Although I’ve received consistently high marks in both the classroom and the workplace for my ability to offer a calming influence in stressful situations, I have trouble following my own example. Often, I’m quietly stewing internally over any number of things, habitually chewing on my lower lip and hauling around tension as heavy as my bookbag.
The same Sweet Briar friend who jumped up on her chair during the “bird sighting” at German Table constantly reminded me to stop sitting with my shoulders raised almost up to my ears. Now, on bike rides, Nails often calls to me to lower my shoulders. My “Little Green Ball” is always on hand for helping to work out the kinks in that muscle group.
Stressful situations seem to seek me out, so over the years, I’ve developed shorthand sayings to make them more humorous. When my grandfather Jim (of California trip fame) was a resident of Saint Rita’s Home for the Aged, my mother and I had a welcome laugh when we saw one of the aides sporting an “I’m Having a Maalox Moment!” t-shirt. When I watch one of my favorite movies, “Revenge of the Nerds,” I keep an eye out for Booger’s “High on Stress” t-shirt. And I frequently remind myself of another of my grandmother’s wise sayings: “This too shall pass.”
Vasovagal fainting episodes have proven to be another signature way of how I can respond to unsettling situations or stuffy environmental conditions. First, it happened right in the middle of Mass. It’s also occurred in a store, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, and most recently, on a walk where a neighbor vividly recounted her frightening experience with cancer. But my most memorable vasovagal episode was during a visit to the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. Overcome in a dusty, warm and crowded room on a behind-the-scenes tour, my claustrophobia took hold and I keeled over on my mother. After I came to, I was deposited in a wheelchair, exiting the mansion in great mortification, past what seemed like thousands of curious fellow tourists. My episode reached a dramatic, embarrassing and most unladylike conclusion, right in the midst of a proper Southern luncheon in the gardens of the estate.
Now, I have a family member who can relate to my vasovagal faints. Last Friday, my aunt suffered a similar fate, which ended up in her breaking a wrist. After visiting her on Sunday, I made a serious “Note to Self” that I needed to take good care during these heart-palpitating, sweaty-palmed, hot-faced days of mine lately that hopefully will be history in a month’s time. No fainting allowed!
During my childhood in the 1970s, I tuned in to WOSU after school to watch “Lilias! Yoga and You,” a television series hosted by Lilias Folan. I was entranced not only by her calm demeanor, but also by her long, thick braid. At my mother’s suggestion, I decided to try following Lilias’ good example once more. I dragged my stressed-out, sore self over to the Grant Health and Fitness Center today to take Howard’s yoga class during my lunch hour. When I got up from the mat, I was amazed by how much better I felt.
I also think I’ll try resurrecting one of my early exercise regimens: the “Chicken Fat” physical fitness program for schoolchildren. With the “Chicken Fat” record playing in the background of our dining room, I touched my toes, twisted my trunk, made circles with my arms, executed some jumping jacks, ran in place slow like the tortoise and fast like the hare, and attempted to do some pushups, much to the amusement of my mother. Before today, I had no idea that “Chicken Fat” was commissioned by President Kennedy for the President’s Council on Physical Fitness in the 1960s. Did you know that it was written by Meredith Willson, composer of “The Music Man,” and sung by Robert Preston? In the days to come, I’ll be working hard to keep cool, not faint, and do just like the song says, “Don’t be chicken again!”