Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Split Screen

As things have ramped up with my dog training business I've learned a lot about my own anxiety. I knew that I'd be afraid of failing, afraid of not making enough money, afraid of embarrassing myself, afraid of doing the job poorly. I didn't realize how my anxiety would help me.

In college when we ran up against an obstacle in creating a performance piece my mentor would tell us, "Make the problem your solution." It sounds like double speak until you break it down. A few months ago I heard Henry Winkler interviewed and he talked about getting the part of The Fonz. Going into it he really didn't want to have a hair combing habit as part of his character. The creative team really needed him to be overly concerned with his hair and they provided a comb and the motivation most often used on starving, eager actors - a job. Problem. So the first time it came up in the script he got out his comb approached the mirror and, "Aaayyyyyy." The Fonz was too perfect for his hair to ever be out of place. BAM! Solution.

I have known for decades, maybe all my life, that my anxiety gives me split screen brain. (If I were more tech savvy this is the point at which I'd cleverly split my post into two columns to be read simultaneously.). One screen is always showing what I'm concentrating on - reading a book, watching a show, typing these words, listening to a conversation, etc. - and the other screen is playing The All Anxiety Variety Hour(s) [TAAVH] - everything that could possibly go wrong, has ever gone wrong, is going wrong right this very minute. With a choice like that the 2nd screen is always going to get more viewership. It's like a Breaking News Update in your head all the time. It pre-empts all other programming.

When I was 8 or 10 I began to understand how the split screen worked. I loved to read - still do! - and TAAVH was keeping me from doing it. I could read paragraphs, pages, chapters and not absorb any of the content and I could experience it as it happened. TAAVH had small segments on how I was clearly, beautifully reading the words in front of me and none of them were sinking in and what did that make me? I got really sick of those segments.

I don't know how I developed the coping mechanism but I started to "count out" the pages of the book. While I read I would slowly leaf through each page of the book with my hands, starting at the beginning with my left hand until I got to where I was reading then switching to my right hand to finish out the volume. If that didn't work on its own then I would add rules. I had to leaf through the whole book before it was time to turn the page or else I would have to start over. Alternatively I would moderate my leafing so that I did not finish my leaf-through until I got to the end of a page or chapter or something. There were other rules, I'm sure, but fortunately I don't remember them because I don't need them much any more. (Also, it's a bitch to implement this on an e-reader.)

This opened up a whole new way of handling my life. Long walk giving me too much time to think? Make up stories. I still tell myself stories. If I'm especially amped I'll tell myself stories while listening to a podcast or music. There are a lot of karaoke machines in my stories. Having trouble buckling down to a writing assignment? Turn on the TV, find a show that you know well enough to follow with one ear, and voila! Your masterpiece is churned out easily. Some people call it drowning out the voices in their head. For me it's more like distracting a toddler. "Give you the cleaver? I don't know. Wouldn't you prefer this shiny ball of tinfoil to bat around the room?"

Long story short, I'm good at multi-tasking is what I'm saying. In fact for many things I'm better when I'm multi-tasking. "How did you remember that?" a colleague will ask. I shrug and smile but I remember that because holding on to that piece of information was a great task for TAAVH so that I could get everything else done. Noticing the kid having a questionable interaction with a dog at the side of class is possible for me because I'm nervous about teaching class so TAAVH is monitoring the room for threats as I teach the lesson. From the outside it looks like I'm helping a child tie an apron while I outline how to ask a dog for a behavior while I'm occupying a dog who likes to bark. From the inside it just feels like all cylinders are finally firing properly. To some extent it feels like I can finally relax.

That "monitoring for threats" thing is, surprisingly, a huge help. In a dog I'd call them hyper vigilant, heck in a person I'd probably call them that, but in me I call it normal. I have a pretty good memory. I would have called it OK, frankly, until I met the folks I work with now. Now it seems what I do is different than most people. Something about that monitoring for threats records pictures in my mind so I can usually see what was happening or a picture of something associated with the dog/person/lesson/material/etc. that needs remembering and connect the dots pretty easily. Remembering things is good exercise for TAAVH.

I now picture everyone reading this thinking, "Good Christ woman, we have a lot of wonderful medications out there for this. Look into it, for fuck's sake!"

You're not wrong. I know you aren't. I am absolutely not ruling medication out. I'm not quite ready yet, though. On the serious side, I don't want to start medication too early and build up a tolerance when I need it most. More lightly, if I start to medicate who's going to remember that it was the small white dog with a name that ended in I and people who were interested in learning grooming techniques that had the esophageal damage before they came to class. Who? I ask!

For now, it'll be me. Remembering that will be my medication. Down the line....who knows?