Take a chill pill

It was a quiet, tranquil morning. We were in our canoe out on the lake. My dad had gotten me (I was about 9) and my brother (who was about 7) up very early in the morning to go fishing. I hated getting up. But I loved these quiet mornings—sitting in the canoe with my daddy and my brother—whispering quietly to one another.
Just then my brother’s bobber went down and he jerked his pole. “I’ve got one!” he whispered loudly. Soon the fish came up above the edge of the canoe and somehow flipped against my brother.
And then my brother totally freaked out. He began to wildly whip his fishing pole from one side to another. The poor fish went sailing over the canoe to the left and SMACK! It hit the water. This freaked out my poor brother some more. He jerked the fishing pole the other way. Sure enough, that fish went sailing over our heads and SMACK! It hit the water on the other side.
Over and over, my totally bezerked brother whipped the fish from one side of the canoe to the other. SMACK! Whizzzzzz! SMACK! Whizzzzz! SMACK!
Finally my dad reached out and held his arm. “Chip, I think the fish is dead now,” he deadpanned. I began roaring with laughter.
My brother had a habit of overreacting as a child when he was spooked. I shall not regale you with any more stories and shall not even mention the time he pounded a wooden campground stump thinking it was a raccoon set to attack him. He just couldn’t help it. Fear triggered an immediate overreaction.
I am normally a very calm person. Loud but calm. I have four sons so I tend to not react too much unless something is burning or bleeding profusely.
But occasionally, I overreact. I find my feelings escalating and my heart racing. “Nobody commented on my piano solo. Maybe I did a lousy job. No, it was actually pretty good. Why didn’t anybody say anything? They probably don’t like me. I have to quit doing public things. People just get a complex when I do anything. Fine, that’s it. No more piano solos.” On and on I go, totally overreacting and ramping up to the point of being ridiculous.
Do you ever overreact? It’s like I race myself to get to the bridge and stand on the railing, ready to jump! I then have to talk myself down.
“Now Merrilee. Everyone is busy. They just were getting to their other meetings. You didn’t compliment Marina on her talk and you meant to. It’s no big deal.”
And down I come off the bridge railing, coming to my senses. And then I laugh. “Duh, what was I thinking?” It all seems so trivial then—once I’ve cooled down.
I think many women excel at overreacting. I know some of us are more gifted at this than others. We read into every action, every word, every look–or every lack of action, word, or look–layers and layers of meaning. I hear it all the time.
“That’s it! I’ve had it. Not one parent sent me a thank you note at the end of the year. No one appreciates what I do. I have to be released!”
“Oh no. My son has dyed his hair. What next, tattoos? He shouldn’t be hanging out with Jeremy. Maybe he’s doing drugs. He looked tired today. What’s he up to?”
“My husband didn’t call me all day from work. Why didn’t he call? I told him it’s important to me. Come to think of it, he didn’t call two days last week. Oh, no! Maybe he doesn’t love me anymore!”
On and on we go, running headlong to the bridge. It takes a lot of effort to stop and think rationally.
But that split second of calm, rational thought can save us. I know it would have saved that poor fish! And so I continue to try. “Merrilee, calm down. It’s not that bad.” I take a deep breath and realize that my rational brain is right. Frenzied Merrilee needs to just take a chill pill. Good medicine.

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