
raisins in my other, unoccupied hand. Have I mentioned I'm easily distracted and I love raisins? So I start popping them in my mouth and chewing while I'm focusing on my little, lonely, uneaten raisin. After I've eaten a few, the doctor says I'm to take my raisin, and then smell it, focusing on the scents and trying to see if I smell something I haven't before. This is no longer possible, because I'm eating raisins, and the lovely aroma has already back-filled my nasal cavity. I do, however take several sniffs of the subject raisin, but frankly, all I can smell are the raisins now sticking to my molars. I did try, you have to give me that.

Now the doc says to taste the raisin. Uh oh. I'm already there, and I'm not sure, but she has to have seen me eating my other raisins, right? I mean, she's just a few feet away from me. Or dare I hope that she is so focused on
her raisin that she hasn't seen my not so surreptitious raisin eating? At this point, I'm trying to clean the raisin residue off my teeth with my tongue so I can taste my lonely subject raisin anew. I view it as re-kindling a seasoned love affair; with the proper care and attention, that old flame comes back. In this case, it really didn't work, but that damn last raisin was just asking for it, and the doc was telling me to eat it. So I did, focusing on the nuances of the flavor as though I was a raisin connoisseur critiquing this year's yield. I escape the raisin exercise unscathed, no worse for the wear, but I think I've learned a little bit about focusing.

Our next exercise involves a body scan, which is like a mental journey of your body's sensations. I lay down on a mat, yes, like the ones you had when you had
during nap time in kindergarten. This instantly transports me back to Mrs. Dingman's kindergarten class, cookies and milk, and, well, nap time. Dr. Grad Student begins talking me through a focusing/relaxation routine, having me focus on various body parts: feet, toes, legs, back, etc. and getting in touch with how they feel. It’s really pretty relaxing, and I have no idea how she stays awake during this session, but she does. So do I.

The problem starts when she gets to me focusing on my head. First I have an enormous, pumpkin like head, so just the image of me laying on the floor, with my pumpkin head wobbling around like a Halloween jack-o-lantern is making me chuckle. An inside chuckle, not an outside chuckle. I'm not that rude. At this point, I have to clarify that I find the word skull funny. I don't know why, but I do. As she is having me focus on my head, she mentions for me to "feel my skull, get in touch with the sensations in my skull".
I’m still chuckling on the inside, but the corner of my mouth, situated on my pumpkin head, turns up, ever so slightly.

The doctor is still talking, and now mentions that I should imagine that there is a blow-hole on the top of my head. I also find the word blow-hole funny in of itself. It's
absolutely hysterical in this situation. Dr. Grad Student goes on. "Imagine you have a blow-hole like a whale or a porpoise. Imagine that your blow-hole is about the size of a quarter." I have a really good imagination, and I'm just seeing a pumpkin headed whale eating raisins on the sneak. It’s all I can see. I can't get this damn image out of my mind, and still on the inside, I'm now laughing pretty hard. Mercifully, the exercise ends, and I can chase the blow-hole spoutin', pumpkin headed, raisin eating bastard of a whale out of my head.

This pretty much concludes my first session.
Equipped with these techniques and imagery, I now feel somewhat more prepared to have a less anger filled commute home. In fact, I do, because, I cannot stop chuckling about the raisins, the blow-hole, driving angry, and how once again, a simple thing has turned into an adventure for me. How do I get myself into these things?

Oh yeah, I volunteered. I knew this would be fun. I can't wait for next week.


© Steven R. Smith September 7, 2006


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