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Ladies and Gentlemen of Ricochet, your ordinarily affable morning-in-Paris editor just had a complete meltdown.
Before anyone gets concerned, let me assure you: nothing is wrong. Nothing. No one was shooting at me. No large animal was trying to eat me. There was no fire or famine at the door. I’m in a warm, quiet apartment in the heart of a developed city. There is nothing wrong (beyond my usual concerns about the state of the world).
Except that I tried to update my OS and it didn’t go so well. In fact, it seems to have killed my ancient but usually affable Mac. So I’m typing this on my backup computer, which is very slow and too old to run all the programs I usually use. I can’t get on Slack to chat with the other editors, although I’ve alerted them by e-mail to my temporary incapacity. I’m worried that whatever I’ve done wrong will be expensive to fix.
That’s all that’s wrong. And all of that is is — objectively — what normal people think of as a nuisance, not an emergency, right?
Even as the screen went black and the computer died, I knew, rationally, that this was not a real emergency. I knew that even in a worst-case scenario — even if I’d really, permanently killed my computer (and I probably hadn’t) — everything was backed up. I knew the other editors’ lives did not, in fact, depend on my being on Slack. I even knew they were probably safely abed and completely unworried about me. I knew I could make this right by walking ten blocks to the Apple Store and spending money. Heck, I’ve been needing a new computer for a long time, it might even be fun to get a new one. So nothing about this is a big deal: It can all be fixed. Would that all the world’s problems could be fixed so easily, right?
There was really no good reason at all for my amygdala to send that kind of distress signal to my hypothalamus this morning. But it did. And off to the races it went, telling my adrenal glands to dump epinephrine into my blood and start pushing it to my muscles and heart. Pulse and blood pressure flew up. (Or so I assume, based on what I’ve read about the stress cascade; I wasn’t actually monitoring any of this. Subjectively, though, I pretty much felt the way I assume one would right before being devoured by a shark.)
I’ve calmed down now.
But it took about three hours to talk myself off that ledge, and I’m annoyed with myself. That whole unpleasant this-is-an-emergency internal drill was entirely unnecessary. It didn’t fix the problem and it made me unpleasant to be around. (There’s no one else in my apartment, but I’m capable of being just as annoyed with myself as I would be with anyone else who was pointlessly freaking out over nothing.) And it’s really uncool. I hate being uncool.
I don’t tend to freak out like this, by the way, in real emergencies. When those happen, I get cold and functional until whatever it is has been dealt with, after which I get depressed. If this had been a real emergency, I’d have probably coped just fine; then I’d have filed three impeccably-proofread columns about how I narrowly avoided being devoured by a landshark, submitted the invoices, and collapsed into exhaustion and depression for weeks. But computer emergencies — and other small stresses like misplaced keys and unpaid bills — make me freak out in a way real problems don’t.
Why? Is the problem that I conduct so much of my life online that somehow my brain has really confused my ability to connect at high-speed to the Internet with my ability to breathe? Is the problem some other, deeper, existential anxiety that gets displaced into something trivial because I can’t confront the real problem?
Insight, anyone? Are any of you the same way? If so, have you been able to change it?
I’ve often suspected that the naturally calm people who instinctively say things like, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” are just biologically different, and that it isn’t realistic for me to expect my personality to change all that much.
But perhaps someone here has become better at dealing with life’s smaller stresses.
If so, do you have any advice for me?
(PS: Think twice before installing El Capitan. Just sayin.’)