Yesterday I drove on the freeway to give my final exam, passing the rotting hulks of cars abandoned beside the road —
Possibly they were not rotting hulks, but there were three cars abandoned by the side of the road. There were also those little wisps of snow blowing around — does it do that where you live? Wraithlike bits of snow being blown across the road? That and people driving unusually fast because they’d heard that there was an enormous ice storm coming —
Possibly that also wasn’t true. However, I suffer from a slight and fairly well controlled case of agoraphobia. In order to understand this, it helps to use the terminology #2 son learned in AP Psych class: the dumb-dumb brain, the dumb-smart brain, and the smart-smart brain. You may normally use words like “hippocampus” or “hindbrain,” but go with me here, okay?
The dumb-dumb brain, in a phobic reaction, decides that there is horrible danger. Mine gets this idea when there are things like vague rumors that it might snow, or a lack of vertical elements in sight, or a curving overpass. The dumb-dumb brain begins shrieking about danger, like that robot in the old TV show which waved its arms and lumbered around croaking, “Danger! Danger!” Blood rushes to the muscles most needed for running away from saber-toothed cats or fighting off aggressive mastodons or whatever, adrenaline rushes around causing rapid heart beat and nausea — all that stuff.
Once the body is properly prepared for the old fight-or-flight, the dumb-smart brain begins looking around for the source of the danger, in order to know which direction to run in.
Of course, there is no danger. The dumb-dumb brain is perceiving danger where the dumb-smart brain and the smart-smart brain know there isn’t any.
Agoraphobia is characterized by the smart-smart brain’s jumping in and making stuff up. Or maybe it’s the dumb-smart brain that does this. Here’s how the discussion among the parts of the brain probably goes:
“Danger! Danger! Flee!”
“Huh? What? Where?”
“What’s going on over there? What’s with the nausea and icy hands and stuff?”
“Dunno. There’s obviously some horrible danger, but I can’t tell what it is.”
“Flee! Flee! Danger!”
“Well, we can’t just stand around doing nothing. There’s clearly some horrible danger.”
“Hmmm…. maybe all the other people are driving really fast because they’ve just heard on their radios that a dreadful ice storm is fast approaching and they want to get off the freeway before it hits.”
“Yeah, or maybe the wheels are falling off the car. Look, there’s another abandoned vehicle. Maybe it would be best to just stop right here.”
“Fleeee! Danger! Flee!”
You are welcome to use this scene in your next Mental Health Pageant.
Since I have Overcome Agoraphobia, I have my smart-smart brain announce to the others that there is no danger.
“Get a grip!” it says. “I understand that you’re scared, but we’ve already established that your being scared is meaningless.”
“Dumb-smart brain, your job is to continue driving. Ignore the dumb-dumb brain entirely.”
“Hmmm… but what if this time, unlike all other times, it’s true that there is a terrible danger…”
“Drive. Do not slow down to 40 on the freeway. Stop thinking. I’ll do that part. Just keep the foot on the gas pedal.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. We heard that.”
Of course, this is just a rough approximation. I think all communication among parts of the body is done with electrical impulses and chemicals and stuff, but that wouldn’t make very good dialogue.
Anyway, I got to the college, and stopped shaking and holding on to the railings by the time I reached the office where I signed my contract for the spring, and then I went on to the classroom to give the final. I got online once the students had begun, and did some work. I was checking a clients’ search results —
Now, I should explain that this is the classroom computer. There is a projector hooked up to it, and normally when I use it, I bring stuff up on the screen and project it on the wall for the class. We’ve used it to do group editing of papers in Word, and also to see ways of using search. In this case, the projector was not on.
This is good, because I was there at Google.com, and one of the top search results was Amazon.com. My client is #1, of course, but then comes Amazon. My client suspects that people choose to buy her books at Amazon because they’re cheaper there, so I clicked on Amazon.com’s link to check the price and see.
Immediately, a video popped up. In the moments before I closed it, I saw that it was a porn video featuring a Sarah Palin impersonator.
“Impersonator” may be the wrong word. An actress dressed up as Sarah Palin? “Actress” may be the wrong word.
Anyway, I was struck by the oddness of pornography featuring a political candidate, and the cleverness of rigging the computer up to redirect in that way. I was also really grateful that the projector wasn’t on.
After the exam, I dashed off to a meeting. I endured the drive on the freeway, got back onto the surface roads, and was about to make my meeting exactly on time when I ran into a fire. I had to call and explain that there was a fire, I was having to go around it, sorry. Since I was on the only reasonable road, I and also everyone else had to go around through tiny little alleyways, and there was much creative driving going on as we all sought alternate routes. This, too, was mildly exciting, what with all the sirens.
Nothing else surprising happened for the whole rest of the day. This is good, because up to that point it felt as though I were having some kind of workout for the limbic system or something.
I don’t know what a limbic system is. Those who do will already have realized that.
The meeting went well, I added a couple of new jobs to my list, I went to the last Tuesday night class of the year with Partygirl, watched “The Bucket List” with my boys.
Now I have to grade those papers.
The song of the day is “How Great Our Joy,” a nice little German carol with the refrain “Joy! Joy! Joy!” which is much better than “Flee! Flee! Flee!”