A few years ago, during one of my infrequent check-ups, my doctor asked me if anything in my body had changed in ways that I wanted to talk about. I loved the qualifier: changed? Oh yes: lingering weight, forgetfulness, restless nights, dryness. Talk about?
Well, ur, this is awkward. But sometimes when I head to the bathroom at work — after putting it off, putting it off — I might not make it.
She chuckled, but in a kind way. I expected her to give me the type of sensible advice my mother would have offered, in a shoulder-shrugging, keep-moving kind of way: just go sooner.
But instead she said, “It’s just a spasm.”
I demurred. But she insisted: “It’s a spasm, activated by your whole body’s immense focus on the task at hand and your mind’s relief at seeing porcelain, any porcelain, at last.”
She continued, “and because it’s just a spasm, you can choose to ignore it. Don’t give in to it. Truly, it will pass with absolutely no sprinkles. Don’t give in to it.”
Very soon, I had occasion to test her advice (because, as always, I had ignored my mother’s tips about timing). And so, I pushed my chair away from my desk, walked through our office door and started walking — fast — toward the bathroom.
You will pass, I told it. Ha! It snorted.
And then I started to sing to it. Any show tune would do. “Oklahoma, where the wind comes….”
My spasm was listening, and before I knew it, all of us were happily doing what we wanted to do in the place we wanted to do it.
Since then, I’ve started sashaying to the bathroom. I slow my pace; I even swing my hips and glide a little as though on skates. Sometimes I sing to myself, sometimes I just dance. And it’s working. The spasm is so entertained — or astonished, I don’t know which — that it climbs back up to the cheap seats to watch the show.
Last night, I told a young friend about my insight. We wondered whether panic sometimes is a spasm too. Whether some types of panic can conquer us because we fight it, tense our throats against its choking grip, and do some of its work. I know we’re supposed to breathe, but I never could. We wondered if instead we could sing or even dance a little when our amygdala — that almond-shaped artifact of our reptilian brain — starts shrieking “fight! flight! freeze!”
Maybe panic sometimes is like wailing toddler who just needs a bit of distraction after sounding a needed alarm. Heed the alarm — think, go, do — but quiet the spasm too. Hum a melody, recite a bit of poem or prayer, wave your arms. Sashay just a few steps, figuratively or literally. I’ll try this soon, and we’ll see.
But meanwhile my office colleagues are growing used to my high heels click-clacking a bit lighter at certain times and to a bit of “Oklahoma” escaping my lips. I won’t stop and chat. But at least it’s me in that hallway, not a spasm. A spasm that would much prefer to eat its popcorn, toot its circus horn, and play with its balloon somewhere else.
Has something like this ever happened to you? When can dancing ever be easier than breathing?