After college and before I met the man I am married to, I dated a narcissist. During a brutally lengthy five year, on-again, off-again relationship, I was ultimately forced to confront my own control and anxiety issues. Now, my recollections of this time are still painful and embarrassing. I am mortified that I stayed with him for so long, as I clearly ignored the portents of dysfunction and selfishness and the sound advice from my mother.
One of my first indications there was something dysfunctional about the way my ex operated in the world was when we were about to leave for a weekend getaway. He did not seem to have a concept of timeliness and we were often late to family gatherings, brunch dates, and movies. He experienced no consequences for these benign events and I was the one left frustrated. I found myself apologizing to others more than usual as he did not seem to care about showing up tardy and this sign of disrespect. That weekend we were late to leave for the airport, and I kept checking my watch, willing it to slow down time until we took our seats on the plane. We were headed to Key West and I desperately needed the break from my workaholic routine.
We ran like maniacs through the terminal, myself at a clip twice typical, just to keep up, because his six-foot-six-inch body had legs that covered two times the territory of mine. We leaped over other people’s luggage, diaper bags, and briefcases and arrived at the ticket podium, panting and parched, right before they closed the doors.
After I settled in on the plane and my hammering heart stopped racing, I vowed to never cut it that close again. This was the moment I crafted my own version of an antianxiety-indemnity strategy. It is an original plan, and when implemented, protects my propensity to perseverate on things beyond my control. It’s a homemade self-care tactic, it is free, and it does not require admission to a spa or lunch at an expensive restaurant.
It is truly simple, and a wee bit devious, but it works, and I cannot help but wonder what life might be like in America right now if our national leadership borrowed a page out of my playbook. It goes like this – when the person who is perpetually late asks you what time the plane leaves, you tell them what time the plane boards after you subtract three hours. Meaning, we arrive at least a few hours early, with plenty of time for a margarita at Chilli’s or a latte at Starbucks in the terminal. I did this for the next couple of years and it always worked! I had to get craftier as time went on, and my strategy evolved as it became exposed, but my anxiety was always kept at bay and I gained back the control I needed. Then I caught him cheating on me with the hostess from our local café, and decided at long last, it was time to call it quits.
Translating this strategy into COVID-19 terms, I would have done the following if it were my job to steer the public to safety:
- Social Distancing is recommended at ten feet between friends, neighbors, and strangers
- Wear a mask both inside and outside; whenever you are in a public space
- Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 1 person
- No touching – ANYTHING!
- Travel? Just do not do it.
We’re in a pickle here in America. We followed the line in Frank Sinatra’s famous song and most of us did it “our way.” As the numbers of infections are rising, we will likely be forced to enter into the mysterious world of herd immunity, causing many who are vulnerable to enter the tragic experience of fighting off a violent and silent villain. A virus that could have been contained, if only we were handed the scientific truth from the beginning, or a strategy that created unified protection instead of obfuscation.