What is the sound of one balloon popping?

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Balloons #6

I have anger management issues.  Most people don’t know this because fortunately I’ve found a good balance of medication and lifestyle choices that keep it under control but the few times I’ve lost control have been life changing.  The Hulk has nothing on me.   Most people see me as a goofy man-child because for the most part that’s what I am.  I’m the guy who wears pink shoes, dresses in costumes and teaches people about loving kindness but to deny this other side exists would not help the situation.

Combat experience and being shot at has also completely screwed up my startle reflex.  Loud sudden noises are a trigger for me.  If you ever want to see me have an anxiety attack but me next to a balloon.  I’m afraid the balloon is going to pop and I will uncontrollably freak out.  The trepidation and anticipation is so bad for me that I have a difficult time functioning during those moments.  My hyper sensitive startle reflex and lack of anger coping skills go hand in hand and one definitely feeds the other.

One thing that sets my startle reflex off and drives me crazy is when people slam their weights at the gym.  Even wearing headphones this still causes me to jump.  It’s a simple rule…if you’re big enough to lift the weight you’re big enough to set it down gently.  I notice the people who drop their weights reguarly and I silently pray for one of their eyebrows to fall off.  In the realm of the weight smashers I’ve seen, one man stood above all others and we always seemed to be in the gym at the same time.  I hated this man.  Every two minutes or so there would be a floor shaking BANG that would cause me to poop a little and wonder how many of his bones I could break before he lost consciousness.

I don’t like feeling this way.

BANG…BANG…BANG over and over again.  How could this guy not feel me trying to explode his head with my mind?  Needless to say my workouts weren’t very good and I felt worse after leaving the gym than I did before I got there.

This went on for months.

The universe didn’t feel like I was dealing with the situation properly so one week my gym offers some type of special membership deal and the whole place is decorated with balloons.  There are easily two or three hundred balloons around and every one of them is somewhere they can easily pop.  However I wear big boy pants now and I’m not going to let some gas filled latex prevent my workout or control my life.

I change in a locker room with a dozen balloons floating on the ceiling, I run on a treadmill with balloons tied to the handrails, the drinking fountains have so many balloons tied to them you literally have to push them out of the way to get some water and the whole time this is going on this…person…keeps dropping his weights and slamming the stacks with every set he does.

BANG…BANG pause BANG longer pause…BANG…maybe he’s done and it won’t happen again… BANG.

Two balloons pop during my run and I very much want to punch a baby.

I find a bench press station and as I lay on the bench feeling the knurling of the barbell I try to stop for a moment to let it all go.  I take a few deep breaths, put some relaxing music on my IPod and try to focus more on what’s going on inside of me than out.  As I stare up at the ceiling there is a bright green balloon being gently rocked on the edge of a ventilation shaft.  I watch it rock back and forth.  Soon my breath is in rhythm with the balloons rocking and I’m feeling better.  There’s a beauty to the balloon and the way the curly ribbon dances beneath it is hypnotic.

I do a set and then return my focus to the balloon.

Breath in and out, balloon back and forth, take in calmness, and push out fear.

Even the banging of the guy dropping the weights isn’t so bad if I hold my focus here.  Just be here in this moment with my new friend the Green Balloon.


I jump so hard I fall off the bench.  There’s nothing subtle about it and many people see this happen.  I’m embarrassed and The Hulk inside of me starts banging on the door to be let out.

I decide the workout just isn’t worth this type of stress and call it a day but as I’m walking back to the locker room this guy starts up again slamming the weights.  I feel like he’s dropping a fifty pound dumbbell on the base of my skull every time he does it.  I’m still feeling ashamed at jumping out of my skin and the need to do something to correct the situation and salvage my dignity is massive.

I walk over to him not entirely sure of what I’m planning to do.

When I tap him on the shoulder he pulls out his ear buds and looks at me with a pleasant smile on his face and I realize he’s completely oblivious that I want to pull his spinal cord out his bum.   I go off.  It’s not my proudest moment.  I’m screaming and yelling and calling names and making threats and the whole time he is waving his arms around like a spaz not saying a word.  I think he’s actually mocking me.

Now…I want to pause here in this story to tell you another one so you can fully understand.

Awhile I was watching a press conference with George W. Bush where he chastised a reporter for asking him a question while wearing sunglasses.  The President asked the man why he felt like he could address the President in such a casual fashion and how it wasn’t even bright enough to warrant wearing sunglasses at that moment.  Then one of his aids pointed out the white stick the reporter was holding.  Yes, the man was blind and the leader of the free world couldn’t be bothered to notice (this is all on YouTube if you wish to see it).  I didn’t like Bush and the thought of being like him is repulsive to me.

Now…Back to the gym and my tirade.

As you’ve probably figured out by now the reason the man wasn’t speaking to me and flailing his arms around is that he is deaf and trying to speak to me in sign language.  What makes this story even worse is that I took ASL for my foreign language requirement in college and passed with good grades.  When I finally realize what a giant ass hat I am, I calm down and apologize.

Later when we are on the same page, he explains to me the reason he wears an IPod is so he won’t seem rude when people try to talk to him and he can’t hear them.  He tells me he had no idea he was even slamming the weights because no one had ever told him.  From that day forward he never slammed a weight in my presence again.  He’s since forgiven me of my douchebaggery and we laugh about it to this day.

Don’t get so caught up in your own drama that you miss out on all that’s going around you.  There is never nothing going on.   There is always more than you can see.  There are no ordinary moments and it’s possible to let go.  Find the things that make you uncomfortable and confront them.  When you get caught up in the noise of your mind it’s almost impossible to be the person you wish to be.

If you can’t do all that just remember this one thing:  Green balloons are inherently evil.


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  1. Dan Patterson

    Flat out awesome, Darren. You are an extremely talented and incredibly insightful person. I notice traces of my own experiences in your story — an undeniable hallmark of a story told well. I am especially impressed with the summary findings: That even when we think we know what is going on around us, we don’t. So, relax … breathe … be kind to others & give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, we would all like to receive the benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t we?

    1. Darren Lamb

      Thanks Dan. I will try to relax more. 🙂

  2. Amanda

    Darren, I feel the same way about balloons and fireworks. They scare me as much as clowns scare you, if I remember correctly. I have been making a huge effort to channel that anxiety as much as I can because my kids receive balloons frequently at stores. They love them and I secretly hate that person for giving my child a balloon. Don’t they know they can pop randomly and I’ll probably drive off the road?! I have to regroup and realize that they are trying to be nice and they are trying to make a child smile and they’ve succeeded and sometimes that’s really the only important thing.

    1. Darren Lamb

      Thanks Amanda. Clowns suck too. Who came up with the balloon idea? “Here. it’s a big ball of my breath for you.”

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