Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tiger in My Chair

Hey Tiger, get out of my chair.

I'm sick of your growling,

And I'm tired of your stare,

Of you washing your whiskers

And grooming your hair.

You've scratched up the furniture

Quite beyond all repair.

Hey, Tiger, get out of my chair.

Hey Tiger, get out of my chair.

Life was rough when I met you

And we made a tough pair,

With guns, riding choppers

We flew through the air,

But all that we did

Brought death and despair.

Hey, Tiger, get out of my chair.

Hey Tiger, get out of my chair.

I can't sleep when you're here,

As we both are aware.

I can see that this bores you,

But I really don't care,

Now pick up your tail

And take it elsewhere.

Now, Tiger! Get out of my chair!

This morning, while participating in the morning sitting at the Zen Center, I had a full-blown attack of PTSD anxiety. It seems to have been brought on by a combination of factors. I was acting as jikido, the person responsible for ringing the various bell and chimes that set the pace for the opening and closing rituals and that mark the periods of meditation. As my hands are somewhat shaky from all the various chemotherapy treatments, immune suppressants and pain killers that I have taken or am taking, I find it very hard to get it all "right". So this jikido role is very stressful for me.

After completing the opening ritual, we sat and a heavy rain began falling outside, the dramatically heavy rains that have made the national media. San Diego county is normally a pretty dry place, and this was a monsoon-like downpour. And then, seated in meditation, it hit me. The sound of the monsoon rain brought back a flood of memories and associations from my time spent as a combat infantryman in the Vietnam War. Thoughts of days and nights spent in the bush, soaking wet and cold in pouring rain came washing over me in an almost overwhelming wave of anxiety and negative emotions. My system flooded with adrenaline and I was ready for fight or flight. With rapid pulse and quick, shallow breath, I struggled to keep my equilibrium.

I hung on till the end. When the session was over and we were all leaving, I spoke to my friend Marty, and old hand with PTSD himself and we sat in his car and talked over what had happened. I won't go over all that here, but after a while I felt well enough to drive through the pouring rain to work. As soon as I settled in at work, I opened my notebook and wrote the poem above. The tiger has long been for me a personification of the instinctual, primal survival circuits built into us all but discovered only in times of extreme danger. For soldiers, sailors, police, firemen and other such folks, these "programs", if too often accessed, can become a persistent problem, one that must be dealt with for the rest of your life. Reflexes that once kept you alive now become a source of trouble and pain, like a tiger pent up in a cage.

This, then, is for my own Tiger.

See you later, pal!