On being ... a mirror

By Ingrid Sapona

My sister and I went away for a long weekend. We borrowed Mom’s car and on our way back I suggested we zip through a car wash before giving the car back. I was quite surprised when my sister was dead set against the idea.

At first she said it was because it was too late (it was after dark, but not even 10 p.m.). Then she argued that by the time we got to Mom’s house after the car wash the car would be dirty again because bugs would be attracted to the headlights. Given that the car wash is about a mile and a half from Mom’s, I didn’t buy that argument and I told her so.

After pressing her, she explained that car washes are extremely anxiety-provoking for her. Thinking that maybe she’s become claustrophobic (in which case being in the car while going through a car wash could be unnerving), I asked if that was the problem. She assured me it wasn’t that. Then I asked whether she was worried something might break on the car. Apparently that wasn’t it either. Finally she confessed she gets nervous trying to line up the wheels to get onto the conveyor belt at the car wash and she hates being yelled at by the kid directing her onto it.

I told her the attendant always yells directions about which way to steer to line up your wheels because that’s his job. I figure the yelling has to do with the fact that the car wash is loud and the kid’s trying to communicate with folks who’re inside their cars with the windows rolled up. She agreed that I was probably right, but said she just can’t stand being yelled at. Luckily she’s a good sport so she wasn’t offended at the tears of laughter streaming down my cheeks.

Eventually we compromised: she drove to the gas station and after we filled up, I took over to get us through the car wash. Even though she wasn’t driving, I could see she was anxious as we approached the attendant. He motioned for me to steer more to the right, so I did. Surprisingly, he didn’t yell – he just used hand signals. Eventually, I eased the car onto the conveyor belt.

My sister pointed out that the guy didn’t yell at me and she said I must be better at lining up the wheels than she is. I told her the truth: it was just dumb luck. Once the car was on the conveyor belt a sign lit up about shifting into neutral. I had just started doing so when the kid yelled: “Put it in neutral”. So there you go -- I got yelled at anyway. At that we both laughed and watched as the bubblegum-coloured soap started to swirl over the windows.

After we left the car wash we talked a bit more about her anxiety over it. While it doesn’t matter whether she ever goes through a car wash by herself, my hope was that by analyzing it, somehow the grip of that particular source of anxiety will be lessened.

When I finally got back to my place, I eventually went downstairs to get my mail. As I approached my mailbox my stomach knotted up when I saw a small sticker on it. I knew the sticker was from the security desk -- it meant they had signed for a package or something for me. I wasn’t expecting anything and I immediately got worried because the last time such a sticker appeared it was for a registered letter from the IRS. My immediate thought was that the IRS was writing me again.

I went straight to the security desk, but there was a “back in 5 minutes” sign. So, I went upstairs to unpack, but my stomach was churning. Unable to concentrate, I decided to go back down to face whatever it was that was waiting for me. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when they handed me was a journal that simply didn’t fit into my too full mail box.

After breathing a sigh of relief I headed back upstairs. A few minute later I started laughing, thinking about how ridiculous it was that I was so anxious just because there was a sticker on my mailbox! That reminded me of my laughing at my sister’s anxiety about the car wash. Though her reaction seemed silly to me, I’m sure others would find my anxiety about a potential letter just as ridiculous.

The weekend away with my sister was fun -- and instructive. I don’t know if I’d have found the humour in my own anxiety triggered by that stupid sticker if I hadn’t laughed about her reaction to being yelled at by the kid at the car wash. That’s when I realized that though our anxiety triggers are different, we both have some ridiculous ones!

Since my sister and I live in different cities, she’s not around to act as a mirror for me, as she did over the weekend. But, now that my awareness is heightened, I’m going to pay more attention and to when I’m feeling anxious I’m going to try to figure out what’s triggering it. I’m sure I’ll discover more than a few triggers that are pretty absurd. So, if you hear me laughing at myself, I hope you’ll understand…

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


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