It was the last day of our mutual “kids are at camp” vacation. We do this every year. The two boys are away for a number of weeks at summer camp and we book a week off ourselves to pretend we are in our early twenties, childless and have mysterious money that appears in the bank account. It was near bedtime and as my wife Karen pondered going back downstairs to watch a little television with me, I lay down across the bed, my head on her shins and my arms over my head. We chatted and I started to feel dozy, perhaps TV was not the answer, perhaps we should just get some sleep. I lay my arms down to my sides, letting them fall with an exhausted thud. A sharp pain, a stinging pain then radiated up and down my arm from its source, the back of my upper arm, halfway between shoulder and elbow. I knew instantly that I had been stung.
Karen sat up as I rolled rapidly to my right, clutching my arm. “What happened?” she asked.
“They can’t kill you. It’s no worse than a bee sting.” I reassured myself as I identified the attacker and its location…
Hours earlier I had been staring at a photo of a desert vista. A view from beneath a stone archway. It was mesmerizing. I was supposed to be doing something Very Important on the computer, but instead, I was gazing at the picture before me. Thoughts and questions filled my head.
“If I was going to take a break from hiking, where would I sit?”
“I know, right there, on the right, just past the arch. My back against the wall.”
“There is a thin crack there. I wonder how many critters live in that crack.”
“Lots. Probably spiders, millipedes, scorpions.”
“I wonder since they come out at night, if I sat there, would they come out into the shade beneath or behind me?”
“If I say there long enough, how many of those things would use me as shade like a rock or a tree stump?”
“I wonder how many scorpions there are in that valley.”
“Probably hundreds of thousands.”
“If you took all the scorpions in that valley and made a ball out of them, how big would that ball be?”
“That would be a very frightening ball.”
I shuddered at the thought and the previously mesmerizing photo of a beautiful desert scene became a horrifying photo where a ball of scorpions the size of a Dodge Ram were hiding everywhere, just waiting for me to sit down and take a break so they could sting me.
That folks is how anxiety works.
I looked at the ceiling as the pain subsided. “Nothing” I responded as I calmed myself.
“What did you think happened?” she queried, calmly.
“I thought I was stung”
“By what?” I could tell she was holding back laughter
“Sean, what did you think stung you?”
“And what was it really?”
I took a moment and breathed. Embarrassed slightly, angry at myself for my as usual overreacting.
“A toothpaste tube.”
She paused. “So you panicked for nothing, right?”
“Yes” I responded quietly.
Karen reached across and grasped the tube. It was mostly empty and the back end rolled up, the corner of the end of the hard plastic tube pointed upright like a little bathroom caltrop, waiting for my arm to lay upon it.
In a normal household this is where it would have ended, or perhaps with some speech from her about my lack of judgment and unreasonable panic. Instead she did her best to reconfigure the tube to better resemble a scorpions general shape and proceeded to sting me all over with it as I writhed around trying to escape.
This is how she has been trying of late to “cure” me of anxiety. Making me face things that set me off in a loud and vigorous way. She is “vaccinating” me against panic she claims. It does not work.
When she finished, my mind wandered back to the desert. Upon reflection, I would not sit with my back to the wall. I would sit on the rock in the middle.
It afforded a much better view.
Also, I think it would be easier to deal with a large scorpion of the same mass as a ball of scorpions the size of a Dodge Ram Truck.
At least you would see it coming.