Cool Down

I have a huge work deadline at the end of the day today. Enormous deliverables must be met. We’ve been working steadily, getting things done then incorporating new information from other members of the team, then working some more. It’s been kind of stop and go as others get their work done and it influences their work.

A couple of days ago we had a huge breakthrough. We started to build up speed, knocking aside obstacles. Now we’re cooking with gas, I thought.

And then chaos broke out in Washington.

My overstimulated amygdala hijacked my working mind. My processor which was already heated up, began firing too much. What could I do about this? I asked myself. The answer: nothing; there was nothing I could control or influence in this situation.

As we watched, the part of my overstimulated brain that seeks control in chaos started firing off advice: they should clear the crowd from the back; set up a cordon so additional people can’t join the mob, then start parsing the crowd at the back and disperse them, eventually working their way to the building. They should bring in additional police through the tunnels. This unhelpful advice – which students of riot control might tell me was misguided anyway – was punctuated by bursts of fight or flight: if we have to flee to Canada, what would we take and what would we leave behind? Arrest those people, all of them, throw them in jail! Are those sirens outside my window? (Of course they were sirens, I live near a firehouse and three different hospitals.)

When the autonomic nervous system kicks in, the body craves quick calories so that it’s ready to flee. We had a handy supply of new year’s chocolate chip cookies nearby which I mainlined. But your body also doesn’t process food very well.

Finally I dove back into work again, happy to distract myself with the complexities of the task I was supposed to be working on. At the end of the day, I felt good about where we were.

Yesterday I looked at what we had done and we started over. We made quick progress. Then we stumbled again. Finally we checked in with the rest of the team and it quickly became clear that we had overlooked something, something obvious.

My brain is still not firing on all cylinders. It thinks it is but it would be unusual if it were.

It’s like when you’re working on your laptop and, unbeknownst to you, an update starts processing in the background. You’re just doing whatever you would normally be doing – trying to write or crunch numbers or whatever – and things are just sluggish. Even your cursor doesn’t want to move. Online calls slow. You can hear the fan running in your laptop – you can hear the motor running – never a good sign but you can’t do anything about it. If you’re sitting with the laptop actually in your lap, your thighs start to feel hot.

This is where our brains are now. Four years of populist rhetoric and unpredictable political chaos, of frog boiling. A year of fear, of listening to sirens, of wearing masks, of avoiding physical proximity to others, of Clorox wipes.  A year of self-imposed isolation, of not seeing friends or family in person, only by jerky online calls. A year of deprivation, of not traveling or going to museums or dining out or doing any of the activities that we enjoy. A year of guilt for the suffering around us, for friends and neighbors who have lost their jobs, whose family members have become ill or died. A year where even our normal fears – what if I lose my job – are magnified: unemployment is at an all time high – I’ll never be able to work again and we’ll need to move to someplace where we can afford to live on our savings and I’ll never find another job.

It’s all become so much.

The processor is overheating.

And yet.

And yet the light comes in the window and illuminates the room. The winter light, slanting blue, the air feels crisp and – believe it or not – clean.

Sometimes you just have to walk away from the laptop, do something else while it finishes what it’s doing, take a break.

Let things cool down.

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