I was lying in bed the other morning, not sleeping but also not eager to face the day, when I heard thumps coming from the other room. After some internal debate, I decided it probably wasn’t zombies and got up. I expected to find my cat doing something she ought not to be doing, knocking over plants, perhaps. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a small bird – a Toey – bashing itself on the window in a frantic attempt to escape.
Poor, desperate, little thing.
How to help though? My efforts to approach and rescue the birdie made things worse. It banged into the window even more desperately, ironically close to the door through which it had come. Unfortunately, its actions were driven by panic and it was succeeding in achieving nothing more than a headache.
I wanted it to and recognize I wasn’t a threat. I wanted it to know I was trying to help. It didn’t understand any of that. Apparently, I’m not a bird whisperer.
I crawled over to the French doors, trying to stay out of its field of vision. I flung them wide open and after backing away, made enthusiastic shooing motions while offering verbal encouragement.
“You can do it. A little to the left. The outdoors is right there. Be calm. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Instead of embracing freedom, it flew further into the kitchen, lighting on top of the stove for a while before finally heading in the correct direction and escaping into the sky. I slammed the door behind it and spent the next half hour printing images of eagles to stick on the doors, to stop other curious birds before they tried to enter.
It occurred to me as I was taping that I act in much the same way when I’m in a panic. Instead of pausing, taking a breath, and evaluating the world and moment I’m inhabiting, I panic. I fling myself into action without pausing to consider whether my behaviour will be beneficial or if I’m harming myself with impulsive action.
So many situations would be improved if we would just stop and take a breath before rushing in.
It always seems to me that there isn’t time. I have to change my course, make a decision, or answer a question right now. Instantly.
This is, of course, ridiculous and wholly internally generated. No one outside of my brain is forcing me into quick and poorly thought out responses. No one would mind – assuming anyone was present – if I held up a hand and said “wait.”
I’ve tried bashing myself against the windows before. You do it over and over, hoping that this time it’ll work out well. It never does. You need to change what you’re doing. Aim for the door and not the window.
But you can’t. You can’t notice the door if you don’t let yourself pause, don’t let yourself be while you calm and take in all the information. Process all the thoughts.
It’s why they – the informed powers that be – tell you over and over to take a breath. Stop for those few seconds it takes for the inhale and the exhale. It gives your brain a chance to reboot. To catch up to the body which is in flight mode and ready to do whatever it takes to escape the uncomfortable feelings flight mode generates.
I make bad decisions when I panic. They are as useful and effective as a bird crashing itself into a window. I’m working hard now, however, to pause. To take a moment. Just a second. My instincts don’t want me to. The push me on, forward, faster. But the decisions I make and the actions I take when I’m like that are bad ones and I’m tired of them.
Fatigue is one of my main motivators, as it happens. I’m tired of the way I’ve lived much of my life. Change and adapt or quit complaining. Since I want to be able to complain about things – I can be a bit of a whiner – I’m trying to go with the first one.
And the results are interesting.
When I take a moment, take a breath, and give myself space to think, I often readjust my course. Not always – the behaviour is new and I’m not Gandhi. Sometimes, I go ahead with the negative action. But, I do it consciously and that’s an important change. I no longer proceed in a kind of fugue state.
Often though, the pause is enough to kick start my brain and get it back online, so that I can do the cognitive work. I can talk myself down from panic. I can make better choices for the now and the long-term.
I can fly through the open door.