I was just a young girl growing up in Central New York where winters were brutally bone chilling. Laying on the over a hundred years old wooden dining room floor in our farmhouse and huddled up next to the heat register. It was all I could do to absorb every ounce of heat I could! I could lay there for hours! As much as I remember snuggling the heater, I also remember the lemon scent of the cleaner used on the floors. The smell of lemons has comforted me ever since, until that one day that changed everything. The smell of lemons has become a victim of distortion in my mind.
My experiences have distorted the landscape of my reality. The positive smell of lemons was replaced by the imagery and the painful memory of telling my husband that our daughter is terminally ill. It is as if the new experience completely eliminated any warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding that same scent. With that said, I put lemon essential oil in my infuser at home.
Wait? What? I don’t get it?
I made a conscious decision to not let that one moment have power over me for the rest of my life. The smell of lemons is not something I need protection from. I do not need my body to react to it so fiercely in recoil. Operation Laughing at Lemons was born out of the need to end this madness!
Why would I even bother? Can’t I just avoid lemon scented soap?
I could, but would I really ever want to let something the size of a lemon have that much control over me? In the same way, giving up that amount of control causes great anxiety. According to the Calm Clinic,
“Most people with anxiety don’t realize how often anxiety is distorting their mindset. That’s because the human brain and cognition are more complicated than it seems. Anxiety changes the chemical messenger levels in your brain, and when it does it causes your mind to perceive things differently, even though it feels entirely natural for you.”
Let’s take a look at a few goals of Operation Laughing at Lemons!
Your friend asks you if you want some hand sanitizer after being at the gym. You happily oblige because, germs. Ewww. You instinctively put your hand out and she squeezes a quarter size amount in the palm of your hand. The scent starts off as a hint before it starts to churn my stomach. My reaction is visceral borderline instinctual.
My mind begins to do the following:
Brain Voice of Reason: “Get a grip woman! Sheesh! It’s just hand sanitizer!”
Brain Distorting Reality: “Man, there you go again. Losing it over something as silly as lemon scented hand sanitizer. Now you are going to trigger anxiety every time you smell lemon?”
BVofR: “Look Becky. Just breathe. Quit overgeneralizing things. Just because your heart started racing and your anxiety got the best of you this one time, doesn’t mean every time it will!”
BDR: “Why can’t you just move past this? It was a long time ago! When was the last time a lemon hurt you? I mean seriously! You are never going to get over this and for the rest of your life you will be the girl that is afraid of a small yellow fruit!”
BVofR: “No. No I won’t. So, just shut up! I’m getting better about it. I WILL conquer this response. It’s just going to take time. I’ve got this! I’m just going to breathe in and out and for the love of God quit arguing with myself inside my own darn head!”
Yep, that right there is the fun stuff my therapist gets to hear! Lucky her! In short, distortion of reality can genuinely trigger anxiety.
So, how do we shut that business down before it turns into Godzilla in my brain?
See the above conversation in my head. Each negative distortion was replaced by a voice of reason. Gold star for me for listening to my therapist! This is helpful if you catch yourself in the act of distorting reality. If you realize you are doing it, you can have someone in your inner circle come up with a key word to say to you when you go down the dark alley of distortion. Just think of them as your trusty sidekick that’s walking beside you with a baseball bat!
Tell yourself to cut it out and replace the negative distortion with a positive reality. I appreciate my brain trying to keep me safe, but I am not going to need to fight or flight anytime soon from a smell. Ummm…bad example. After all, I am married and have a Boxer. What should have been stated was that I do not need to fear the smell of lemon. Period. Being cognizant of the fact that you aren’t responding necessarily to the stimulus (in this case the lemon smell,) but your emotions you have attached to it really helps. I also now have the distinct urge to decorate a lemon as Godzilla. Anyone more artistic out there and want to give that a go for me? Bueller? Bueller?
Did Operation Laughing at Lemons work?
It’s out with the old and in with the new! I’m not talking about purses or shoes. Neither of those are my vices anyway. You’d be better off hiding my passport or blocking travel websites! What I mean to say is, I created a new and happier memory with the smell.
I purposely purchased lemon essential oil and diffused it when happy things were happening. I replaced the heartbreaking memory and painful reminder that the lemons smell triggered with happier memories of snuggling and laughing with my kids. I laughed at my lemons and made some lemonade with perhaps a little kick!
High fives to my friends out there who work every day to keep things on an even keel. Keep up the good work!