Yesterday my summer vacations started. I’ll be at home until tomorrow, because there are things I need to organize and take care of. On Saturday I will leave to spend some days at the beach and then some more days in the countryside, and I’m looking forward to it.
But yesterday something really uncomfortable happened to me that I wish hadn’t disturbed my first day off from work. One of my neighbors is an old man in his 80s who used to be a policeman. He minds everyone’s business and spends his days checking who enters and leaves the building. Despite the fact that he claims he can’t see or hear very well due to his age, he knows everything that’s going on. He also walks around checking on the things the building might need, such as a new light bulb, to report to the person in charge, which this year happens to be me.
So he probably saw my car parked during the morning, concluded I was home and decided it would be a great idea to knock at lunch time. Except he doesn’t really knock once or twice and wait like normal people do. He insistently presses the doorbell and knocks on the door with his cane really hard, like the building is on fire in the middle of night and everyone needs to wake up and leave.
I was peacefully finishing lunch while looking at some college stuff I need to take with me when I go away and I suddenly froze when I heard this. The first thing that came to my mind was something that happened when I was about 9 years old. My mother was dating at the time a really charming and intelligent man who had a terrible flaw: he drank, and when he did he became violent. So one night he came pounding on our door so drunk we couldn’t even make out what he was saying. I remember my mother telling my sister and I to hide in the closet, while she picked up a knife and desperately tried to call my uncle to come help us.
Yesterday I was 9 again, frozen, heart racing. I couldn’t react like a normal adult. Though I rationally knew what was going on with me, my body reacted automatically perceiving danger where there was none, because my body learned really early that someone at the door like that meant bad news, so it turned on a stress response I couldn’t control. After this went on for some time and the old man was still at the door, I managed to gather a thought: I thought I should call the police. And then I realized how ridiculous that thought was. I basically managed to tell myself I’m not 9 anymore but I still perceived myself as in danger. And this unfortunately sums up much of my behavior in life in general. I’m hypervigilant and have always had so much trouble sleeping all my life because I never feel completely safe. This chronic stress messed up my immune system and resulted in autoimmune diseases. And what’s missing from therapy is that I know all the roots to my problems but I haven’t yet managed to change my reactions and behavior patterns. I need to take that leap. Or I’ll just keep getting sicker and sicker.