I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because of my condition, I have a hair-trigger temper. I do not own, nor desire, a firearm. I do own a yoga mat. Yoga is one of the self-soothing methods I use throughout every day, minute by minute, to keep myself under control. The local Episcopal church offers free community morning classes, and that is where I was headed this morning on my bicycle.
Yoga helps me flip it. I don’t mean physically flip from say, bridge pose into warrior one position. I’m not that advanced. I mean yoga helps me follow the Flip It program I designed to control my rage. I turn negatives into positives all day long. The moment I encounter a rage trigger, I breathe and flip it so that I won’t flip out. For example, when my alarm clock goes off, I open my eyes, breathe and flip: “A new day is a new gift.” I breathe and flip my way through the world. Breathe. “The man shoving me from behind with his work bag will ensure that I get through the doors and onto the train.” Breathe. “The student in the first row feels comforted and secure enough in my presence to sleep.” Breath. “The breakdown of my washing machine gives me the opportunity to engage with people at the local Laundromat and the repair man.” Breathe and flip until the moment I can close my eyes and shield myself from the world again. Breathing and flipping all day long exhausts me; I usually fall asleep immediately, oblivious to my husband’s snoring so he too can slumber safely in my presence.
I used to think these affirmative self-soothe strategies were hippie-dippie bullshit for lame brains who couldn’t get a grip on themselves; however, numerous unhinged cabinet doors, broken dinnerware, and bruised feelings proved I didn’t have a grip on myself. Ready-to-burst rage had a grip on me. My doctor, whom I’ll call Doctor Berger, assured it was normal and expected behavior for someone with my condition. She taught me to recognize when I was reacting to a rage trigger: the racing heart beat, quick shallow breathing, tunnel vision trained and fixed on a target, the need for speed and to react immediately and explosively. Rage made me feel unstoppable, like a super power that I wanted to use for bad, not good. Doctor Berger reminded me that during these moments of recognition, I needed to stop, breathe, and talk myself down before I react, like my own personal negotiation team. My Flip It program neutralizes moments of rage into time outs.
The mindfulness I develop through yoga helps me be in the moment so that I flip stress. So I was completely aware and in the moment when that fat guy in the grey Toyota pulled out right in front of my bicycle this morning. It was rush hour. I was on Bergen Avenue avoiding city buses, community vans and oblivious jay walkers. I had breathed and flipped for about ten blocks when I approached the Toyota positioned to exit the parking garage and enter onto Bergen Avenue.
Fat Guy took a fist-sized bite of his breakfast sandwich, put the rest on the passenger seat, then glanced to his left. I was the only approaching traffic as vehicles were stopped at a red light behind me. I slowed but did not stop, thinking he’d let me pass then pull onto Bergen behind me. He chewed and made eye contact with me as I neared his front bumper. I saw his smirk as he pulled out in front of me. I stopped short and Fat Guy took a wider than necessary turn to head south along Bergen, coming less than an inch from my front tire. I yelled in the voice that always makes people wonder how a boom so loud can come from me.
The Egyptian guys standing in front of the combo convenience store/hookah emporium/fruit stand stopped talking and stared. They definitely heard me. So did Fat Guy as he watched me in the driver side mirror. He rolled down his window and gave me the finger. Fat Guy flipped me and that gesture flipped me from the positive Polly I had tried to be into a hunk (okay, kibble) of burning anger.
Fat Guy drove south along Bergen Avenue and I followed, my legs pistons fueled by rage. I breathed and sucked in the fumes of the No. 80 bus. I wanted the upper arm strength to flip the strollers, pedestrians, taxi cabs, and delivery trucks out of my way. Every one of them further triggered my anger and I wanted to flip them all off. Fat Guy kept about two car lengths ahead of me, his middle finger out and in my view all along Bergen Avenue.
What would I have done if I had caught up? Jumped onto the back of Fat Guy’s car, climbed over the roof and onto the hood? Perhaps my fierce face would have shocked him to stop. I would have rolled off the hood, sprung to the driver side door, pulled him out through the window, beat him with my purple yoga mat, then shoved the rest of the breakfast sandwich into his mouth to silence his cries for mercy. I was more aware of the fantasy in my head than the traffic on Bergen Avenue and in danger of becoming someone’s hood ornament.
Fat Guy sailed through a just-turned-red light and I had to stop to not be splattered by an in-a-hurry school bus driver. The intersection camera flashed and the moment is stored somewhere in the Jersey City Police Department databanks: Fat Guy blowing the red light and extending his left middle finger out his window. Me out of breath and furious, my purple yoga mat strapped to my back. And life at the intersection of Montgomery and Bergen continuing uninterrupted.