The Yellow Brontosaurus

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I’ve had the blahs for a couple of days. It’s a disagreeable feeling. It comes on suddenly like a runny nose or a cough. The cause of the blahs is unknown.

When I have the blahs nothing I can think of energizes me. And then, if something does, it feels like a lot of work to follow up on it for the little return I imagine I’ll get. The other part of this is that a million things go through my mind, but I don’t land on any one. I’m all over the place.

Routine things for which I’d normally given little thought, now seem onerous. I don’t feel much like engaging with people, but the thought of being alone is not appealing either. There is one thing that I instinctively do when coming down with the blahs, and that is to figure out why I have the blahs at all and particularly, at this time. Normally that’s good self-psychotherapy, but when dealing with the blahs I’ve found it useless. It’s a little like sitting around and trying to figure out why the fire started, but that really doesn’t help to put it out. In fact, the inaction may just feed the lethargy making things worse.

The blahs are common. Most everyone suffers the blahs. I guess it’s mostly in the western world, a society while obsessed with money, power and politics, doesn’t ’t really know how to just have fun. For a person like me who has fun writing personal essays and leans heavily on energy that ideas generate, with the blahs I feel like a runner with an ailing foot. What he wholly depends on is suddenly malfunctioning. I want to fix it, but the blahs have a life of their own. They’ve developed considerable resistance to “giving myself a good talking to” and other common-sense remedies.

For addressing the malady, psychologists suggest the equivalent of ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Get yourself going, they advise, get off your butt, walk the dog, call a friend, fix the flower bed, polish the silver and the like but, see, that’s the thing about the blahs; you don’t feel like doing any of those things. People with the blahs will frequently make others impatient and it’s common to hear someone tell them, “Get over it.” It’s a rather insensitive comment and I don’t know that it works, certainly not for me.

Do a kind deed for someone you know or may not know at all. This bromide is frequently offered as a sure cure. Promising, perhaps, but it usually goes full circle; you still have to mobilize the energy to think of what would be something kind and to whom you’d direct it. You’re back to zero.

When I’m seized by the blahs, I’ve noticed this much: I do a lot of “yeah, but” thinking. That’s the kind where you have an interesting thought and then knock it down, like playing whack-a-mole or swatting a mosquito. So, is there any way, if not to cure the blahs, at least to limit their duration?

I listened to a talk once given by a seasoned writer, an essayist, who offered this thought: The essayist can write about the things he knows best, or he can write about something he knows nothing about but wants to learn more. I wondered if by writing about the blahs with no clinical understanding of the condition, I might stumble upon something significant that could mitigate some of its effects and even contribute to the well-being of others.

With that slight spark of energy my thought inspired, I decided to go for it.

One thing occurred to me immediately. Having the blahs is a little like being a child for whom we can do nothing to please. Children in that kind of mood can drive parents nuts; adults having the blahs can drive themselves nuts. I recall several instances of that with my own children. I once made up a trick to head it off. It worked most of the time.

Imagine a petulant little boy, my son, half in tears and fussing, disagreeable for no apparent reason. Immediately my instinct was to offer him possible options.

“Would you like to play with Eddie?”

“No!” he’d reply emphatically shaking his arms and legs in protest, his lower lip prominently protruding to underscore his point.

“How about Sally?”

“No,” again.

“Would you like a cookie?”

“Nooo, I don’t want a cookie,” and so it would go. This was a dead end and I knew it.

Then it came to me out of the blue, an epiphany, and it turned out to be a decidedly inspired idea.

I suddenly held my hand up, palm forward, opened my eyes just short of popping them from their sockets as if I were alerting my son to something terribly urgent, and looking beyond him into the distance I said in a hushed voice, “Did you see that?”

His petulant look vanished. He turned around to look, and turning back to me asked quizzically, “What.”

“The Brontosaurus, only this one is yellow, not green like Freddy, the one in your book.”

“Well, where is he?”

“I think you may have scared him off when you turned around. He can’t be far. Let’s go find him. We must be very quiet, come on, follow me.”

And off we went, hunting. It was the day of the yellow Brontosaurus.

I know just what you’re thinking. This guy is full of guile, a deceitful father, disseminating fake news to this vulnerable and innocent child.

I’ll tell you this; of course, we didn’t find the yellow Brontosaurus. He was nowhere to be seen. We called off the hunt. However, by then not only did the cookie begin sounding great to my son, but so did the idea of having Eddie over to play. The search alone began to give meaning to his day.

A strong case can be made that the means justifies the end.

What has any of this to do with the blahs? This much. I think the blahs are exacerbated by the way the condition can keep us unfocused. I know with the blahs I go from thought to thought dismissing them all, straightaway.

I don’t want to give credence to the school that advises “get off your butt and do something.” I find that solution questionable. But, instead, I’d advise focus, stay with just one idea of the many orbiting around in my mind. Soon it would lead to some kind of action like hunting the yellow dinosaur with my son. You don’t have to find the dinosaur; just looking for him is enough. The search is more energizing than the finding or as the saying goes, the journey is more important than the destination.

Nothing is quite like finding a purpose; it’ll make your day and beat the blahs.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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