We were driving from Moscow, Idaho to Kalispell, Montana when we saw this street sign welcoming us to the tiny town of Tensed, Idaho. I screeched to a halt to take a photo.
I’ve mentioned several times that I’ve spent my entire life stressed out. I can actually remember worrying if I would be able to recite the ABCs properly in order to pass from kindergarten to first grade. I think it’s something I get from a Savage gene because my all my cousins on my mom’s side of the family seem to suffer with the same sort of needless stress.
It results in sleepless nights, migraine headaches, ulcers, chewed fingernails, and constant fidgeting. Jeez, I’m a mess.
In my early 20s I worked as a copywriter at the Los Angeles office of a huge international ad agency. The stress became overwhelming. Call it non-sexual performance anxiety. My boss couldn’t help but notice the impact of the stress, so he called me into his office and sat me down and told me I needed to relax, that he was very happy with my work, and as he put it, “The the only stress one feels is the stress one puts on oneself.”
All that was great to hear, but it didn’t reduce my stress one iota. If anything it made it worse because he was a great guy and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
I decided I needed to do something, anything, to alleviate the tension. I remembered that my favorite baseball player, Maury Wills, suffered from immense stress during the 1962 season when he was setting records for stolen bases. Every time he got on base a stadium full of fans began chanting his name to encourage him to steal another one.
”Maury, Maury, Maury,” they chanted.
And then he’d steal another base.
I remembered that Maury had sought out the services of a professional hypnotherapist to help himself deal with the stress he inflicted upon himself.
Well, I thought, thousands of people are not chanting my name in hopes that I will come up with a clever headline, but the stress I‘m feeling is unbearable nonetheless.
I pulled out a copy of the yellow pages and looked up the same hypnotherapist who had helped Maury. I called his office and made an appointment. His office was in a fancy schmancy office building in the heart of L.A.’s ritzy Westwood district.
Soon I was sitting before him in a darkened room as he gently swung a shiny, golden watch back-and-forth from the end of a long chain.
”Concentrate on the watch,” he said calmly and quietly. “Let the world drift away and concentrate on the watch.” I did as I was asked. I concentrated. I watched the watch.
He calmly told me to forget my worldly cares. To relax. To let the stress melt away.
”Picture your stress as a block of ice. It’s a warm, beautiful day. The sun is shining. It feels good on your skin. The ice is melting and with it, your stress is slowly melting and going down the drain.”
Well, I did as Maury Wills’ hypnotherapist suggested. I followed his instructions. I pictured that block of ice melting. Then the hypnotherapist counted slowly from five to one, snapped his fingers, and brought me out of my hypnotic trance.
”You were a great subject,” he told me. “You went under quickly and deeply and I think a few more sessions like this will really help you. How do you feel?”
“Well,” I answered, “I really don’t feel any different. I don’t think I was hypnotized. I was just doing everything you said in order to go along with the program.”
He laughed. “What would it take,” he asked, “to convince you that you were really under hypnosis?”
”I don’t know,” I said honestly.
”What if I got you to cluck like a chicken?”
”Well, sure, I guess I would believe I was hypnotized if you told me to cluck like a chicken and I actually did it.”
”OK, then,” he said. “Let’s put you back under and see what happens.”
Again he brought out the golden pocket watch. Again he began swinging it gently back and forth at the end of a chain. He slowly and gradually began telling me to relax. When finally he got me into a state of complete relaxation he said the words:
”I’m going to count downward from three to one and when I get to one, I want you to cluck like a chicken. Three. Two. One. Cluck.”
I grew up on a farm. I know what chickens sound like and I began clucking up a storm.
“Bwaaaack, bwaaack, bwaaack.”
With a knowing smile on his face, the hypnotherapist slowly brought me out of my trance. “I’m going to count down from three to one and when I get to one you will awaken. Three. Two. One. Wake up.”
He looked at me. I looked back at him. Finally, he said, “Well, you clucked like a chicken. Do you believe now that you were in a deep hypnotic trance?”
”Well, no, I don’t” I replied. “I just clucked because I wanted to go along with you and not screw things up.”
”No. You were hypnotized. That’s just your conscious mind trying to explain why you clucked like a chicken. Remember telling me that you would believe you were hypnotized if I could get you to cluck like a chicken?”
”Yes, I remember telling you that. But then I decided to make those clucking noises so I wouldn’t offend you.”
He laughed. There was nothing he could do to convince me that hypnotism had anything to do with those enthusiastic clucking sounds.
I never went back to see him. Instead, I went back to work and continued to suffer from migraine headaches, sleepless nights, nervous tics, and ulcers.
Instead of seeking out a hypnotherapist, maybe I should have sought out Tensed, Idaho. It certainly looks a lot less stressful than Los Angeles.